The clock is ticking towards spring training and thus far Toronto (to be fair, not unlike many teams) have done nothing to retool the team to make a run for it in 2019. There’s no time like the present, Ross Atkins. Over the next week I’ll be making a few suggestions for ways the Blue Jays could realistically put together a competitive and exciting team before the March opener. we’ll start by looking a t a few trade possibilities since the team itself has stated the obvious – that there are too many players in some spots and decided holes elsewhere,most notably with the starting rotation.
I, like many Jays fans, was disappointed “Big Maple”, the newly-crowned replacement for “King Felix” as the ace of the Mariners staff ended up in the Big Apple. James Paxton, the exciting lefty from B.C. grew up a Blue Jays fan and would’ve been happy to be pitching in his homeland. Could the Jays have acquired him? That we’ll never know. The Yankees offered up their top pitching prospect, Justus Sheffield, their #22 prospect, a decent AAA pitcher, Eric Swanson , and a solid power-hitting A-level outfielder, Dom Thomson-Williams. Sheffield was the big fish in the group, being 7-6 with a stirling 2.48 ERA in the minors this year and being ranked #12 overall among MLB prospects mid-season. Athlon Sports put him as the Yanks’ 3rd best prospect though, noting “durability concerns but also a huge fastball.” Since then others have suggested likewise he might be better-suited to being a middle reliever than a starter. It’s tough to know what Toronto would have had to divy up to outbid New York, but it’s easy to know they should have been in on the bidding…and no reference was made anywhere at all of Atkins trying to land him.
That being done, let’s start with a suggestion for Phone Call 1 Mr. Atkins should make :
try to acquire Carlos Carrasco and Edwin Encarnacion. In return, we offer Aaron Sanchez, Sean Reid-Foley, Luke Maile and Kendrys Morales.
this would land Toronto a stellar and reliable top end starter and a big bat to supplement what might be a still-weak hitting lineup in ’19, and a bat to defend behind apparent star-in-waiting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. when he makes the ‘Show”.
Carrasco was a solid 17-10, 3.38 over 30 starts this year, with 192 innings, a remarkable 231 K to just 43 walks and a good groundball to fly ratio of 1.22 (important in the hitters’ paradise that is the AL East.) Baseball-reference put him as a 3.9 WAR. All that was a slight drop off from 2017, when he led the league with 18 wins and had a 5.5 WAR. He’s signed on for 2019 at a reasonable $9.75M, but will be a free agent (potentially) after the season and has been publicly offered for trade by the Tribe. At 32 on opening day, he should have a good amount left in his arm and wouldn’t require a huge, longterm investment from Toronto.
Encarnacion will be 36 next spring and did what he usually does this past season as a DH – hit with pop. He hit .246 with 32 homer and 107 RBI over 137 games and posted an .810 OPS. Of concern is his increasing tendency to free swinging. He struck out 26% of at bats this year, more than double his 11% back in his heyday of 2013. Still, he’d be a good power threat and an upgrade over Morales as the DH, and occasional first baseman (he looked quite at home at first in the playoffs for Cleveland, some will remember.)
WHY TORONTO LIKE THIS – as said, a legitimate “ace” for the staff while other prospect pitchers have another year to mature, at a reasonable rate of pay and a good power bat that can probably hit triple digit RBIs again … and returns a very popular player to Rogers Centre. Worth adding, Carrasco is the player to opt for from the Indians’ staff. Corey Kluber, with his Cy Young past and his contract status (two years left potentially on contract) would cost too much and attract too much attention from the myriad of teams (Houston, NY Yankees, Atlanta etc) needing to boost the rote. Trevor Bauer, also being bandied about by Cleveland is toxic. A great pitcher, yes, but his personality would absolutely not work in Canada. I recently noted elsewhere that Jays fans’ as a group never warmed to Roger Clemens, even when he was winning Cy Youngs for the Jays. Bauer is infinitely less popular with his outspoken praise for President Trump and his various twitter rants against other players and fans who he’s wished cancer upon. He would have trash thrown at him from the home crowd even if he was hurling a no-hitter. Carrasco is the one pitcher from Cleveland to get.
WHY CLEVELAND LIKE THIS – sure, it might be good for the Jays, but we have to sell the Ohio Tribe on it as well. And it could be done. They clearly want to reduce salary but remain reasonably competitive… they have no intention of shedding superstars Jose Ramirez or Francisco Lindor. they want to win on a budget. This trade gives them 2 MLB ready starting pitchers for one. Yes, Sanchez was … well, rather lousy this year but he’s only two years removed from an All Star year, leading tAL in ERA (3.00) and winning percentage (15-2). He’ll be 26 next spring, not over the hill by any means, and still has a good 94MPH fastball. A great groundball to fly rate (1.6) shows he still could win and ’18’s 4.89 ERA was the first time in his career he’s been higher than the league average. His main problem is control (194 walks over 458 big league innings) and if the new coach there could right his delivery a bit to minimize that, he might well be an All Star again. And he’ll earn in the range of $4 to perhaps $5M this year, and be Cleveland’s through 2021.
Reid-Foley is the Jays’ third best pitching prospect with an “average fastball and curveball” according to Baseball-America which note his “deceptive arm angle” that makes him hard to hit but also a bit wild. He was a decent 7-5 , 3.90 at AAA but over his head in just 7 big league games this past fall, with a 5.13 ERA. He projects to be a decent but not spectacular mid-rotation starter a year or two down the road and would be the Indians’ for 6 years minimum.
Morales is not quite Encarnacion, but would give them a reasonable imitation (.249/21/57 over 130 games and a .331 on base) at a much cheaper rate… $12M compared to Encarnacion’s $20M plus a $5M buyout or else one more year at $20M.
Maile suddenly becomes valuable to them since they traded star catcher Yan Gomes to Washington this week. Young Maile’s always been regarded as a good defensive catcher, (a career average of 30% of base stealers thrown out and a good head for working with pitchers) but no bat. this year however, he showed a little flair at least at the plate, hitting .248 with 27 RBI and a run-of-the-mill .700 OPS in 202 at bats. He seems to be learning to swing better and at 28 would be a cheap, reliable replacement for the Brazilian Gomes.
All things told, the deal would save Cleveland about $12 to $15 million in 2019 without costing them a great deal in the win column.
Would they go for it? Who knows. But if I was Ross Atkins , I’d be on the phone to find out!