The Blue Jays and Pirates nearly completed a trade sending righty Joe Musgrove from Pittsburgh to Toronto prior to yesterday’s trade deadline, Robert Murray reports (via Twitter). That arrangement “fell apart at the eleventh hour,” however, and the Jays pivoted to acquire both Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling instead.
Musgrove, 27, was a Jays draft pick back in 2011 (No. 46 overall) and has settled in as a solid rotation piece in Pittsburgh after coming over from the Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade. From 2018-19, Musgrove tossed 285 2/3 innings of 4.28 ERA ball with more promising secondary marks: 3.72 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 44.9 percent ground-ball rate. He was hit hard in three starts this season, however, and was placed on the injured list early in August. He’s said to be nearing a return but remained on the IL through the deadline, which undoubtedly complicated negotiations as the two sides tried to align on value. He’s controlled through the 2022 season, so he’d have been a relatively long-term play for a Jays club that is emerging from a rebuilding effort.
While it was a busy week for the Blue Jays, deadline season came and went without much activity from the last-place Pirates, due largely to injuries and underperformance up and down the roster. Also on the injured list for the Bucs was right-hander Keone Kela, who’d surely have been moved had he not recently sustained a forearm injury. Chris Archer, too, would’ve been a near-lock to be moved had he not undergone thoracic outlet surgery prior to the season.
Over on the active roster, more established players like Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Gregory Polanco have played so poorly that the Bucs would’ve needed to sell low and likely accept middling returns. Forcing a move with a lackluster return wasn’t something GM Ben Cherington and his staff considered.
“We’d much rather hold than make trades that we’re not confident in that later come back and bite us,” Cherington tells Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Without getting into specifics, the GM acknowledged that he thought he was close to lining up on a couple deals that didn’t quite pan out in the end. Ultimately, the only player the Pirates traded was Jarrod Dyson, who went to the White Sox for $243K of international bonus pool space.
While it was a frustrating deadline for many Pirates fans, there’s still ample opportunity down the road for Cherington and his staff to reshape the club. Kela is a free agent at season’s end, and Archer’s $11MM club option seems likely to be bought out for $250K rather than exercised. Injuries torpedoed trade possibilities for that pair, but the Bucs control each of Musgrove, Bell, Frazier, Polanco, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl and Richard Rodriguez through at least the 2022 season. If the team does ultimately opt for a larger-scale tear down, be it this winter or next summer, they’ll still have more than one season of control over each player to market to other clubs.
As for the Jays, they didn’t get the two-plus years of Musgrove they apparently sought, but they did land two-plus years of Stripling. The 30-year-old has struggled through his past four appearances after an otherwise solid start to the year, but he has a strong track with the Dodgers, carrying a career 3.51 ERA and 3.60 FIP (387 innings) into the 2020 season. They also rolled the dice on another struggling but established NL West starter, Robbie Ray, adding him and Stripling to the already acquired Taijuan Walker — who was excellent in his Blue Jays debut over the weekend.
It’s arguable that Musgrove would’ve been a more impactful addition than Stripling and/or Ray, and it’s worth wondering whether they’d have acquired either player had the Musgrove swap come together. Regardless, the Jays are positioned quite well to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2016 season. At 18-15, they’re a game back of the second place Yankees and currently leading the Tigers by a game and a half for the No. 8 seed in the American League.