More and more baseball’s “age of parity” seems to be over. It already seems hard to believe not long ago we talked about that and how some found it boring that almost every team was in contention well into the season and there were no runaway trains on the track to Ocotber. No more. Witness the AL East, where the Yankees are on pace to win 103… and potentially finish a double digit number of games behind Boston if they do. And at the other end of the spectrum, mere miles down the highway but light years away in talent, the Orioles are within days of being mathematically eliminated and have nothing more to play for it would seem than to avoid the worst numbers in that club’s history. Baseball is now becoming divided as the Congress, and the halves are Winners and Losers. Right now it’s not that encouraging for Toronto fans to think which side of the divide the Blue Jays are going to. ((Although we will temper that with the realization that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is on the cover of the latest Baseball America as the best prospect in the game.))
The trade this week of JA Happ does nothing to reverse that trend. I’ve said here that I thought Toronto should hang onto him , if possible, and try to sign a contract extension, but that clearly wasn’t in the cards. In fact, Happ was the most talked about pitcher in the game coming up to next week’s trade deadline, and Toronto were anxious to cash in. There are obviously better pitchers in the game- MAx Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale are among the ones who quickly come to mind – but none of them are on the verge of free agency… or on teams who acknowledge they are losing. (Aka, teams going to play in October like Houston, LA and boston, or teams who have no hope but haven’t given up pretending, like Washington.) Happ was the most coveted arm out there for a contender to potentially add and he was rumored to be wanted by Philadelphia, the Cubs and New York if not more teams. Of course, the Yankees prevailed and Toronto shipped him off , with a nice little “Thank you JA” tweet to go.
It’s not the fact that they traded him – the most reliable pitcher on our staff- that irks me. It is, for better or worse, the nature of the business. What burns me, as a fan, is the trade they made. Yahoo Sports writer Nick Asbourne is probably being generous when he calls the trade “uninspiring” from a Jays perspective. New York send Toronto two players in return – minor league outfielder Billy McKinney and young infielder Brandon Drury. Which leaves me wondering “what was Ross Atkins thinking?” In short, this doesn’t seem to do anything to improve the Blue Jays, now or down the road.
First we have McKinney. Yes, he was a former first round draft pick. But he’s now in his second year of AAA – akin to a student repeating a year in school – and is ranked as the Yankees 20th best prospect. He has a bit of power but hasn’t shone in the minors and has only a .294 on base percentage this year , which Asbourne notes is “worrisome.” If the kid can’t find his way on base against minor league pitchers in his second go round, what chance will he have against the Sales, Verlanders and Severinos of the world?
Not to mention, Toronto’s not hurting for outfielders. Besides the big league contingent there is the hyped (over-hyped perhaps?) Anthony Alford, hometown boy Dalton Pompey and up-again-down-again Dwight Smith Jr. toiling away just below the major league level. McKinney seems to have little they don’t.
Which leads us to the player with MLB credentials- Brandon Drury. Most Toronto fans are likely only vaguely familiar with his name as he’s now in his third full big league campaign, but his first two were with Arizona, in the NL West we see little of. Drury is not the worst player in the world. He might be the most redundant for this organization.
I don’t mean to make this a diatribe against Drury. He’s not a bad player, he’s quite likely a decent enough man and he is, to quote again from Yahoo’s Asbourne “versatile.” But he offers nothing at all that is of use to the Toronto club unless they have some sort of secret agenda to completely monopolize the world supply of ordinary middle-infielders.
Drury is listed by MLB as a Third Baseman, but he only played one game there last year. He’s played the bulk of his games at second, but can fill in at first or in the outfield if needed. I’d even wager to say he could be thrown into the lineup at Shortstop in an emergency without embarassing himself too badly.
He’s of adequate, but far from golden, defensive skills. Last year, in 114 games at second, he committed only 10 errors, for a solid .977 fielding percentage and had a hand in 61 double plays. Decent, but well behind the league leaders such as colorado’s DJ Lemahieu, who turned 106 DPs and boasted a .989 fielding pct. At the plate, Drury hit quite well in his 2016 rookie campaign, with a .282 average and .786 OPS to go with 16 homers. Since then his numbers have slid, this year hitting below .200 with just 1 HR in pinstripes, albeit in 18 games. That in itself is a bit worrisome- he was on the disabled list for 6 weeks due to severe migraine headaches. chronic headaches seem like the type of problem which could be more difficult to get rid of and overcome than, say, a pulled hamstring and makes you wonder if he’ll be physically able to play for Toronto much. If he does, as Yahoo point out, he will still be a young man in his latter-20s with “subpar walk rate” and “no speed to talk of.”- he has two career stolen bases, for example.
All of which doesn’t mean he couldn’t help a team out. His versatility, modest batting skills and we hope, good attitude are the type of thing that can make a wonderful utility player, the sort of 25th man that can be a useful addition to a championship team. Just not to the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto already suffers from a huge surplus of – yep, middle infielders. They already have veteran Yangervis Solarte (doing a solid job this year and fluent in all positions infield), Aledemys Diaz, who boasts a career WAR almost identical to Drury’s in the same length of time, Devon Travis (healthier this year but not playing as well as in the past two injury-ridden seasons) and , if he can ever run again, former All star Troy Tulowitzki there with rookie Lourdes Gurriel (who’s looking better by the week), and Richard Urena (who isn’t .) And of course, there’s third baseman of the future Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seemingly ready to make the jump, followed along by Bo Bichette and short and Cavan Biggio (who Baseball America note is Toronto’s most improved young player) at second. All competing for at most three everyday jobs. Solarte could maybe be traded, but what’s the point. Likewise Diaz, but as noted, he’s about the same as Drury, and hasn’t had debilitating headaches to deal with. tulowitzki is under contract through 2020 and owed $34M by the Jays over the next two years, which would be a sure red flag for any team that might have the slightest interest in him should he ever be able to get back to the diamond. In short, there seems to be no room at all for Brandon Drury in this organization.
Which again makes you wonder- what are they thinking?