Trade troubles: Why the Blue Jays cannot force bullpen moves
With April coming to a merciful end for the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen, questions remain around a group that was supposed to be a source of strength entering the 2016 season.
Both Drew Storen and Brett Cecil have struggled — Storen’s difficulties being the more worrying of the two — and this weekend, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal highlighted the Blue Jays as a team that would be pursuing bullpen help ahead of the July 31st trade deadline.
Pushing for any trade action prior to that, however, especially now, is putting the Blue Jays in an unwise and inopportune market.
This isn’t just about Cecil and Storen, who’ve combined to throw less than 20.0 innings thus far and both possess track records of top-level MLB success. It’s about everyone else, as few, if any, teams would be open to entertaining a trade for an impact bullpen arm unless a major league piece were part of the return.
Just one month into the season, it’s still very early. Many teams off to a poor start, like the New York Yankees, are expected to find their level eventually and push towards their own playoff expectations. Like the majority of the league, “sell” mode wouldn’t enter the mind until July.
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Even some teams who were expected to be sellers, though, like the surprise Philadelphia Phillies, are performing well out of the gates. In the first week of May, there’s simply no reason to deal a quality asset unless you’re receiving top dollar. So in a market that necessitates a return package strong enough to convince trading partners to forego the trade deadline frenzy, the Blue Jays would be putting themselves at a disadvantage. An unnecessary one, at that.
Since opening day, only two near-noteworthy trades involving pitchers have taken place: the Cubs acquisition of Giovanni Soto from Cleveland for cash considerations (he’s now in triple-A), and the Brewers’ addition of Sam Freeman for cash considerations from the Rangers (DFA), who has allowed 11 earned runs in 7.2 innings this season.
Early in 2015, Edward Mujica went from Boston to Oakland for a player to be named later, where he put up pedestrian numbers. In early June of 2015, the Yankees dealt reliever David Carpenter to the Nationals for second base prospect Tony Renda.
Perhaps a familiar blueprint for the “type” of arm that Toronto would be looking to acquire is Mark Lowe, last season’s July 31st addition for pitching prospects Jake Brentz, Nick Wells, and Rob Rasmussen (now retired).
The framework of this deal is fairly typical for a quality, but not “great”, relief pitcher on the open market: a couple of lottery ticket prospects with a more established minor league piece (Rasmussen being the latter in that 2015 deal). In early May, however, teams are not nearly prepared to pull the trigger on such deals.
So what are the Blue Jays options?
Wait for the inevitable rebound from certain late-inning arms and the healthy return of several others? Trawl the waiver wire for a high-upside arm? Throw some minor league pieces at the wall and see what sticks?
These options aren’t terribly unendurable for the Blue Jays, especially with Roberto Osuna, Joe Biagini, Gavin Floyd, and Jesse Chavez all looking very strong to open the year.
Ryan Tepera currently occupies the role of the second lefty, but with Franklin Morales and Aaron Loup working their way back from injuries, not to mention Chad Girodo pitching very well with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, that left-handed role should be filled with time.
Next: When does it stop being early for the Blue Jays?
Other triple-A arms like Dustin Antolin could earn a look, too. Right-hander John Stilson is another name to watch from the double-A level.
Keep in mind, too, that the Blue Jays biggest bullpen addition may still be Aaron Sanchez.
The 23-year-old is pitching with a workload limit in the starting rotation this year, and is expected to be shifted into a bullpen role late this season as he approaches that. So perhaps Toronto’s need is for some high-quality patches, not a high-profile addition.
This can be accomplished without losing pieces of legitimate value in a knee-jerk transaction.