Article by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)
Full Disclosure - I'd be lying if I wrote that I haven't entertained the idea of trading away any of the current Blue Jays players to add some youth on the roster. I've been on my little soap box for weeks now doing my best to encourage fans to not jump off the wagon, explaining that the season is young, offering the Jays a legitimate chance to right the ship. I still fully stand by this notion, but I cannot deny that, should things stay the same, the aspect of trading away some players when it is reasonable and appropriate to do so is more than just a little compelling to me.
By no means am I suggesting that this ought to be done sooner than later (ya know, in case you missed the italicized text above). Quite the contrary, actually. I believe that Shapiro and Atkins are level headed enough that, when approaching decisions as drastic as this one may be, they're aware that it ought to be stewed on for as long as possible. Seeing as though the Jays are in a tough spot right now, any decision that literally changes the planned direction of the team shouldn't be made after about 20 games; even with the poor performance the team has displayed, as well as the manager claiming that the team "isn't clicking as a unit." In reality, who knows what could happen in May or June or July? Who knows how the team will perform when Donaldson, Sanchez, Happ, and Tulowitzki all become healthy? Sure, it's going to be a whole mess load of difficult when it comes to climbing their way out of the hole they currently put themselves in, but... this is baseball - crazier things have happened. I touch on this further in this week's SOT6 Podcast (you should subscribe).
Having said that, should things remain status-quo and we reasonably come to the conclusion that the Jays just don't have it this season after a considerable amount of games (or, ya know, after the first day of summer maybe?), perhaps it's in the best interest of the club to act as sellers come the deadline. The only problem is, the return may not be what you think it ought to be. In fact, of the main pieces that the Jays would likely be inclined to move - Donaldson, Martin, Tulo, Morales, Smoak, and Bautista (I'll get to the pitchers in a bit) - it seems that only one of them would give a sizable return. In short, it's not as easy as it may seem.
We, as fans, tend to severely overvalue the players on our team compared to analysts and spectators that are more or less neutral (I may be guilty of this within this very paragraph after a re-read). It's no secret that out of the aforementioned lot, Donaldson would be the most desired by other clubs. Such clubs would be willing to unload a little more than they'd normally be comfortable with at the trade deadline in order to get that extra push to the Post Season. After all, that is the most likely time teams are willing to overpay. Assuming he's healthy, Donaldson would serve as the Jays best chance to get a good return that Shapiro and Atkins could truthfully convey as being best for the future of the organization, comparatively. This, of course, depends on the return. If such a return consists of younger talent that is either knocking on the door or already has some sort of respectable pedigree in the majors (or a combination of players that fit both), it's not something that I'd hate. On the contrary, it may be something that I could get behind and be excited about. However, it's the rest of the lot that I'm concerned with and that make the Jays theoretical attempt to act as sellers a bit more difficult.
Bautista hasn't been great. With a line of .129/.271/.200, I don't need to beat this to death because we all know it. Even though I think it's likely that he'll end up turning it around and hit the way we are familiar with him hitting, thus far it hasn't been pretty. I won't hide from this. But if I'm wrong and he continues to play poorly, I don't see how trading him away would do any good. Remember, trades need to work on both ends, at least ostensibly. Recall that I said we tend to overvalue players that play for the team we route for because of the things that they have done for us. In reality, a team cannot use any of the things a player has done that we admire as collateral to make a deal that would benefit the team. Blinders are put on to what the player used to be and very rarely are they lifted because his name and/or history mitigates the lack of production (Griffey Jr. returning to Seattle, for example). Thus, if Bautista continues to play as he has, he probably won't generate much in return that will make a considerable difference. Further, given his mutual option for the 2018 season, we could always just walk away after this year. For now though, holding on to him would probably serve best, if only for PR's and nostalgia sake. Would I oppose to moving him? No, not at all. But if the return literally offsets him being here, what's the point? Call me crazy, but I don't think other teams would be pushing hard for this José Bautista. That's just me.
Morales is interesting, because he's been a productive hitter thus far and his contract is relatively friendly. Yet, because of both of these reasons, it's hard to envision the Jays to have a desire to move him. When you consider that he's being paid $33MM over three years, having him as the main source of power in the lineup is something that the Jays may value too heavily to move. Unless the Jays were in a hole that was undeniably too deep to climb out of, or unless the return was hard to turn away from, I don't see Morales being moved. Shapiro and Atkins looked to jump quickly on him when the whole Edwin thing fell apart, so it's not crazy to think that they may see him as a guy to build a lineup around until his contract expires - especially if they are able to move other pieces.
I'm not sure what kind of return the Jays would get if they tried to move Smoak, but I'd like to think it'd be at least moderate. If his offensive production stays where it is, it's not out of the question that he'd be able to offer a good return for the Jays, given how friendly his contract is. The problem is, we don't know when Smoak will start to be all Smoak-like, so it's sort of wishy-washy. But, at the end of the day, trading him wouldn't offer a detrimental hole in the lineup. Depending on what it is, it's probably a wash for me.
Tulo and Martin muddy the waters the most out of this bunch. Considering that they may be approaching (or perhaps beginning) their "down years" in terms of their offensive production, and the cost of their contracts, they'd be considerably harder to move. Both are owed $20MM per year for the next few years (Martin becomes a UFA in 2020, whereas Tulo has a club option come the 2021 season). Paying a big chunk of change for veteran leadership is valued, sure, but I'm not sure it would be for what they are being paid. Yet, it's not impossible to unload bad contracts - even if you're name isn't Alex Anthopoulos (GASP!).
If it's a matter of actually strengthening the team and making them consistent contenders (as Shapiro has said he aims to do), perhaps eating the majority - if not all - of their contracts would would be the price they'd literally have to pay in order to avoid down years and get a considerable return. The Jays would obviously have to throw something in to sweeten the deal, and being on the hook for big contracts may be the sweetener. The problem that arrives when doing this, though, is A) it inhibits the team to spend as freely as they'd like on extensions and/or free agents, or B) catcher and shortstop are major holes to fill, defensively. I know it's easy to look at players in this offensive vacuum because that is what typically stands out to us the most. Sure, Martin and Tulo aren't what they used to be at the plate, but behind the plate and in the field is where their value lays. Neither is showing much decline on this side of the field when healthy, so I suppose it's a matter of how the Jays value them. If the Jays are in a position where both Martin and Tulo can be moved, but they'd be eating a large sum of their contracts, it makes little to no sense to do this. Their defensive upside is too high. You see where this is going now. They're too expensive to move for something substantial, but too valuable to move for anything less than substantial. We've arrived at the dilemma.
When we introduce some of the starting rotation into the mix, things get a little easier. JA Happ, Francisco Liriano, and Marco Estrada are under contract for no more than $14MM each. In the case of Liriano and Estrada, they both are on the final year of their contract, whereas Happ has one year remaining. Each one of these pitchers could be attractive if the ship sinks, and the future of the rotation wouldn't be in dire straits as Sanchez and Stroman would remain, and if they choose to stretch him out, Biagini could slide in as well. Couple that with the addition of Sean Reid-Foley and Conner Greene (when the time is right), it's something Jays fans can look forward to. Hell, even if you're like me and you prefer Biagini in the pen, the Jays could always sign a backend starter to help them get by.
So as you can see, with the exception of a huge chunk of the starting rotation, it's not as easy as it seems to just trade people and attain assets to put the Jays right back in it quickly. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it should at least be kept in mind when some of you are inclined to have knee-jerk reactions when the Jays lose (c'mon... you know you do!). Again, by no means do I think the Jays should consider trading anyone away right now. But if after every loss, fans start to fuel up the whole "TEAR IT DOWN!" train, I at least wanted to put something together to illustrate that it's simply not that easy.
The goal of this team is to have a consistent core that is able to compete yearly. I know I didn't include players like Travis, Pillar, or Goins, and that's on purpose. I think the front offie values the team's youth and would like to build on it for as long as possible. I'm not saying these guys are un-tradeable, but I'd ideally like to only explore trading these guys if none of the others are moveable. The combination of being on the cheap and having some consistency are somewhat valuable to me.
This was just for fun, anyway. The Jays are going to be fine... right?
Broken record warning: just enjoy baseball while you can. It's only April for shit's sake.
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