Blue Jays: Outfield team control a dominant trade chip

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With the Toronto Blue Jays rumored to be one of three teams holding preliminary discussions with the Cleveland Indians for a starting pitcher, all eyes are on an outfield with four names that reasonably fit the reported asking price of an “everyday” outfielder. In Ben Revere, Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar and Dalton Pompey, the Blue Jays will enter these talks, or any others involving an outfielder, with a distinct advantage in terms of team control and contract value.

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With the addition of the second wildcard spot and the ever-insecure nature of a front office position, fewer major league teams are stripping down for a longterm rebuild. Instead, most have begun to target a “one step back, two steps forward” strategy that leaves them back in the mix sooner rather than later. This can limit their desire to gamble on far-off lottery tickets, instead giving preference to MLB-ready young talent that will be entering the early years of their prime as the organization does eventually hit their upswing.

Pillar and Pompey fit that description perfectly. Saunders is projected to earn $2.9 million in arbitration, hitting free agency in 2017 which gives him little value to a rebuilding franchise hoping to click around that time. Revere isn’t eligible to hit the market until 2018, but with a projected arbitration number of $6.7 million this season, he may not be another organization’s preferred allocation of resources. Besides, there’s a reason that Blue Jays fans so often discuss the attraction of moving his salary.

Kevin Pillar:  Arbitration eligible 2018  –  Earliest FA 2021

There’s risk with Pillar, as there always is when looking at a player who’s experiencing their peak career value. To a team like Cleveland, however, parting with a pitcher like Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber is easier to digest when receiving a young centre fielder with elite defense and five years of team control as part of a return package. 

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Can Pillar continue this pace defensively? If not, can his bat shoulder a little more of the load? We can’t know until we see it, but there’s still the potential for growth, and if a team is open to parting with a starter from the middle of their rotation or higher, they need something to show for it over the course of 5+ years, not just two or three.

Dalton Pompey:  Arbitration eligible 2019  –  Earliest FA 2022

There’s a rabbit hole to dive down regarding whether or not Mark Shapiro would approve of dealing yet another prospect from the Toronto system, but if it’s on the table, Pompey is obviously the top chip. Some teams may view him in a much lower regard than Blue Jays fans do, but for the right front office, the value is immense.

Pompey is straddling the line between prospect and pro, but for a team like Cleveland, that’s just fine. This is an MLB-ready talent on the cheap with six years of team control and three seasons before even hitting arbitration.

Why else is this important?

It’s all fine and well for Toronto to hold two chips like Pillar and Pompey, but the real value here could come when the Blue Jays are put up against teams like New York or Los Angeles in the pursuit of a player on the trade market. While Toronto takes a back seat financially, many other franchises do not enjoy the outfield depth of the Jays, and even if they do have the MLB-calibre young talent, it’s rare they have multiples.

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Between those two teams alone, contracts like Brett Gardner, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford all come above the dollar value that a rebuilding team is looking to stomach. Especially a budget-minded team like the Cleveland Indians.

So while Pillar and Pompey aren’t absolute trump cards and each negotiation comes with its own unique set of rules, there’s optimism to be found in how easily Toronto can match up with other teams for outfielders. Revere would be the closest thing to moving a player for salary concerns, but at $6.7 million, that’s no albatross. Consider this to be something that gives the Blue Jays a few more casts into the trade market waters than the average team, and with bait like this, they might just get a bite.

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