Rebuild the Offense; Trade with Los Angeles

Sep 16, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) high fives second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) after both being batted in on a two run RBI single against the Oakland Athletics during the fifth inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

On deadline day 2013 – July 31st, to be specific – Ben Nicholson-Smith of reported with confidence that the Blue Jays had expressed a genuine interest in Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick. He didn’t go into specifics on what Los Angeles may be asking Toronto for in terms of a return, but does later mention that the Blue Jays have a number of relievers who are likely to drawing interest across the market. MLB Trade Rumors picked up on Ben’s report, and combined it with that of Los Angeles Times writer Mike DiGiovanna who suggested that the Angels would be seeking a front line, MLB or MLB-ready pitcher. Clearly the market didn’t meet his ridiculous asking price, as Jerry Dipoto held onto his second baseman.

Just a month ago, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun wrote an article suggesting that the Blue Jays are attempting to acquire one of the Angels’ two catchers; Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger. He offered forth some very rudimentary statistics of the two in comparison to incumbent J.P. Arencibia, before proceeding to talk about some raffle nonsense that I couldn’t be bothered to read through. Once again, MLB Trade Rumors took the story and extrapolated, going as far as to suggest that despite their glaring need for starting pitching, the Blue Jays could amend their two massive holes on offense by aggressively targeting both Kendrick and one of the two catchers in a package deal. Color me intrigued.

From my perspective, I see three potential road blocks with such a transaction:

  • As MLB Trade Rumors mentions, this trade doesn’t fix the rotation, which clearly needs the most help
  • It requires trading player capital instead of using financial capital which, as we saw last winter *cough* Noah Syndergaard *cough*, can have serious consequences
  • Taking the financial angle a bit further, the Blue Jays would be taking on a fairly significant amount of salary, perhaps limiting their ability to resolve the aforementioned rotation problem

Iannetta has two years remaining on his contract, with 2014 and 2015 salaries of $4.975 million and $5.525 million respectively. Kendrick also has two years remaining on his deal, which will pay him $9.35 million and $9.50 million over 2014 and 2015. In acquiring the two, Toronto would be absorbing $14.325 million in salary commitments for 2014. It’s been widely reported that the Blue Jays will push their payroll to the range of $150 million, but as Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans suggests, with $120 million already committed and another $15 million or so required for renewal-type contracts and arbitration eligible players, Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. Absorbing 14-plus million from the Angels would eliminate nearly all of it, and force him to find the roster a front-end pitcher making next to nothing. If even possible, that would require basically all of the prospect capital remaining after the Angels trade, and would paint a very grim outlook for 2016 and beyond.

The best solution to this problem would be to send a significant amount of salary – i.e. upwards of ten million in 2014 money – back to the Angels, allowing the organization more financial flexibility in targeting free agent starting pitchers like ol’ Ubaldo Jimenez, something I made the pitch for a little over a week ago. While it’s fun to think about pawning off Los Angeles product Ricky Romero and his unsightly salary, such an inclusion would likely require the addition of more (or better) prospects in the deal, something I’m not particularly enamored with doing. Instead, the more logical route would be to send the Angels a semi-valuable piece with some salary attached; a J.A. Happ, perhaps. The Happster will be paid $5.2 million in 2014, and in the most desirable scenarios for Blue Jays fans he’s not on the Opening Day roster next season. He’s not a salary dump however, as despite working just 92.2 innings last season, he was still valued at 1.2 WAR by Fangraphs. Furthermore, his low groundball rate would be less of a factor with the spacious Angels outfield, especially with Mike Trout patrolling a large chunk of it. While hardly the front line starter they’re looking for, he’d be an ideal back end starter for a team looking to replace Jason Vargas, and with just the one year plus a club option, he wouldn’t require the three year commitment that both Vargas and Bronson Arroyo (to whom the Angels have been recently linked) are seeking.

Shipping Happ to Los Angeles would free up a bit of that much needed wiggle room, but we need more, and the Blue Jays roster just so happens to include another perfect fit: reliever Casey Janssen. The Angels are already sniffing around closers, with both Grant Balfour and Joe Nathan being bantered about. Janssen’s performance over the past few seasons has been nearly as good if not better than those two, and, once again, he requires only a one year commitment while the other two are hoping to land multi-year agreements. Less relevant but interesting still, Janssen was born in California and went to the University in Los Angeles. He’s a bargain at $4 million, and with the depth the Blue Jays currently possess in the bullpen, he’s more of a luxury than a necessity.

With all that being said, the Angels are not going to trade Kendrick and Iannetta for Happ and Janssen in a two-for-two deal. Toronto is going to need to sweeten the pot, and this is where the prospect pipeline comes into play. Los Angeles would undoubtedly ask about Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, but given the ceiling of the former and the current hype of the latter, I can’t see Anthopoulos parting with either in a trade that doesn’t bring back a certified ace. Instead, I propose the inclusion of left hander Sean Nolin. Outside of one brief, disastrous debut for Toronto in May, the 23 year old dominated over 20 starts between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He struck out 116 batters in 110.1 innings pitched while working to a 2.77 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Again, not a front line starter, but he should develop into a solid number three or four, and is Major League ready.

RHP Casey Janssen, LHP J.A. Happ, and LHP Sean Nolin for 2B Howie Kendrick and C Chris Iannetta

How does that look to you? The Blue Jays would only take on about $5 million in salary, and in doing so would address two holes on offense without drastically impacting the farm system. Just to tickle your tail feather a little more, imagine this as an Opening Day lineup:

1. SS Jose Reyes
2. CF Colby Rasmus
3. RF Jose Bautista
4. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
5. DH Adam Lind
6. 3B Brett Lawrie
7. 2B Howie Kendrick
8. LF Melky Cabrera
9. C Chris Iannetta

Call it a hunch, but I think those boys might score some runs.

Topics: Casey Janssen, J.A. Happ, Sean Nolin, Toronto Blue Jays, Trade

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  • Andrew van Laar

    So we are saying Happ, Janssen and Nolin for Ianetta and Kendrick? I could live with that. I’ve hated the Happ trade from day one and I would hate for Janssen to leave as I have been a huge fan of him since day one but this does address our offensive needs while taking Happ’s useless $5+ million off the books.

    The only concern I have is Iannetta’s defensive ability. I have heard he is pretty below average almost to the point of JP territory. I love his OBP which would be great at the bottom of the lineup as almost a second lead off man if you will (minus the speed).

    I think I would pull the trigger on this one if I was AA

    • rockshu

      I haven’t seen enough of Iannetta to speak to his defensive abilities, but the stats suggest he’s slightly below average behind the plate. But the difference in offensive production is beyond question; Iannetta reaches base 10-15% more often than Arencibia. Over the course of a season that’s so many fewer outs at the bottom of the lineup.

  • Bob Loblaw

    Giving LAA 5 million more wiggle room this year would probably be pretty enticing for them. Might have to include another reliever. Happ’s a perfectly fine 5th starter, but I’d rather have that position be a groundball guy, so let the other options duke it out.

    • rockshu

      I’d be ok including another player, whether it be a middle reliever or middle-tier prospect, if it meant wrapping up the trade, but I think it’s fairly balanced as-is.

  • brad

    I would love it if the Jays made this trade. Nolin is about 30th in line for a back end rotation spot right now (particularly if recoveries go as planned for Drabek and Hutchison), Jansenn(as much as I love him) is expendible with Santos, Delebar and Cecil being as good as they have been, and Happ pretty much stinks.

    That being said, I don’t think there is any way this gets done from the Angels’ point of view. Is Happ really any better than Joe Blanton or Jerome Williams? No. Basically they would be trading their starting 2b and starting catcher for a 6th starter, an upper middling prospect and a closer….. which makes little sense. The jays would probably need to sweeten the pot a bit. Maybe add in Pillar or DJ Davis(or some other 10-20 prospect)…. or replace Happ with someone like Drabek or Hutchison who have a bit more upside…. even add a second bullpen arm to the deal. Good deal in principle but I think getting both of those guys is going to cost a lot more than Happ, Nolin and Jansenn

    • rockshu

      Yes, Happ is better than both Blanton and Williams, and I don’t think it’s particularly close, either. Blanton’s 33 years old and his performance fell off a cliff last season. I unfortunately watched a number of his starts last year and to say he was hittable would be an understatement. Everything was hit hard: he gave up 29 HR in 132 innings. That’s unfathomably bad. Jerome Williams is a replacement level talent who can eat innings, nothing more.

      And replacing Happ with someone like Drabek or Hutchison wouldn’t make sense for Toronto because both of those guys are cheap and (I believe) have options. The Blue Jays need to send money back.

      • brad

        That’s a slippery slope man…. In terms of FIP, xFIP and ERA Happ and Williams were pretty much the same guy last year(and career wise as well). Happ’s WAR was higher because he plays at the dome but with just 9 games at home(where he posted better numbers than on the road) I’m not sure I buy the park factor thing. You mention the fact that Williams eats innings. The problem with Happ is that he does not. Williams had more innings last year than Happ has had in any season of his career…. hard to call Happ better at all let alone call it “not even close”

        Then there’s Blanton who somehow managed to be a home run pitcher in Anaheim. He is 33 and his performance did fall off a cliff last year. He was definitely worse than Happ last year but up until then he consistently pitched a lot of innings and posted numbers much like what we saw last year from Happ….. who is less than two years younger and saw his performance fall off a cliff 2 years ago. Would I take Happ over Blanton all things being equal? Probably. Would I take Happ’s contract(while still paying Blanton) and call that a justifiable upgrade? No….

        Happ gives the Angels pretty much no added value(a 31 year old 5 starter who pitches an average of 129 innings a year with minimal upside and only marginally better numbers than their current number 5 starter….who they still need to pay). Why do the Jays need to send contract money to the Angels? Why can’t the Angels send 5 million cash to the Jays? The deal doesn’t make sense talent wise and without a better pitcher, a second pen arm or a second middling prospect. It’s really easy to fix the finances if the talent matches…..

        • rockshu

          As I said in the article, the Angels are reportedly interested in Bronson Arroyo, meaning they’re not happy with the back end of their rotation as it stands. Happ has some upside, certainly more than Williams and Blanton at this point because of age and pedigree, and I’m not going to fault him for his lack of durability when the knee injury that cost him time in 2013 was the result of falling after being pegged in the head by a line drive.

          • brad

            Ian Kinsler(lower WAR than Kendrick last year and a year older) just got traded for Prince Fielder. Being interested in back end rotation help is one thing but trading an all star 2b for it is another thing altogether

          • rockshu

            That’s why the Blue Jays are also sending one of baseball’s best closers over the past two seasons as well as a pitcher who was ranked as the #2 prospect in the system by Baseball Prospectus entering 2013. Happ isn’t the main piece here, he’s the third piece to give them pitching depth at the back end and balance salaries.

          • brad

            Which just isn’t enough for an above average starting catcher and a top teir second baseman imho….

          • carllafong

            You say the Angels are interested in Arroyo and I say they have literally checked in with every available pitcher there is– so to say they want Arroyo is not exactly accurate. They want Tanaka, and a young, salary controllable arm that is major league ready– that can be a future number one or two starter. Arroyo would be a fallback position. After the Blanton debacle they are understandably leery.

  • Budyzer

    Not a bad trade but yes I’m sure the angels will try and squeeze more then that out of any potential trade partner. Also I think hank conger might be the better catcher of the two LA backstops

    • rockshu

      Conger probably is the better all around catcher moving forward, but because of that and his salary, he’d cost a lot more in terms of players being sent to Los Angeles. We don’t need anything special behind the plate, just some stability which Iannetta could provide.

  • Andrew van Laar

    Completely off topic but why was there no talk about the Jays going after Jason Vargas? I just saw he signed for under $10 million AAV. He seems to fit the mould of what we need. Consistently between high 3′s low 4′s and would be a perfect #3 or #4 pitcher.

    • rockshu

      Back end starter, fly-ball type pitcher. He’s durable, but there’s no upside there. He fits much better in spacious stadiums like Seattle, Los Angeles, and now Kansas City.

  • Allen Moran

    i rather trade for brandon phillips , if i was aa !

  • carllafong

    I’m an Angels fan and saw every game. The Angels are interested in front of the rotation arms, middle relievers and minor league pitching depth. Aaron Sanchez would be of interest– not Happ. Iannetta is an excellent defensive catcher and an on base machine– gets a lot of walks. Kendrick has to be at least the 6th best second baseman in baseball. Good defense and a line drive hitter, who would do well in Toronto. The Angels are big players for Tanaka. If they can get him, they’ll need one more starter– a front line, major league ready arm for Trumbo. Maybe they would accept a reliever (Jansen) and Sanchez for for Kendrick and Iannetta. That would shore up your offense and defense, and give the Angels the minor league pitching depth they seek (Sanchez would pitch at triple-A) and salary relief to go after a free agent reliever.

    • Bob Loblaw

      Sanchez is not ready for next year, and as a commodity, has more value than Kendrick (not that he’s more valuable on the field right now). I think Kyle Drabek is more likely, but the salary difference is the big issue there. TO might be able to take on 5 million, but probably not 10.

      • carllafong

        You’re right, Sanchez won’t be ready next year, but the Angels need minor league pitching depth. Kendrick and Iannetta and maybe a minor leaguer could get it done, but Drabek may work as well.

    • Bob Loblaw

      Also, Trumbo isn’t worth anything near a front line starter, especially a young guy.

      • carllafong

        What are you talking about? Right handed power is at a premium right now. Trumbo hit 36 and 100 in pitcher’s park and hitting 6th. It is reported that there are 9 teams asking for Trumbo. Absolutely a pitching rich farm system will let go of a major league ready stud for Trumbo– you’re wrong.

        • Bob Loblaw

          I’m definitely no expert, just a fan and this is just the way it looks from where I stand. I could see Trumbo landing an established starter from someone with a surplus like you say, say Boston maybe (if Nap leaves), but not a front line guy, more a mid or back rotation spot, or maybe someone with ace upside/high risk, because nothing is in more demand than young, reliable starting pitching. It takes multiple top prospects or established stars to land a real #1 or 2 pitcher, and the angels have those spots covered already.