Post Cano: Are the Blue Jays and Mariners Potential Trade Partners?


Interesting.  The biggest free agent has come off the board, landing in a destination few had predicted.  The ramifications for the New York Yankees losing their best player and the Seattle Mariners gaining a genuine superstar are huge.  But as this is a Blue Jays site, let’s narrow the focus a bit.  How does the signing affect Toronto?

First, the obvious.  We see less of Cano, and his ridiculous 2013 .362/.397/638 slash line versus the Jays, lighting up Toronto pitching.  That’s good.

Another positive, and twitter was awash with speculation post-signing, is that Seattle may have become a very interesting trade partner for Alex Anthopoulos.

The obvious chatter revolves around the fact that Seattle now has a a bunch of second basemen while Toronto is light at the position.  On closer inspection, however, saying the M’s are swimming with two baggers is a bit misleading.  They have one very good one (who they just signed) and two who haven’t quite lived up to expectations.

Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin are both first round draft picks (2009) who came to Seattle fairly hyped having been ranked by Baseball America as top prospects for two years running.  Ackley was ranked #11 in 2010 and #13 in 2011. Franklin was #53 in 2012 and #79 in 2013.

Neither, however, have provided any value at the major league level (albeit in a relatively small sample sizes, especially for Franklin) and according to Fangraphs Steamer projections, things aren’t likely to get much better next year.  With Ackley projected to provide a 0.6 WAR while Franklin checks in at 0.2.

In comparison, the Jays current no hitting ‘incumbent’ Ryan Goins is projected to be pretty much replacement at 0.1 WAR.  Not great, but not far off what the Seattle pair has to offer.

Jeff Zimmerman over at fangraphs did an excellent comparison piece, looking at some of the causes of Ackley’s and Franklin’s struggles at the plate and what they have and can do to help re-build some of their value.  The article is worth a read on its own, but skipping to the conclusion, Zimmerman also doesn’t expect much out of the pair in 2014.

So, for Seattle to trade one or both of them, would be the ultimate sell low scenario.  Whereas the acquiring GM would be taking on a project and betting that a a swing adjustment or two, plus a fresh start would work some magic (eerily similar to a certain non-tendered catcher who was also a first round pick).

Generally I don’t like to write trade scenario pieces as you leave yourself open to being called a fool (which you’d think I’d be used to by now), but I do think there is something here.  I don’t believe AA would want to acquire just one of Ackley or Franklin as he won’t want to pay much based on fact they’ve both been rubbish thus far.  While the Mariners would want to extract as much value as possible given what they’ve invested in the pair.

If the two GMs were willing to get a bit creative though, a package could be put together that benefits both sides.

First, though, I need to make a few assumptions:

1) With the addition of Cano, the M’s will want/need to trade one of Ackley or Franklin

2) Seattle aren’t satisfied with just Cano and are willing to spend more.  Reports linking them to remaining big ticket free agents such as Shin-Soo Choo would seem to bear this out.

3) This may be my biggest leap, but with the NPB posting rules set to change, allowing Masahiro Tanaka to negotiate with any team who meets the max posting bid, you have to think Seattle are front-runners to acquire the Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander.  This assumption is based on their ownership group, history of success with Japanese imports, and willingness to spend for 2014.

That leaves the Mariners with three right-handers occupying the top of their rotation.  What would a team in a win now mode need to complement them?  A veteran, durable, innings eating lefty whose fly ball percentage would play very well in Safeco.

Now, let me preface this by saying I don’t particularly want the Jays to trade Mark Buehrle, nor do I think his contract (considering current pitcher values on free agent market) is all that bad.  But if Anthopoulos can extract some value then I think it is worth dealing.

Sep 18, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher

James Paxton

(65) pitches in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The player the Jays should be looking at is James Paxton.  A native of Ladner, B.C., Paxton made his major league debut last year, putting up a 0.917 WHIP and 3.0 K/9 ratio over four starts.  A small sample size granted, and his minor league numbers were nowhere near as good.  His walk rates on the farm were too high, and as per this scouting report, for Paxton to be a successful starter he’ll need to be more consistent around the strike zone.  Again, per that report, he did make some in-season adjustments last year which seemed to help, making his number two starter ceiling very attractive indeed.  Add in the fact he’s younger, under team control, and cheap makes him a very valuable addition.

Those that believe the Jays window is now, wouldn’t be thrilled with this proposal.  You know what you’re getting with Buehrle while Paxton will probably struggle a bit in 2014.  But Steamer still projects 1.3 wins for the Canadian, less than a win under what it projects for Buehrle (2.2).  Surely that win can be paid for somewhere else with the thirty-seven million you shed with Buehrle’s contract.

Why would the Mariners consider this deal?  If you add 20 year old Taijuan Walker to their rotation, you have four young-ish right-handers.  Replacing lefty Paxton with Buehrle means you add a veteran presence who (as I said above) they would know exactly what they are getting.  Offsetting Paxton’s inconsistencies albeit at a a cheaper price for the more expensive but reliable Toronto lefty.

Obviously the Jays aren’t going to get Paxton and one of Ackley/Franklin for Buehrle alone, so some other pieces (and possibly cash) would need to be involved.  Crucially though, I don’t believe one of those pieces would need to be a top prospect.  The M’s already have a pretty stacked farm system and, if going for it, don’t really need someone who is a few years away.  They would want someone who could help next year.

One of Toronto’s out of option bullpen pieces?  A center fielder that could cover Safeco’s spacious outfield while also allowing Michael Saunders to move to a corner spot?  I’m not going to try and predict an exact package but I do believe the Jays have the pieces needed to make this work while not spending a great deal of their prospect capital.

Am I being a bit of a maple dick?  Probably.  A bi naive? Maybe.  I’ve seen rumours out there that the Mariners are deep into discussions with the Rays regarding David Price.  Making a Mark Buehrle trade irrelevant.  If that doesn’t happen though, this could be an excellent fallback for Seattle.

I’m also pretty optimistic that the Jays front line pitching prospects are not as far away as some other believe.  Paxton would not only provide value now, but in two years, when he is entering his prime, other names such as Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Daniel Norris are going to be entering the fray.  Mix in a final year from R.A. Dickey to provide a bit of veteran stability and a healthy Brandon Morrow (possibly a stretch) and you have the makings of a very exciting staff.

If I were to really go out on a limb, why not throw Tom Robson into the 2016/17 mix.  Two B.C. pitchers and Delta Senior Secondary alumni in the same rotation.  Add in Langley’s Brett Lawrie and Rogers are having a Canada-wide marketing wet dream.

Come on Alex, I really haven’t asked for much of you thus far (aside from begging you not to trade any more prospects).  Let’s get this done.