- Kendrys Morales had a measly .499 OPS in his first 109 plate appearances this season, but has since posted an .899 OPS over his last 129 PA. While a swing tweak or perhaps simple reversion to the mean could be behind the turnaround, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes that Morales’ hot streak coincides with his decision to stop wearing glasses at the plate. Morales had produced strong hard-hit ball numbers all season long, though he is now putting the ball in the air with far more regularity since losing the frames. It isn’t likely that Morales has revived his value enough to become a legitimate trade chip for the Blue Jays, as he is limited to a DH role and is still owed roughly $17MM through the 2019 season, though it is a bit of a relief for Toronto given that Morales looked like a release candidate through the first six weeks.
Blue Jays Rumors
The Blue Jays announced today that utilityman Darnell Sweeney has been outrighted. He had been selected to the 40-man roster recently, appearing briefly in the majors before being optioned to Triple-A.
The 27-year-old saw action in one game but did not take a plate appearance. He’ll presumably head back to Buffalo, though he does have the right to take his free agency instead. In 178 plate appearances there to this point, he carries a .228/.309/.430 slash with six long balls.
- The Yankees may be the “main player” for Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ, per Jon Heyman of Fancred (via Twitter). Not only is Happ arguably the best rental starter on the market, but it seems the Yanks hold him in high regard. They won’t be alone in pursuing the Toronto southpaw, however. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that the Jays are directing some scouting resources toward the Brewers farm system, perhaps in anticipation of interest from the Milwaukee organization.
- Fellow Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada left last night’s game with a sore hip, as MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm was among those to tweet. For now, the severity isn’t known, though perhaps it’s promising that the Toronto organization made a roster transaction today but did not feel compelled to rush Estrada onto the disabled list. As we recently examined, Estrada’s strong performance of late has made him seem increasingly like a potential trade candidate this summer, but he’ll only be a useful asset for the Jays if he’s in good health.
The Blue Jays announced some pitching shuffling in advance of today’s game. Righty Preston Guilmet was designated for assignment to facilitate the additions of righties Luis Santos and Rhiner Cruz, whose contracts were selected. An additional active roster spot was cleared by optioning lefty Tim Mayza.
The 30-year-old Guilmet had been plucked off of waivers earlier in the season from the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he has not been able to carve out a permanent role in his first MLB action since 2015. Through eight frames in Toronto,he allowed eight earned runs and four home runs while recording only five strikeouts against four walks.
Santos threw well last year in a brief debut stint for the Jays, but was bombed in his lone outing of 2018. He has gone on to pitch rather well at Triple-A since that time and now owns a 2.52 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 39 1/3 innings.
As for Cruz, he’s returning from an even longer MLB absence than was Guilmet. Now 31 years of age, Cruz allowed one earned run in 8 2/3 frames at Buffalo before earning the call. He previously appeared in 2012 and 2013 with the Astros.
The Blue Jays have released veteran right-handed reliever Al Alburquerque from the organization, per an announcement from their Triple-A affiliate.
The well-traveled Alburquerque, who recently turned 32, was in the midst of a solid campaign in Buffalo, having pitched to a 3.77 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9 and a 50.6 percent ground-ball rate through 28 2/3 innings out of the Bisons’ bullpen. He enjoyed a fair amount of success in 2017, too, throwing well in Triple-A before tossing a combined 18 big league innings with a 2.50 ERA between the Royals and White Sox.
Alburquerque, as always, relied heavily on his slider in ’17 (54.5 percent), and while his strikeout rate wasn’t great in that small sample, he posted a characteristically strong 12.9 percent swinging-strike rate. In 245 innings of work at the MLB level, he’s posted a 3.16 ERA with 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, though he’s also yielded an average of five walks per nine innings in that time as well.
With the 2018-19 international signing period kicking off today, there will be dozens of six- and seven-figure bonuses handed out to teenage prospects, primarily out of Latin America, filtering in throughout the day today. Many of these have been in the works for quite some time, as is reflected by the fact that most of the top players’ destinations and signing bonuses have been previously reported/projected (and by the fact that the top agreements will all be reported in one swift avalanche today).
We’ll keep track of the notable National League signings here and the notable American League signings in a separate post. Note that you can read up on each of these players with the dedicated international coverage available from Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required), Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com and Kiley McDaniel & Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, each of whom has scouting info on the top echelon of international amateurs. Badler is also tracking the all of the signings from all 30 teams.
Onto some of the more notable signings…
- With deGrom and Syndergaard unlikely to go anywhere, Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ may end up as the best starter moved this month, Olney observes. The Jays have attached “a high asking price” to Happ, Olney writes, which isn’t surprising given his strong track record – including a 3.62 ERA and a career-high 9.84 K/9 in 97 innings this year. Meanwhile, Toronto’s discussing fellow starter Marco Estrada with other teams, Olney reports. Estrada, like Happ, is set to hit free agency at year’s end. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd and Steve Adams examined his trade value earlier this week.
- The value of Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak’s 2019 club option has climbed from $6MM to $7MM, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet tweets. In order for that to happen, Smoak needed to accrue 950 plate appearances from 2017-18. He surpassed that figure Saturday. And Smoak’s option will go from $7MM to $8MM if he amasses 150 more PAs this year (1,100 total from 2017-18), Davidi notes. Whether his salary ends up at $7MM or $8MM, both numbers look like reasonable salaries for Smoak – who’s enjoying his second straight above-average offensive season. Although, Smoak’s .235/.359/.438 line in 315 PAs falls well short of last year’s .270/.355/.529 showing.
- More on the Blue Jays, whose willingness to eat portions of veterans’ contracts in trades has them in a good position as the July 31 non-waiver deadline nears, Davidi observes. When Toronto sent infielder/outfielder Steve Pearce to Boston this week, it acquired infield prospect Santiago Espinal in part because it ate $1.66MM of Pearce’s remaining salary. With Pearce gone, the Jays still have several other veteran trade candidates, and paying some of their contracts would improve the team’s returns in deals. Notably, the Jays “have the support of the organization to do it,” general manager Ross Atkins said.
The Blue Jays announced this morning that right-hander Ryan Tepera has been placed on the 10-day DL due to right elbow inflammation, with the placement retroactive to June 28. Jake Petricka was promoted from Triple-A to take Tepera’s spot on the 25-man roster.
Tepera emerged as a workhorse out of the Toronto bullpen when he tossed 77 2/3 innings in 2017, and he continued to produce as one of the Jays’ primary setup options early in the season. In the wake of Roberto Osuna’s absence and subsequent suspension stemming from domestic assault charges, Tepera was also developing into John Gibbons’ preferred choice as closer. Tyler Clippard earned a save for the Jays last night and will likely get the bulk of ninth-inning chances while Tepera is out.
[Updated Blue Jays depth chart at Roster Resource]
Over 39 1/3 IP, Tepera has posted an impressive 2.97 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 3.58 K/BB rate and 47.5% grounder rate. ERA predictors (3.55 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 3.05 SIERA) are only slightly less-impressed with his performance, and it could be argued that Tepera has even been a hit unlucky, as his xwOBA (.270) is well below his actual xOBA of .316. The long ball has been a bit of an issue for Tepera, as he has allowed five homers this season, the most recent being a walkoff blast from Houston’s Alex Bregman in a blown save opportunity last Wednesday.
Tepera’s absence is yet another blow to a Blue Jays team that looks to be sellers at the deadline, with Thursday’s trade of Steve Pearce to the Red Sox perhaps being the first of several deals in the coming weeks. Toronto’s short-term veterans are the most obvious candidates to be dealt, though MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi recently reported that Tepera had been receiving some trade interest. If Tepera is able to return just after the All-Star break, he should have enough time to prove his health and continue his exhibit his value to any suitors, assuming that Toronto is interested in dealing him. Tepera isn’t eligible for arbitration until this coming winter, making him an important controllable piece within a Jays bullpen that has a lot of long-term questions, given Osuna’s situation and the number of veterans only signed through this season.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said today that suspended reliever Roberto Osuna will return to being the team’s closer when he is activated from his suspension, as Shi Davidi of Sporsnet.ca reports. Osuna is serving a 75-game suspension for a violation of the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.
Dealing with Osuna’s situation was never going to be easy for the Toronto organization. The domestic assault charges against Osuna — one of the game’s best young relief pitchers — are extremely serious.
While the imposition of a lengthy ban did give the team an understanding as to when the young pitcher will be able to play, at least in the eyes of Major League Baseball, there’s still ample uncertainty remaining. Osuna is still facing a criminal trial, after all. In the event of a conviction, he could miss further time (and public scrutiny). And any criminal penalties could make it difficult for him to travel with the team. The factual circumstances surrounding his arrest also still remain largely unknown. Public opinion on the topic may yet depend upon the course of the criminal matter and what facts ultimately emerge.
Still, Atkins declared today that Osuna “is our closer.” He explained:
“We’re running a baseball team and our goal is to win championships. Roberto could potentially be very much a part of that. The word that comes to mind for me when you talk about that is empathy. That’s not just for Roberto, that’s for everyone involved, that’s where we’re going to spend our time and energy, on being empathetic and trying to understand. We don’t have a background in investigations.”
Readers can reach their own conclusions as to the merits of that stance given what has been reported to this point. From a purely on-field perspective, though, it seems Osuna will step back into his prominent role at the back of the Blue Jays’ bullpen if and when he’s able. The comments surely give no indication that the organization will look to trade Osuna before the July 31st trade deadline, as has been speculated elsewhere. He’s eligible to return to play in the majors in early August.
Atkins also addressed his organization’s general stance with the trade deadline approaching, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith tweeted. With Steve Pearce going out the door last night, it’s already obvious that the Jays’ rental pieces are available. That means that a variety of relievers could be moved, along with veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson and starters such as J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada.
But Atkins made clear, too, that the team will at least be open to the possibility of dealing controllable assets as well. If rival organizations wish to pry loose a player under contract into the future, though, the Jays will ask them “to frame the value for us and do the work on their end.” It seems, then, that the Toronto front office won’t be shopping players such as Justin Smoak, Yangervis Solarte, and Kevin Pillar so much as it will be amenable to considering offers for them.
While much of the focus will be on the July trade period, matters of significance lurk in August. Osuna’s status is likely to be a highly visible topic, with implications that go well beyond the game itself. And from a pure baseball perspective, a fascinating situation could be developing with regard to Josh Donaldson, who could be a highly important trade asset during the revocable waiver trade period — if he’s able to get back to health by that point, which isn’t yet certain given his recent setback.