Blue Jays in first- in trade rumors

Yesterday I was making the point that some things that seem like negatives for baseball – the excess voting of Kansas City fans for the All Star game, apparent computer hacking by someone within the Cardinals organization – might be good for it in the long run. Today, we apply the same principle to our Toronto Blue Jays.

This weekend has been disappointing, to say the least, to us fans, seeing the team lose two of three at home to divisional rivals Baltimore. Even the one win was turned into a nail-biter after Marco Estrada carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. All in all, there would seem to be little to cheer about, Jose Bautista’s four RBI game today and Kevin Pillar’s rising batting average notwithstanding. True, Toronto remain in third place and within three games of the lead, but one has to realize how tantalizingly close they were to being only one game out and rolling out a new winning streak.

Dig deeper though and there’s reason for hope. And the hope is, that the team’s bullpen has hit rock bottom and even the contented front office is by now aware of the reality of the 2015 Jays. they can score runs alright; 393 is fully 67 more than the next best in the AL (the rejuvenated Yankees) . Unfortunately, the pitching is as predicted by everyone except Alex Anthopoulos, atrocious. While it might not be the worst in baseball, it’s assuredly not good enough to put the team into the post-season, let alone a championship.

Estrada and Buehrle’s starts were good enough this weekend, minor league call-up Scott Copeland’s was not. And in all three games, the bullpen did its best to make winners out of the Orioles; twice they succeeded. Despite having eight relievers in the ‘pen, it seems no one can get the job done. Worse yet, the worst culprits are the apparent stars- closer Brett Cecil, for example. Cecil has technically only blown two saves this season, then again he’s only converted five. Add in four losses including today’s embarrassing snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory and the fact that he’s allowed earned runs in five of his last six outings and you have more than enough evidence that he is not a closer for a team that wants to go anywhere. Although his 5.96 ERA might have told you that already.

Miguel Castro, the closer at season’s opening, is injured but was demoted back to the minors because of his greenness anyhow, so he’s hardly a potential replacement. Neither is workhorse Aaron Loup, through his 31 appearances some of his numbers are decent – 25K and only 3 walks for example- but his ERA is 4.78 and rising and it’s increasingly evident more and more hitters are catching up to his odd delivery.

Losing two out of three games that should have been walks in the park hurts, but it may be just what the Blue Jays needed. For over a month rumors have abounded that Anthopoulos is talking to various teams about trading for pitching help and that Jays scouts are busy watching Cincinnati and Philadelphia games, this weekend should convince him to stop talking and make the move. a recent article in Bluebird Banter suggested that the team has been involved in discussions with the Phils to acquire Aaron Harang and Jon Papelbon; the Reds to bring in Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman and the A’s for Scott Kazmir and Tyler Clippard.

Any or all of these pitchers could make the Jays better. Of the three though, the Phillies trade seems both the most “doable” and the least desireable. The rumor is that all they want is highly-rated minor league catcher Max Pentecost in return, and with all star Russell Martin locked in for five years, that would seem a small price to pay. However, Harang, touted here weeks ago, is coming down to earth…after 15 starts, the 37 year old is sitting at 4-9 with a 3.41 ERA. The W-L isn’t a big deal, given the limited run support he’s had, but six straight losses is a bit worrying; more so is that in his last four outings he’s given up 20 earned runs in 23 innings! His ERA still looks OK, but has soared from 1.82 a month ago. Best prognosis, he’d be an OK #4 or 5 starter, but wouldn’t be an upgrade over RA Dickey, Marco Estrada or (a healthy) Aaron Sanchez, so what’s the point? As for Papelbon, he can shut the door still, but questions of his personality and ability to “fit in” still abound… and would crimp the team’s ability to add more salary in the next year or two given his $13M a year.

Johnny Cueto is the best pitcher linked to the Jays in any of the trade rumors, and Chapman is the hardest throwing reliever out there but there are some caution signs to pay attention to. Cueto is a free agent after this season, Chapman would be up for arbitration. Neither is a deal-breaker but of the two, one would have to think Johnny C is the one who’d be more interesting to have back next year. I’d rather have Chapman jog out of the ‘pen than Cecil next time the Jays had a one run lead, or a seven run lead, in the ninth but something about him doesn’t instill me with confidence. I can’t help but think that a thin pitcher who throws super-hard and harder isn’t a good bet to stay healthy for too much longer. The sore spot for the Jays though might be that , if the stories are correct, the Reds are adamant about Daniel Norris being part of a 4-player package sent their way.

I wouldn’t mind that trade, but everything points to the best fit being another trade to add to the long list of deals between Oakland and Toronto. I’ve sung the praises of Kazmir here recently and saw him stymie the Rangers on one weak hit over 8 innings since. He might not be quite as good as Cueto, but he’d instantly be the front-of-the-line starter in Toronto. Better still would be for Tyler Clippard to be part of the deal as well. Clippard is as steady and durable a reliever as you will find in the 21st Century, appearing in 70+ games for each of the last five completed seasons and limiting opponents to an average under .213 every year since 2009. He has experience dealing with the pressure of a closer’s role, saving 32 for Washington in ’12 and ten already for Oakland this year. He’d instantly provide the Jays with not only a decent closer, but one who could have been out on the mound all three games this weekend without breaking a sweat. The story is Oakland are asking for Castro and three less-noteworthy minor leaguers in return.

Kazmir could join the rotation right away taking over from the demoted (as of this evening) Copeland . Having to deal with sending Estrada back to the bullpen or keep Sanchez in Buffalo when he’s healthy enough to pitch is the kind of dilemma general managers dream about having. My guess is over the remaining half-season plus, Kazmir could add three wins to the team and Clippard would probably add at least six by not blowing slam-dunk saves. Nine wins more in this division equate to home advantage in the playoffs as opposed to watching the playoffs at home on TV.

The Sun‘s Steve Simmons wrote the praises of Alex Anthopoulos this weekend, noting how positive the impact of newcomers like Donaldson and Colabello have been this season. No argument from me on that; I’ve said it before, the moves the team did make in the off-season were positive. But if Anthopoulos wants my thumb to be up, he should be hitting Billy Beane on speed-dial tonight. Kazmir dazzled the Rangers a couple of weeks ago. He should do the same this coming weekend- this time wearing Jays blue!

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