The Toronto Blue Jays have not had any serious trade discussions regarding staff ace Marcus Stroman, per the MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). That does not mean, however, that teams haven’t asked. The Reds, in particular, are one team with noted interest in the Jays’ right-hander. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the Reds have a well-documented mandate to add pitching this winter. For the Jays, to move Stroman now would definitely be selling low. Coming off back-to-back 200-inning efforts in 2016 and 2017, Stroman labored through only 102 1/3 innings in 2018, with 6.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 5.54 ERA in nineteen starts. He twice went on the disabled list, including a six-week stint for shoulder fatigue in May. As the winter action continues to wind up, keep warm with some quick hits from around the league…
Blue Jays Rumors
The Houston Astros acquired infielder Aledmys Diaz from the Toronto Blue Jays today. In return, they have sent Triple-A right-hander Trent Thornton to Toronto, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter).
After spending parts of two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Blue Jays acquired Diaz for minor-league outfielder J.B. Woodman prior to 2018. He is a career .275/.325/.458 hitter – good for a slightly above-average 108 wRC+. Diaz saw regular action in Toronto this season, slashing .263/.303/.453 with 18 home runs (1.6 fWAR) while keeping the seat warm for prospects Richard Urena and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
The Blue Jays stand to benefit from that surplus with the acquisition of Thornton. Though not a top prospect by any means, the 25-year-old Thornton ranked 24th on MLB.com’s midseason rankings of Houston’s farm system. Since the Astros selected him in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, Thornton has steadily climbed the ranks of Houston’s minor league system, reaching their top affiliate in 2017. Over 124 1/3 innings, he had a 4.42 ERA (3.93 xFIP) with 8.83 K/9 and 2.24 BB/9 while pitching with Triple-A Fresno for the entirety of 2018.
With either Urena or Gurriel Jr. ready to take over at short, the Blue Jays did a nice job here of turning their middle infield depth into an ML-ready arm. Thornton has not yet appeared in the majors, though the Jays will add him to their 40-man roster, per Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith (via Twitter). The rebuilding Blue Jays get all six years of Thornton’s team control in exchange for four years of Diaz.
Many teams are putting the finishing touches on their coaching staffs, though there are still some openings. Here are the latest moves:
- The Rangers announced that they have hired Julio Rangel as their new pitching coach. He’ll come over from the Giants organization, where he had served as the minor-league pitching coordinator. The 43-year-old Rangel also spent 11 years in the Indians system but has never previously worked at the MLB level as a player or coach.
- Rounding out their staff under new skipper Rocco Baldelli, the Twins announced the additions of third-base coach Tony Diaz and first-base coach Tommy Watkins. The 31-year-old Diaz comes over from the Rockies, while Watkins is moving up from a minor-league managerial role in the Minnesota system. Yesterday, the club finalized deals with its coaches dedicated to pitching.
- Also departing the Rockies will be hitting coach Duane Espy, the club announced. It’s not clear what the team’s plans are in this area. For the time being, at least, assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar is evidently remaining in his role.
- The Blue Jays will hire Guillermo Martinez to become their new hitting coach, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports. Martinez is just 34 years of age, but obviously made quite an impression in his first year as minor-league hitting coordinator in Toronto. He played professionally but never reached the majors. Previously, Martinez coached in the minors with the Jays and Cubs.
- To complete their staff, the Phillies announced, they’ll install Dave Lundquist as assistant pitching coach. He was most recently the organization’s Triple-A pitching coach, so this was a natural profession. The former big leaguer has worked his way up the chain in the Philadelphia organization since landing there in 2008.
- New Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo followed a relatively straight path to his first managerial gig, but that doesn’t mean it was easy – or quick. The straight-shootin’, bongo-playin’ skipper was a career minor-leaguer as a player, a Triple-A Hall-of-Famer as a manager, and yet, when he finally got his opportunity as a third-base coach for Kevin Cash’s Rays, the promotions came quickly. Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling charts Montoyo’s career path from the first scholarship he earned as a ballplayer from Puerto Rico through his 18 seasons managing in the Rays minor-league system. It’s a longer profile, but well worth a read for Blue Jays fans who want to get excited about what Charlie Montoyo brings to Toronto: he’s a stern developer of young talent, a keen innovator of fielding shifts and an earnest baseball lifer.
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The youth movement is on in Toronto, as the Blue Jays will look to continue trading veterans and picking up controllable pieces for the future.
- Troy Tulowitzki, SS: $38MM through 2020 (includes $4MM buyout of $15MM club option for 2021)
- Russell Martin, C: $20MM through 2019
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr., IF/OF: $17.4MM through 2023
- Kendrys Morales, DH: $12MM through 2019
- Justin Smoak, 1B: $8MM through 2019 (Jays exercised club option)
Arbitration Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Marcus Stroman – $7.2MM
- Ken Giles – $6.6MM
- Yangervis Solarte – $5.9MM (Jays retain control even through Solarte’s $5.5MM club option wasn’t exercised)
- Kevin Pillar – $5.3MM
- Randal Grichuk – $4.8MM
- Aaron Sanchez – $3.8MM
- Devon Travis – $2.4MM
- Ryan Tepera – $1.7MM
- Brandon Drury – $1.4MM
- Joe Biagini – $1.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Solarte, Pillar
It’s pretty unlikely that any player the Blue Jays acquire this winter will have as much impact on the franchise as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is expected to make his long-awaited MLB debut sometime early in 2019. The precise timing isn’t yet known, but there’s no question the club will wait until it is no longer possible for Guerrero to achieve a full year of MLB service time. The consensus top prospect in the sport, Guerrero represents the next generation of Jays baseball, when he and a host of other intriguing youngsters from Toronto’s farm system will theoretically become the core of the Jays’ next contending team.
Until those prospects arrive and develop, however, the Jays will spend their time (perhaps the next two seasons, as per GM Ross Atkins’ rough timeframe) figuring out who will be playing alongside them. The club already began dealing some of its veterans once it faded out of contention last season, and it’s safe to assume the Blue Jays will be open to moving any and all remaining established names to make way for younger talent.
Since the Jays currently have a lot of options for both the infield and outfield spots, Atkins has already said that the team will prioritize moving some of its excess position players to add pitching. The rotation is perhaps the biggest concern heading into 2019, as the Jays are poised to deploy a highly uncertain starting five. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are still in the mix. Otherwise, the unit is slated to be made up of largely untested hurlers — Ryan Borucki, and then some combination of Sean Reid-Foley, Sam Gaviglio, Thomas Pannone, and perhaps Jon Harris or Jacob Waguespack.
Stroman received trade interest last summer, even while in the midst of a down year that saw the right-hander post a 5.54 ERA over 102 1/3 IP while battling shoulder and blister issues. The Jays would be selling low on Stroman if they dealt him this offseason, and are perhaps more likely to explore a trade (if at all) during the season, provided the righty is healthy and showing some of his 2017 form. Sanchez is an even greater longshot to be moved, as his stock has fallen after pitching only 141 innings total in 2017-18 due to persistent finger, nail, and blister problems.
Given that even the veteran names in the rotation aren’t certainties, Toronto will look at adding at least one experienced arm on a short-term contract, similar to their signing of Jaime Garcia last winter (obviously with better results, the team hopes). Ervin Santana, Josh Tomlin, Drew Pomeranz, or Martin Perez are a few bounce-back candidates that could conceivably fit as targets on one-year deals, not to mention a familiar face like Marco Estrada, though Estrada’s own struggles in 2018 may lead the Blue Jays to pursue someone with more upside.
If the Jays looked at pitchers beyond one-year commitments, another old friend like J.A. Happ could be a possibility, should Happ value a familiar environment over a chance to compete for the playoffs in 2019. Pitchers like Anibal Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez, or Lance Lynn could fit. Looking to the future a bit, the Jays could consider Garrett Richards, who will miss 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery but should be ready for 2020 when Toronto is a step closer to contention. Getting even more creative with their starters, the Jays could potentially even use an “opener” for one of the rotation spots, though that is far from a certainty.
Any veteran starter the Jays acquire, of course, could also become a trade candidate at the deadline, and the same goes for any reliever the team might pick up. The Blue Jays have signed and then flipped a number of inexpensive free agent relievers over the last two offseasons (Seunghwan Oh, Joe Smith, John Axford), so expect them to target similar bullpen arms this winter. In terms of in-house relievers that could be traded, incumbent closer Ken Giles is the biggest name, though he might be another player who the Jays wait to properly shop until he improves his value during the season. Giles posted a 4.65 ERA over 50 1/3 total innings with the Astros and Blue Jays in 2018, with some excellent peripherals (9.5 K/9, 7.57 K/BB rate) but also very poor numbers when not pitching in save situations.
The question of “when should an asset be traded?” will certainly linger over Toronto’s offseason, particularly in the wake of the relative lack of return the Jays received for Josh Donaldson last summer, when the former MVP could’ve netted much more prior to his injury-riddled 2018 season. The Jays obviously aren’t going to rush to move a player purely as a reaction to Donaldson’s situation, though selling high on a few players now would make sense given the Blue Jays’ projected timeframe for contention.
Randal Grichuk, for instance, played quite well in his first year in Toronto, though he might not be part of the team’s future since he is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. Justin Smoak is only under contract through 2019, so it might make sense for the Jays to deal him this winter and create room to give Rowdy Tellez a longer look at first base. Teoscar Hernandez offers five years of control and a lot of power, though his high strikeout totals and near-unplayable outfield glove could make him someone the Jays see as less of a long-term roster piece and more as someone to be dealt in a package for a true long-term asset.
Of course, the Jays would undoubtedly be much more open to dealing Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, or Russell Martin, though these high-priced veterans are each more or less immovable. Morales rebounded from a poor 2017 to post above-average hitting numbers (112 OPS+, 108 wRC+) last year, but it would take more than decent numbers to drum up much trade interest in a DH-only player with a $12MM salary.
Martin has at least a little theoretical trade value, perhaps in a swap of bad contracts with a team that needs a catcher, though even that scenario could be hampered by a larger-than-usual number of decent veteran catchers available in free agency. Danny Jansen is slated for the bulk of catching duties for the Jays next season, leaving Martin as a well-paid backup and veteran mentor to Jansen, Luke Maile, and Reese McGuire (plus maybe some backup infield duty).
After missing all of the 2018 season due to heel injuries, Tulowitzki has no trade value whatsoever, and it remains to be seen exactly what the Jays will do with Tulowitzki if he is able to take the field come Opening Day. The shortstop doesn’t appear open to a position switch, and while Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can play several positions around the diamond, the Jays are obviously interested in giving Gurriel more time at shortstop given his status as a franchise building block. One answer could be to deploy Gurriel at third base until Guerrero is promoted, giving the Jays a few weeks to see if Tulowitzki can still contribute, but there is simply so much uncertainty around Tulowitzki’s health that the Blue Jays will consider anything they can get from him in 2019 as a bonus.
With Gurriel penciled in at shortstop, Aledmys Diaz or Brandon Drury are the favorites to be the pre-Guerrero third baseman, and both players should also vie for playing time with Devon Travis at second base. Travis stayed healthy in 2018 but wasn’t very productive, while Drury only played 26 MLB games last season. The Jays would be selling low on either, and could just keep everyone around to compete for the job in the short-term while keeping second base warm for prospects Bo Bichette or Cavan Biggio (or maybe even Gurriel, depending on who ends up playing where in the future). Toronto already declined a club option on Yangervis Solarte and will likely part ways with him, given their other infield options.
More trade possibilities abound in the outfield, as any of Grichuk, Hernandez, or Kevin Pillar could be playing elsewhere on Opening Day. Pillar’s elite center field glove showed some decline last season, dropping to a negative value (-2) in Defensive Runs Saved with only slightly positive grades from UZR/150 (+2.5) and Statcast’s Outs Above Average (+1). Pillar has never been a productive hitter, so if he isn’t offering excellent defense, he doesn’t bring much to the table as an everyday player. At a projected $5.3MM arbitration salary, a case can be made for Pillar as a non-tender candidate, with some combination of Grichuk, Anthony Alford or Billy McKinney then handling center field. That said, it’s also quite possible that another club would like to take a shot on Pillar at that price, particularly since he has another season of arb eligibility remaining. He’s also a candidate to stay and play in hopes that he’ll be of interest at the trade deadline.
Though the Jays have just under $113MM in payroll commitments in 2019, that number drops to under $21MM the following year, and Gurriel is the only player under contract beyond the 2020 season. This opens up more trade possibilities for the team, as Toronto could absorb a large salary from another team in order to also acquire some prospects or MLB-ready talents.
There’s really no shortage of what the Blue Jays “could” do this winter now that the rebuild is fully on, though it’s probably safer to expect a few deals and modest free agent signings (like last offseason) rather than a huge overhaul. As noted, the Jays have so many possible trade candidates still looking to rebuild value (Stroman, Sanchez, Giles, Travis, Pillar) that much of the real heavy lifting on the trade front might not take place until the middle of the 2019 season.
The Jays have already made one intriguing move this winter, however, in hiring Charlie Montoyo as the team’s new manager. Montoyo is a well-respected baseball man with 22 years of experience in the Rays organization as a minor league manager and a coach on the Major League staff, though he has no prior ties to either the Jays, Atkins, or team president Mark Shapiro. This makes Montoyo a completely fresh voice within the dugout, and thus perhaps a fitting choice to steward the Blue Jays into their new era.
The Blue Jays announced Wednesday that they’ve hired Astros hitting coach Dave Hudgens as manager Charlie Montoyo’s new bench coach. Hudgens, 62 next month, becomes the third member of Houston manager A.J. Hinch’s staff to be hired away by another organization since season’s end. Bullpen coach Doug White was recently named the Angels’ new pitching coach, and assistant hitting coach Jeff Albert took an offer from the Cardinals to become their new hitting coach.
Hudgens has plenty of experience on a big league coaching staff, having served as a hitting coach with the Athletics and Mets in addition to the ’Stros. In total, he has 12 seasons as a big league hitting coach under his belt, though this will be his first stint as a Major League bench coach.
A former first baseman, Hudgens had a six-year minor league career and made a brief, six-game cameo in the Majors with the 1983 Athletics. In addition to his work as a hitting coach in the Majors, he’s worked as a minor league manager and roving hitting coordinator. He also spent six years as the Athletics’ assistant director of player development in the late 90s and early 2000s.
- The Blue Jays met with J.A. Happ’s representatives today, tweets Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. General manager Ross Atkins tells Davidi that Happ is “one of my favorite people in baseball” before also acknowledging that there’ll be ample competition for his services this offseason. Happ just turned 36, but despite the fact that he’s entering the later stages of his career, he remained as effective as ever in 2018. The veteran southpaw turned in 177 2/3 innings of 3.65 ERA ball with a career-best 9.8 K/9 mark against 2.6 BB/9 and 1.37 HR/9 with a 40.1 percent grounder rate. Happ’s 10.4 percent swinging-strike rate was also the highest of his career, while his 31.7 percent chase rate was his second-best mark as a big leaguer. Fellow lefty Rich Hill received a three-year guarantee that stretched into his age-39 season a couple of years ago, so it’s conceivable that Happ could also find three-year offers (which would run into his age-38 campaign).
The Blue Jays have fired hitting coach Brook Jacoby and first-base coach Tim Leiper, according to a report from John Lott of The Athletic, later confirmed by GM Ross Atkins. Both coaches had a year remaining on three-year contracts signed prior to the 2017 season.
The firings are the first in what could be wholesale changes for the staff under new manager Charlie Montoyo, per the report. Montoyo, formerly the bench coach in Tampa, has deemed the assembly of a quality staff “very important” as he enters his first season as manager in the bigs.
Jacoby, 58, had manned the post since the start of the 2015 season. Prior to his tenure with Toronto, the 12-year big league veteran held the same position in Cincinnati for seven seasons.
His dismissal is a bit of a surprise for a Toronto team that received encouraging 2018 production from several first-year players in the wake of serious injuries to Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. Rookies Billy McKinney, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, and Dwight Smith Jr. all performed at an above-league-average rate this season, albeit in limited samples, and reclamation projects Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk, stalled Cardinals both, again flashed the ability that had catapulted each to regular status in St. Louis. As a team, the Blue Jays’ 101 wRC+ tied for 8th in the major leagues, a marked improvement over last year’s paltry output. Still, it’s a lineup that, under Jacoby’s watch, failed to produce a single breakout star, and witnessed the rapid diminishment of once-promising second baseman Devon Travis, plus the total collapse of former regular Yangervis Solarte.
Leiper, 52, was a longtime manager in the minor leagues before being appointed to John Gibbons’ staff prior to the 2014 season.
The Blue Jays announced today that they have outrighted four players from their 40-man roster. Justin Shafer will remain in the organization after clearing waivers, while fellow right-handed hurlers Rhiner Cruz, Taylor Guerrieri, and Jake Petricka were all sent into free agency after going unclaimed.
Shafer, 26, made his big league debut in ’18 but allowed three runs in 8 1/3 innings while issuing a troubling seven walks in that time. He struggled as a starter in the low minors but has posted solid ERA marks as a reliever in Double-A (2.75, 75 1/3 innings) and Triple-A (1.49 ERA, 42 1/3 innings). Shafer has still averaged under eight punchouts per nine innings and walked nearly four per nine innings in the upper minors, though.
Cruz, 32, has bounced around the league on minor league deals since he was a top pick in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. He posted an ERA north of 6.00 in his rookie season with the Astros following that selection and has never found his footing in the big leagues, as he owns a 5.20 ERA in 79 2/3 frames.
Guerrieri was one of the top prospects in baseball with the Rays before arm injuries tanked his status. He posted video game numbers between Class-A Advanced and Double-A as a 22-year-old in 2015 but has yet to find success in the upper minors (4.86 ERA in 66 2/3 Triple-A innings) since making it back to the mound. He threw 9 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays this year and allowed five runs on nine hits and four walks with eight strikeouts.
Petricka has the most experience of the names in question here, and he posted a 4.53 ERA with a respectable 8.1 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 in 45 2/3 frames out of the Toronto ’pen in 2018. The longtime White Sox reliever has a lifetime 3.98 ERA in 223 2/3 MLB frames but would’ve been arbitration-eligible this winter. The Blue Jays, rather than pay him a raise on 2018’s $1.3MM base salary, opted to cut him loose early and give him a jump start on finding a new club in free agency.
It stands to reason that the Detroit organization will continue to look for ways to find value from roster castaways from other organizations. In this case, they’ll take a look at a pair of players who earned first-time MLB promotions in 2018 but failed to impress at the game’s highest level.
Dixon, 26, raked in his second attempt at Triple-A but racked up 43 strikeouts and limped to a .574 OPS in his first 124 plate appearances in the big leagues. The former third-rounder is capable of playing the corners in both the infield and outfield but also has experience at second base, potentially making him a versatile piece if he can earn a shot with the Tigers.
As for Fernandez, he’ll turn 26 right as camp opens, just in time to push for a job in the Detroit pen. He’s exclusively a reliever and occasionally threw multiple innings in the upper minors last year, working to a 2.97 in 60 2/3 frames over 44 appearances. Though he has allowed a few too many free passes in recent years, Fernandez gets some swings and misses. He also showed a 94+ mph heater from the left side.