- The Cubs checked in on Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman during their wide-ranging search for young and controllable pitching, Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com writes. Archer has long been linked to Chicago in trade rumors, though the most recent talks unsurprisingly went nowhere since the Rays want to keep their ace to make a playoff run. As for Stroman, the Blue Jays informed the Cubs that the 26-year-old righty would cost Chicago a player from its big league roster. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently observed in his “Taking Inventory” analysis on the Jays, Stroman probably isn’t a likely trade candidate unless Toronto decides to embark on a total rebuild. The Cubs, of course, acquired Jose Quintana earlier this week and are reportedly still on the lookout to add another controllable arm to their rotation.
- The Royals announced earlier this week that right-hander Glenn Sparkman has been returned to the team following his DFA from the Blue Jays. Sparkman was Toronto’s selection in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, and he’ll head back to Kansas City’s Double-A affiliate, per the Royals’ announcement. Sparkman missed most of the season with a fractured thumb and was rocked for seven runs in one inning across two appearances upon being activated and making his MLB debut. He has brilliant numbers in Class-A Advanced and a solid but limited track record in Double-A, so he’ll continue to gain experience in the upper minors for the time being.
- Heyman also notes that Braves left-hander Jaime Garcia is one rental pitcher that interests the Royals. On the subject of Kansas City, he also notes that while the team does have interest in Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, K.C. would want Miami to pay down some of the roughly $41MM remaining on Gordon’s contract, which the Fish aren’t willing to do. The same is true of the Angels and Blue Jays, he adds, both of whom like the player but not his current salary.
This is the 13th entry in MLBTR’s Taking Inventory Series.
The non-waiver trade deadline is just 19 days away, and over the coming weeks there will be several teams that at one point looked to be fringe contenders but are now gravitating toward marketing certain veteran assets. One such club is the Blue Jays, who are reportedly open to offers on their short-term veterans. There’s an important distinction to make between that and operating as a full-on seller; there’s yet to be any serious indication that the Jays are interested in a lengthy rebuild. In fact, Toronto has reported interest in acquiring Dee Gordon and has reportedly scouted Jose Quintana.
It’s easy to get caught up in the dichotomy of “buyers” versus “sellers,” but the lines are nowhere near so black and white for most clubs. The Jays could look to move some expensive assets right now — the veterans they’re reportedly open to moving are relatively well compensated and have been injured and/or haven’t performed up to standard — while also adding some longer-term pieces for a reloaded run in 2018 and beyond. That said, here’s a look at what they have to offer, both in terms of short-term pieces and higher-impact, long-term pieces (if a larger tear-down is eventually settled upon).
Marco Estrada, RHP (starter) | Salary: $14MM (approx. $6.27MM remaining)
The most interesting name among the Blue Jays’ rentals, Estrada was in the midst of a brilliant season before an awful month of June and a clunker in early July torpedoed his ERA. That said, the righty still has intriguing peripherals, with 9.8 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 and a fastball that’s noticeably harder than it was in 2016 (though still sits at an average of just 90.1 mph). Estrada’s chase rate and swinging-strike rate are both the second-best of his career as well. Estrada has a history of back issues, but if a team believes him to be fully healthy and thinks June was largely an aberration, he could be a significant upgrade to a big league rotation for two months or so.
Francisco Liriano, LHP (starter) | $13MM ($5.83MM)
Consistency was always an issue for Liriano before he signed with the Pirates, but his previous control issues came back to haunt him in Pittsburgh last year, prompting a trade to Toronto. He was sensational down the stretch in 2016, but the Jays have had the bad version of Liriano for much of the current season. The 33-year-old’s strikeout and walk rates have both raced in the opposite direction of last year’s excellent post-trade marks, and his 44.9 percent grounder rate is his worst since 2012. It’s cliche to call Liriano “mercurial” or “enigmatic” at this point, but the labels fit. If a pitching-needy team feels like it can solve Liriano, the cost of acquisition won’t be too high.
Jose Bautista, OF/DH | $18.5MM ($8.57MM)
After a terrible April, the “Joey Bats” of old emerged in May — a month during which Bautista was one of the very best hitters on the planet. He followed that up with another terrible month in June, though things have started to even out a bit more recently. It’s been a roller coaster ride for Bautista in 2017, but the strikeouts are up and the power is down; the result to this point is a .234/.349/.400 slash that wRC+ and OPS+ grade as roughly league average. Considering his lack of defensive value, that line won’t cut it. The Jays could market him this summer, but it’ll be tough to get much in return, even if they eat some salary.
Joe Smith, RHP (reliever) | $3MM ($1.34MM)
Smith hasn’t pitched since June 14 due to shoulder inflammation, but he’s most of the way through a minor league rehab stint and has been good when healthy. He’s sporting a 3.41 ERA with considerably better peripherals (13.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 46.5 percent ground-ball rate) through 31 2/3 frames. Assuming he gets healthy, Smith could be an affordable bullpen piece that’ll draw plenty of interest.
J.P. Howell, LHP (reliever) | $3MM ($1.34MM)
Howell (shoulder soreness) is also on the disabled list and partway through a minor league rehab stint, though his season has been much different than that of Smith. The 34-year-old has been limited to just 8 2/3 innings this year because of said shoulder troubles, during which he’s posted an 8.31 ERA and walked more batters (seven) than he’s struck out (five). A healthy Howell is a nice bullpen piece, but teams aren’t going to give up much to get him given this year’s injuries.
Darwin Barney, 2B/SS | $2.8875MM ($1.29MM)
The 31-year-old Barney can play both middle infield positions and has a strong defensive reputation, but his bat has been nonexistent in 2017. Through 168 PAs, he’s hitting .231/.277/.295. He was a valuable bench piece in Toronto as recently as 2016, though, so a team could speculatively pick him up on the cheap and hope for a bit more with the bat.
Controlled Through 2018
Josh Donaldson, 3B | $11.65MM in 2017, $17MM in 2018
To be as clear and up-front as possible, there’s been no serious suggestion that the Jays are willing to even entertain offers on the 2015 American League MVP. Donaldson missed about six weeks of the season due to a calf injury (which played a huge role in the team’s poor first half) but has been productive, albeit not quite his dominant self when healthy. Through 193 PAs, he’s slashing .261/.383/.484 with nine homers and nine doubles. The Blue Jays won’t move Donaldson unless they’re seriously considering at least a medium-scale rebuild, as moving him would almost immediately signal a white flag of sorts for the 2018 season. If Donaldson is made available (a big “if”), he’d require an enormous package of talent featuring multiple top prospects and/or MLB-ready commodities.
J.A. Happ, LHP (starter) | $13MM in 2017, $13MM in 2018
Moving Happ wouldn’t quite be the 2018 concession that a Donaldson trade would represent, but he’d still require a notable package of young talent to acquire. After reinventing himself following a trade from Seattle to Pittsburgh in 2015, Happ has maintained much of that newfound excellent in his second go-around with the Jays. Elbow inflammation cost him a couple of months of the 2017 season, but he’s been strong since returning from the disabled list. Dating back to Opening Day 2016, Happ boasts a 3.27 ERA, 7.8 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 256 innings. He’s a solid and fairly priced mid-rotation arm, meaning he won’t come cheaply in a trade.
Steve Pearce, 1B/OF/2B | $6.25MM in 2017, $6.25MM in 2018
Pearce hasn’t hit nearly as well as he did with the Orioles in 2014 or the Rays in 2016. His .259/.320/.430 slash is solid enough, and he’s still a power threat against lefties that can play multiple positions on the field. But he, too, has spent time on the DL this season, and his salary isn’t necessarily cheap if he can’t rediscover some of his 2014 or 2016 form at the dish.
Aaron Loup, LHP (reliever) | $1.125MM in 2017, arb-eligible through 2018
Loup can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground, but his walk rate has soared in 2017 while lefties have clobbered him. I doubt he’s going to be anyone’s Plan A or B, but he could still change hands on deadline day even if the Jays aren’t punting on the 2018 season. He’s a non-tender candidate after the year but has a decent track record against lefty batters.
Justin Smoak, 1B | $4.125MM in 2017, $4.125MM in 2018 (plus $6MM club option/$250K buyout for 2019)
The Yonder Alonso of the East, Smoak has gone from busted prospect to All-Star in short order thanks to a revamped swing plane and, as he tells it, some offseason work with a sports psychologist. The contract is so affordable that even if he takes a bit of a step back, he now looks like a bargain. This time last year, most were curious as to why the Jays offered him a two-year extension. Now, any team looking for help at first base or DH — and there admittedly aren’t many — would love to buy into his new approach. The lack of a market and his highly affordable contract make a deal seem unlikely, though.
Jeff Beliveau, LHP (reliever) | Not arbitration-eligible until 2018-19 offseason
Beliveau has proven to be a nice find on a minor league deal for the Jays, having tossed 32 innings with a 3.09 ERA, 12.1 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in Triple-A prior to a big league promotion. It’s been more of the same through his first 14 1/3 innings back in the Majors; he’s worked to a 3.14 ERA with a 15-to-4 K/BB ratio. The sample of work is pretty small, and Beliveau was out of the Majors for most of two seasons due to 2015 surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The value here isn’t huge, but a team looking for some left-handed relief help might kick the tires.
Marcus Stroman, RHP (starter) | $3.4MM in 2017, arb-eligible through 2020 (Super Two)
Speaking of unlikely, a Stroman trade would only happen if the Jays elected to completely tear things down. I don’t expect that to happen, but as a pitcher who has already reached arbitration and is going to make a nice raise on an already decent salary in arbitration, Stroman would be the one long-term rotation piece I could see moving in that scenario. Again, though, it’s not likely.
- Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH | $10MM in 2017, $11MM in 2018, $12MM in 2019
- Troy Tulowitzki, SS | $20MM annually 2017-19, $14MM in 2020 (plus $15MM club option/$4MM buyout for 2021)
- Russell Martin, C | $20MM annually 2017-19
Morales and Tulowitzki aren’t hitting well enough for anyone to really consider taking on either of those deals in a trade, though the Jays wouldn’t mind shedding the cash. Martin’s offense is down somewhat in 2017, but he’s still been a valuable backstop, even if he’s slightly overpaid. That said, he’ll turn 35 this winter with $40MM on the books beyond the current campaign, and there aren’t too many clubs lining up to acquire a catcher in the first place.
The Blue Jays have let teams around the league know that they’re open to offers on rental players like Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, Joe Smith and J.P. Howell, according to Robert Murray of FanRag Sports. The Jays are less open but not entirely closed off to the idea of moving lefty J.A. Happ and first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce, each of whom is affordably signed through the 2018 season, he adds. Toronto president Mark Shapiro recently suggested that the Jays still have enough pure talent to contend, though he also acknowledged that the club’s poor first half would require them to be open-minded. Certainly, it doesn’t seem as though the Jays are looking to tear things down entirely, and given their recent links to players like Dee Gordon, it’s possible that Toronto is even open to shedding short-term salary but still amassing some long-term assets to help beyond 2017. The 33-year-old Liriano, after all, has struggled all season, while Estrada limped into the All-Star break and the two relievers mentioned are presently on the disabled list.
- Blue Jays first baseman spoke to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi about his remarkable turnaround in 2017. Smoak tells Davidi that at the suggestion of GM Ross Atkins, he sat down with a sports psychologist for the first time this offseason and developed a revamped mental approach to the game to go along with modifications to his swing path that were made with hitting coach Brook Jacoby. Smoak adds that he’s actually cut down on his swing at the plate, which has led to more power. “When you would see me coil, or you’d see the whole number on the back of my jersey, it was because I’m trying to hit the ball 500 feet,” he explains. “I’m big enough and I’m strong enough that if I square it up it’s going to have a chance. You don’t have to hit it 400 feet every time, they can barely go out, too.” The more reserved approach at the dish has helped him to recognize breaking balls more effectively, which Davidi explains is readily apparent in his plate discipline metrics. I’d highly recommend checking out the column in full, as it’s a great look at the transformation that Smoak has undergone.
At least three teams have expressed some interest in Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, according to a report from Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. The Angels, Blue Jays, and Royals have each “at least mentioned” the infielder as a possible deadline target, per Heyman.
Gordon, 29, hasn’t continued the form he showed in 2015, his first season with Miami. He slashed a career-best .333/.359/.418 — helped along by a .383 batting average on balls in play — and swiped 58 bags that year. With quality glovework mixed in, Gordon was valued at 4.7 fWAR and earned himself a five-year, $50MM extension.
He has had a somewhat redemptive 2017 season, at least, after his second season with the Marlins was marred by a PED suspension and significant performance decline. In his 375 plate appearances this year, Gordon owns a .295/.342/.358 batting line and has already stolen 32 bases.
While there isn’t immense need at second base around the game, Gordon would be a future asset for any acquiring team. And with his immense speed and highly rated glovework, he’d also be a particularly useful postseason roster piece.
All said, Gordon’s contract seems fairly reasonable, though it’s certainly not the bargain the Marlins once hoped it would be. The deal promises Gordon $7.5MM this year and $38MM over the three seasons to come — which includes a $1MM buyout on a $14MM option for 2021. (That option would be guaranteed if Gordon reaches 600 plate appearances in 2020 or 1,200 over that and the prior season.)
It’s not yet clear just what kinds of trade scenarios might entice the Marlins. Presumably, though, the focus would be on shedding as much of the financial commitment as possible. It’s not difficult to see the reason for interest from the teams that Heyman lists, as the Halos, Jays, and Royals have each had their share of uncertainty at second base. But it’s an open question whether those or any other teams would really be willing to take on most or all of Gordon’s contract.
Scouts from the Yankees, Orioles, Royals, Angels, Blue Jays and Cardinals were in Colorado watching White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana pitch on Saturday, according to Scott Merkin of MLB.com. Some of those teams likely don’t have the prospect capital to assemble a package for the on-the-block Quintana, so observing his outing may have been due diligence in certain cases (or those clubs could’ve been on hand to scout other players). Regardless, Quintana didn’t disappoint, striking out 10 over 5 1/3 innings, after which he indicated that his preference is to remain with the White Sox. At the same time, Quintana acknowledged that the decision is up to team brass. “Absolutely. I want to stay here,” he said.“But they know what’s the best for us, so I just try to do my job and that’s it.”
- The Blue Jays have traded infielder Jonathan Diaz to the Yankees, Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo announced (on Twitter). This will be the second stint with the Yankees organization for the 32-year-old Diaz, who was in Scranton last season. The majority of Diaz’s professional career has been spent with the Toronto organization, which selected him in the 12th round of the 2006 draft, though his initial major league action came with the Red Sox in 2013. He then returned to the Jays and cracked their roster for brief periods in both 2014 and ’15. In all, Diaz has collected 65 major league PAs and batted .145/.242/.164. He owns a .226/.341/.291 line in 2,314 PAs at Triple-A.
- While Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said yesterday that he still wants to improve the team’s roster in the near-term, Jon Morosi of MLB.com writes that “multiple executives around the Major Leagues” think the Jays will end up selling. A few deals involving pending free agents wouldn’t be a surprise, of course, but Morosi suggests there’s potential for more significant pieces changing hands — though it’s not clear from the report whether any sources from within the Toronto organization view that as a real possibility. The Cardinals have internal interest in star Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, per the report, though that hasn’t resulted in any trade talks to this point. Surely, plenty of other teams feel the same way about Donaldson and other core Jays performers. If Shapiro is to be taken at this word, a true rebuild isn’t really under consideration, though perhaps some lateral moves for younger or more controllable players could still be entertained.
Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro discussed the Blue Jays’ plans for the upcoming trade deadline in a chat with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. You’ll want to read the entire piece for all of Shapiro’s comments and Davidi’s analysis, but the key takeaway is that Toronto still isn’t looking to pursue a drastic roster overhaul.
Less than two weeks ago, GM Ross Atkins declared that the team was still “very much in it.” At the time, he noted, “we can’t climb back into one of those holes, because there’s not as much time left.” But that’s just what has happened since; even after a victory today, the Jays sit seven games under .500 — well off the pace in the AL East and on the fringes of the Wild Card picture.
While Shapiro acknowledges that the team’s moribund first half must weigh into the equation, he hinted that the team won’t undertake a significant sell-off. The veteran baseball executive emphasized “the incredible support in the fanbase” and the existence of “enough of a base of talent here to still contend.”
Those factors, Shapiro suggests and Davidi highlights, leave the team still looking to get better now as well as in the future. Shapiro framed the coming deadline as just “one window of opportunity for us to improve the team.” Still, as one might expect, Shapiro says “it’s highly unlikely” the club will pursue “rental-type guys.” And he stressed that there’s a “need to be open minded to how we get better.”
That could suggest a pursuit of deals that aren’t readily classified either as “buying” or “selling,” in the traditional sense, Davidi writes. Shapiro did acknowledge that, “how we’re situated at the moment might cause for one transitional period” in compiling a sustainable contender. But, he said, “I still believe we can get through that transition in an expedited time frame.”
It’ll be interesting to see what particular opportunities the Jays end up pursuing in earnest. The organization is in a tricky spot given its slate of significant commitments, numerous areas for potential improvement, and stated intention to continue attempting to field a competitive roster while also building a broader talent base.
Toronto entered the year with a club-record payroll of over $160MM and will owe something on the order of $85MM next year to just five players (with the exact figure depending upon Josh Donaldson’s surely massive arbitration salary). Yet just two hitters (Donaldson and Justin Smoak) are carrying above-average OPS figures on the year, while the rotation has scuffled with Aaron Sanchez shelved for an extended stretch.
As ever, veterans on short-term contracts represent the most obvious trade chips. But starters Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano have struggled, bounceback reliever Joe Smith is on the DL, and veteran slugger Jose Bautista has not rebounded as hoped. (To the contrary, Bautista’s legendary plate discipline is now heading in the wrong direction even as his power continues to dip.)
While some of those players will hold some appeal at the deadline, none seem likely to return truly significant young talent. And as Davidi writes, the organization doesn’t exactly have “replacements ready and waiting in the minor-leagues.” Trading away more significant assets — particularly Donaldson, the team’s star third baseman — would represent a much more drastic step that doesn’t appear to be under consideration at present.