Will the Blue Jays regret underestimating Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman?


The Toronto Blue Jays pulled off an equivalent of a coup when they acquired Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Brett Lawrie, Sean Nolin, Kendall Gravemen, and Franklin Barreto. While a lot of the attention (and understandbly so) has been paid to the Donaldson as the incoming piece and to a lesser extent the loss of Brett Lawrie and a high-ceiling prospect in Franklin Barreto, I keep coming back to a different question.

Did the Blue Jays underestimate the futures of Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman?

Billy Beane rarely asks for a player that doesn’t have upside for his ballclub, so it’s tough for me to imagine that Alex Anthopoulos was able to sell so highly on Graveman’s 2014 season and Nolin’s previous promise that he was able to pull the wool over Beane’s eyes. Beane obviously saw something in the pair that made him want them, without insisting on the inclusion of Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez, or Marcus Stroman.

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Sean Nolin will be 25-years-old in December, and despite being nearly Major League ready for a few years, the Blue Jays have seen fit to give him a grand total of just 2 appearances over the last two years. Meanwhile, they’ve chosen to give spot starts to guys like Liam Hendriks, Aaron Laffey, and even experimented with Esmil Rogers in a starter role.

For some reason, Sean Nolin was never given much of an opportunity, perhaps punished for a rocky debut or scouting reports that were simply not favorable. MLB.com likes likes his control saying, “Nolin’s stuff isn’t overpowering but plays up thanks to his pitchability and control.” The Blue Jays, and to a certain degree fans, always felt that Nolin peaked at the end of a rotation, thinking perhaps J.A. Happ with better control. That meant that arms with higher upside always owned a seat further up the depth chart than Nolin. However, Nolin has been steady throughout his minor league career.

Likewise, Kendall Graveman is another college-polished pitcher, albeit one that rose significantly faster through the Blue Jays system. In 2014, Graveman played at five levels, starting the year at low-A Lansing and making his way up to Toronto as a September call-up after going 14-6 with a 1.83 ERA, a 1.034 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9 ratio over 167.1 innings of work. However despite that success, MLB.com still short-changes Kendall Graveman, saying the following:

"“Though he (Graveman) doesn’t have a front-line starter’s ceiling, Graveman has found a recipe for success. He’ll soon be ready for a full-time role in the big leagues, either at the back of the rotation or in the bullpen.”"

Graveman will be 24 on opening day, and has options available, which will give him time to continue to develop, or at the very least get some more experience at the top levels of the minors before making his debut with Oakland. By starting him in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League as a member of the Nashville Sound, the A’s will get a good look at whether Graveman’s sinker can be a game-changer. The pitch helped the right-hander average nearly two ground-out to a single air-out in 2014, so if it is an effective weapon in the PCL, it could likely translate well to the Major League as well.

In my mind, I think both of these starters are a great grab for Oakland, even if they don’t have the appeal of Nolin, Sanchez, or Stroman. Being that both are MLB-ready or close to it, both give the A’s tremendous flexibility this offseason. With rumors that Jeff Samardzija is being shopped, either could step into the rotation and provide the depth Oakland needs. Additionally, pitching in a park like Oakland Coliseum will take away the concerns of both pitchers missing the over-powering stuff you want from a front-line starter.

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While one cannot get a piece like Josh Donaldson without giving up viable pieces, one still has to wonder whether Toronto gave up too early on Nolin or Graveman. Mark Buehrle has proven that a control-pitcher who can change speeds can succeed in Rogers Centre without overpowering stuff. Additionally, I can’t help but imagine how helpful a heavy-sinker would be at Rogers Centre.

That all said, I still love the move for Toronto. Donaldson is a can’t miss talent and in all honesty, should have cost a more the Blue Jays much more. While I can lament losing pitching like Sean Nolin and Kendall Gravemen (who I enjoyed interviewing earlier this year), I can certainly understand the need to make this deal.

Just have to wish the pair of them the best luck as members of the Oakland Athletics and watch from the other side of North America, hoping that the Blue Jays got the better half of the deal.