On deadline day 2013 – July 31st, to be specific – Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca 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:
Call it a hunch, but I think those boys might score some runs.