More Blue Jays WUTS: Stroman + Norris for Gray + Clippard?

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In previous versions of wildly unfounded trade speculation (WUTS) I have talked about trading hitting for pitching as well as trading prospects for stud rentals and trading prospects for intriguing rentals with upside.

For those (few?) of you who are not yet sick of trade speculation, today’s WUTS focuses on a different paradigm – trading quality pitching for quality pitching.

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Going into this season, expectations from

Marcus Stroman

were sky-high.  His pitches had been compared to

Roy Halladay

,

Johnny Cueto and James Shields

.  In 2014, as a rookie, he pitched to a 2.64 FIP and 3.18 SIERA for a 3.0 fWAR in only 130 innings.  But Stroman’s torn ACL in March put him out of commission, likely for the full season (though there is some hope of a September return, he would likely have to come back to AAA or to a bullpen role to shake off the rust).

In a characteristically excellent article, Jeff Sullivan notes the very high interest by other GMs in Stroman.  But he notes that the Jays would be very hesitant to trade a potential Cy-Young-level pitcher with many years of team control for a short term rental.  Which begs the question – how about a trade of quality for quality?

Jun 9, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher

Sonny Gray

(54) throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Gray was drafted by the A’s with their first pick (18th overall ) of the 2011 draft.  He had a “cup of coffee” with the A’s in 2013, but his first full year was 2014.  In that year, he pitched 219 innings with a 3.56 SIERA and a 3.1 fWAR.  So far in 2015 he has been brilliant, with a SIERA of 3.26 and a fWAR of 3.4 in only 123 innings.  But Oakland is currently dead last in the hunt for an AL wild card spot, so even if they started a winning streak they would likely have too many teams to climb over.

Jun 21, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics pitcher

Tyler Clippard

(36) reacts after the Athletics recorded the final out of the game against the Los Angeles Angels at O.co Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Angels 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Clippard has been one of the best relievers in baseball, with a lifetime ERA of 2.85 and a lifetime SIERA of 3.31.  But 2015 has been an unusual year.  Tyler has a SIERA of 4.35 – a full run higher than he has had in any year in the last five.  His ERA of 2.43 remains excellent, but Clippard is a free agent after this season.  So, given Oakland’s 2015 struggles, he is not likely to have much value for them this year.

So how about a trade built around Gray and Stroman? Something like Stroman + Norris + something for Gray + Clippard?

Many baseball writers see Stroman as having a higher upside than Gray, even though both of them are very highly regarded.  But Stroman is also arguably higher risk.  First, because he has only a single half-season at the mlb level under his belt.  Second, because there is a small chance that his injury could affect his future performance.  And finally (sorry, Marcus) because Stroman’s 5’8″ height might make him more susceptible to injury in the future.  The two pitchers are of similar ages:  Gray is 25 and Stroman 24.  Stroman will become a free agent in 2021, while Gray will do so one year earlier in 2020.

Why would Oakland do this deal?

Gray is pitching brilliantly, but for the A’s the 2015 year is largely wasted.  Stroman should be 100% by spring training 2016.  Stroman presents greater upside at a lower cost, as he will not reach arbitration until 2018 (Gray 2017) and will not be a free agent until 2021 (Gray 2020).  Plus, the addition of Norris – currently ranked as the 18th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and potentially ready to start in 2016 – would give the A’s an impressive, young, cost-controlled 1-2 punch for years to come. 

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Why would Toronto do this deal?

Obviously, no team would enjoy losing a pitcher of Stroman’s calibre (or a prospect of Norris’ calibre, for that matter).  But you have to give to get.  Gray’s 3.4 fWAR in 2015 to date is 5th in the majors – behind only Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, and Clayton Kershaw.  Pretty heady company.  And unlike the A’s, the Blue Jays are still very much in a pennant race.  If Gray could maintain his current level of performance, he could not only help the Jays to make the playoffs but also provide the “true ace” many believe to be essential to moving beyond the initial rounds.

And Clippard, though  only a rental, would greatly solidify the back end of the Jays’ bullpen.  A Cecil – Osuna – Clippard back end of the rotation could potentially be as powerful as last year’s Kansas City three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

This deal would even work within Toronto’s reported $5-6 million budget constraints.  Gray is earning $512k this year, and Clippard is earning $8.3 million, of which the Jays would be paying roughly $3.5 million.

The bottom line?  Most teams do not get the chance of a playoff berth every year.  Once a team is in, anything can happen – of the 20 World Series winners since the introduction of the wild card in 1995, six have been wild card teams.  So it behooves Toronto to make every reasonable effort to capitalize on this year’s opportunity – provided they can do so without totally mortgaging their future.  Trading for a Sonny Gray, with four remaining years of team control, would meet both of those objectives very nicely.

Next: Blue Jays WUTS: Is James Shields a Good Target?

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