All Jays fans would love to dream, as Jose Bautista has, of the Jays contending for a playoff spot in 2012. It’s definitely still viable, as no single team has pulled away from the pack enough to make it unlikely for any other team to catch that last playoff position in the American League. The Jays currently sit 3 GB of the last Wild Card spot. However, every team has to be honest with itself and wonder, out loud, if we are going to chase a playoff spot this season, what’s the best way to go about it?
For the Toronto Blue Jays of 2012, the answer is not definite, but is now leaning towards the “Go Young” way. The injuries the team has faced of late, along with the fact that it is faced with so many holes to fill in its lineup, really leaves little other choice.
Obviously, the main issues that have caused the Jays to slide back in the chase for a playoff spot are the multitude of injuries the team has been forced to deal with. The latest two injuries, Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie, really hurt the team most because they’re the first injuries to regular every day players, and they are so vital to the Jays scoring runs.
The Jays need to get some better pitching if they’re really going to chase a playoff spot down or compete for one in 2013 and beyond. The only way you can acquire pitching these days, it seems, is if you’re willing to overpay. The Reds gave up a ton of talent to get Matt Latos, and the Nationals gave up a very comparable amount in order to land Gio Gonzalez. If the Jays are going to add a significantly talented pitcher, they’ll need to trade a similar package of young talent.
There are other options, however, that should be considered by the Jays. If the team is willing to listen on trading Kelly Johnson (or a package involving him), and many teams need as infielder with power, they could possibly land some pitching help. Such a move would allow for the Jays to call upon Adeiny Hechavarria, who could capitalize on a chance to get a taste of The Show in order to be that much better in 2013. The most talked about Jays trade candidate, if you believe rumours, is Yunel Escobar. Some analysts make it seem like the Jays are desperate to trade him, while I believe they may very well want to keep him around to mentor Hechavarria who, like Escobar, is also of Cuban descent.
The few names that don’t get talked about much on the trade market are Rajai Davis, Francisco Cordero, and Jeff Mathis. I realize that none of these players are the cream of the crop, and Cordero is having a horrible season, but each could add value to some teams throughout MLB. Here are some teams that I have considered to be possible trade partners for these players, as well as Escobar and Johnson (these are not necessarily 1 for 1 deals….):
- Rajai Davis: The Nationals and White Sox. The Nats have been looking for a pure CF, but have been unable to find one so far. Davis would be a good 4th outfielder for them and would provide speed off the bench. Meanwhile, the White Sox have Jordan Danks as they’re 4th outfielder with little to no production, so Davis would be a major upgrade for them. Possible returns, SP/RP help from either club.
- Francisco Cordero: The Mets and Reds. He wouldn’t be a closer on either club, but he could certainly help strengthen their pens. He belongs in the NL either way.
- Jeff Mathis: The Pirates, White Sox, and Nationals. All 3 of these clubs could use a veteran behind their starters that could be a defensively adept and great game calling option for them. With Wilson Ramos injured and Stephen Strasburg close to getting shut down, the Nationals may need more help than others in getting a catching upgrade. The possible return here is not huge, but could be part of a bigger package to help the Nats through the remainder of the year (including Davis, Johnson, and/or others). We already know that Travis d’Arnaud will likely get a spot behind the plate with the Jays in 2013, so Mathis is definitely expendable.
- Kelly Johnson: Kansas City and San Francisco. The Kansas City angle is simply because they definitely need the upgrade, and because the Jays may have interest in Jonathan Broxton. The Royals have little coming up from the minors to play 2B, and if they want to be competitive in 2013, Johnson could help them out. As for SF, playing Johnson over Theriot at 2B would be a major upgrade, so that scenario is more likely in my opinion. I’m just not sure about what SF has to offer Toronto.
- Yunel Escobar: The Dodgers and Brewers. If any teams in MLB need a more potent bat at SS, it’s these 2 teams. The Brewers in particular could be a great trade partner, as the Brewers may have the pitching that the Jays are looking for (presumably).
These are my wild guesses. It doesn’t really matter whether or not I end up nailing one or two of these options. What does matter is what it opens up in terms of lineup changes if the Jays deal these players (either on their own or as part of packages with minors players).
Let’s make a crazy assumption that the Jays trade all of the players I just listed above, aside from one of Escobar or Johnson since I assume they won’t be trading both. What would the consequences be to the lineup?
In the same order as above:
- One of Travis Snider, Eric Thames, or Moises Sierra replaces Davis in LF (and/or Anthony Gose stays with the Jays when Jose Bautista returns);
- Carlos Villanueva or Aaron Laffey returns to the pen and the “presumed” starting pitcher acquired in one of these deals takes over;
- Yan Gomes replaces Mathis as a backup catcher, but J.P. Arencibia continues to get the bulk of the playing time; and
- Adeiny Hechavarria takes over at SS and either Johnson or Escobar plays 2B.
In this scenario, the bench gets more versatile with Gomes on the bench instead of Mathis, since he can cover 3 positions, the pen gets better, and the Jays get a chance to see whether any of their AAA outfielders are the long term answer in LF. Meanwhile, and possibly most importantly, Hechavarria gets some time under his belt in the majors as the starting SS BEFORE all of the young arms Alex Anthopoulos has drafted arrive. If the Jays are really serious about contending for a championship in 2013 and beyond, they need to get their young players comfortable in handling the pressure. What better way to do that than to call them up after a great first half in AAA, and to tell them “ok, here’s you opportunity to help us chase a wild card spot “. Whether or not the Jays are successful in doing so is irrelevant. What matters is that the players will gain the experience they need to do better the next time around, no matter the outcome.
I know that many people will say that making such decisions would anger Bautista, and possibly others on the team, quite a bit. What I would say in that case is that if the Jays do acquire pitching in return for packages including some of the players above, they’ll be making the team as a whole a lot better. Escobar, Johnson, Davis, and the others are not essential to the Jays scoring or preventing runs. Hechavarria is a highlight reel waiting to happen at SS and none of the OF listed above are slouches either. If anything, I would contend that the Jays may even find themselves being better off, both offensively and defensively.
Now, it’s quite possible that Anthopoulos is already trying with all his might to make such moves happen. Actually, we know he is as he’s always looking at possibilities. He tells everyone that it’s his job to do so. But, it’s also quite possible that he’s not getting the returns he wants in offers he has on the table. Should he find the right combination, it would be very encouraging to see the Jays call up more of their young players as part of the process.
In one of our latest polls, we asked whether or not Gose should have received the call when Bautista went down to injury. The responses were very interesting, as it seems that a majority of Jays fans still believe in Travis Snider. Who can blame them? He’s still young, is very talented, and may have received the raw end of how he was handled in the past. The point is, how are the Jays ever going to know whether or not he really has turned the corner if they never call him up? His trade value won’t get any higher regardless of how well he does in AAA, and he’s proven everything he needs to prove there. So what are the Jays waiting for?
Nobody but the Jays brass can handle that question with certainty. What I can tell you is that I’m pulling for him right along with Jays fans. Let’s bring the youth up, surround Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, and the rest of the nucleus in place with their energy and see where it takes us. Otherwise, we may just witness the sinking of the season and the loss of an opportunity to play the most talented players in order to make a run at the playoffs.
I’m hoping that the Jays call up of Gose instead of the other available outfielders is a sign that they’re willing to go young. Very young, in fact, and that they’ll do so aggressively from now to the end of the year.