There’s been plenty written about potential deals between the Blue Jays and Braves recently, but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription required) that Atlanta’s trade talks with Toronto center around a different target than most would expect: right-handed reliever Joe Biagini.
That Biagini would be a trade candidate isn’t exactly a surprise. He’s controlled through the 2022 season via arbitration, and the Blue Jays are likely to willing to deal from anywhere outside their emerging core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and other young, pre-arbitration players. Still, for an Atlanta club eyeing bullpen help, a higher-end target like Ken Giles is likely the name that most would expect to hear when discussing potential deals with Toronto.
Biagini, 29, has been with the Blue Jays since he was selected out of the Giants organization in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos had already left the Toronto organization by the time Biagini was selected, but two of his assistant GMs with the Braves, Perry Minasian and Jason Pare, were with the Jays when that selection was made.
During the 2016 season, Biagini enjoyed one of the more successful Rule 5 seasons in recent memory. His rookie campaign featured 67 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA ball with 8.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.40 HR/9 and a 52.2 percent ground-ball rate. However, the Blue Jays’ subsequent attempt to move Biagini into the rotation in 2017 proved an ill-fated mistake, and his 2018 season spent mostly back in the bullpen didn’t yield quality results, either (6.00 ERA in 72 innings).
The 2019 season has seen Biagini bounce back to the tune of a 3.75 ERA over the life of 48 innings. He’s been homer-prone — like most of the league — but is sporting a career-high 9.0 K/9 against an even 3.0 BB/9 with a 45.3 percent ground-ball rate. There’s reason to be optimistic about further improvement, too; Biagini’s 13.7 percent swinging-strike rate is easily a career-best, as is his 36.1 percent opponents’ chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone. The spin rate on his breaking ball is elite as well, ranking 21st of 399 big league pitchers to throw the pitch at least 100 times dating back to 2016.
Biagini avoided arbitration as a Super Two player this past offseason, settling on a $900K salary that’d be affordable for any interested party. He’ll go through arbitration another three times before reaching free agency in the 2022-23 offseason, but as a non-closing reliever, he won’t receive exorbitant raises through the arbitration process.