On the Blue Jays, the trade deadline, and team control
The Toronto Blue Jays could be keeping one eye on 2017 as they move through trade negotiations in the coming weeks
The Toronto Blue Jays are approaching the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline as cautious buyers. While the organization’s prospect capital was depleted by the playoff run of 2015, the Blue Jays are poised to chase Ooctober again this year in what could be the final season for both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in Toronto.
Instead of dumping prospects for two-month rentals, the Blue Jays’ roster structure could far better facilitate moves for assets with years of team control remaining. This is an idea that was explored in yesterday’s Monday Morning Mailbag, and Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi discussed the same with Jeff Blair.
“I think what’s going to happen is that they’re going to try to make a run at somebody with some control,” Davidi said, “and if that’s not going to happen, then they’re going to have to sit back and reassess.”
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The strongest hint towards this line of thinking is Jay Bruce and the almost-trade between Toronto, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles just prior to the season. Despite Bruce coming with a higher salary, not to mention a defensive game that torpedoes his already-inconsistent bat, he came with a team option for the 2017 season.
With Michael Saunders and Bautista both set to enter free agency at season’s end, Bruce’s added year of control would have enabled the Blue Jays to bridge the gap in one of their corner outfield positions, for better or for worse. Looking around the roster, there are a handful of similar situations.
R.A. Dickey is also entering free agency, leaving a rotation spot open for 2017. Drew Hutchison has not locked it down and the Blue Jays’ impressive pitching prospects may still be too far off, so there’s room to add a controllable arm there. The same goes for the bullpen, where Brett Cecil, Drew Storen, Jason Grilli, Jesse Chavez, Gavin Floyd, and Franklin Morales are all entering free agency. Instead of facing a significant offseason turnover, is there an opportunity for the Blue Jays to get out ahead of the game?
This is important for two reasons, the first of which is the “window” that Toronto will still have open even if the majority of their high-profile names sign elsewhere. Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin remain under contract at high annual values, so bolstering their supporting cast will be a priority.
At the same time, Toronto is also enjoying Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis, and others in their pre-arbitration years at deep discounts. Having these players on annual salaries of ~$500,000 is exceptionally valuable, which could offer the organization some level of financial flexibility.
The difficulty in all of this, of course, is finding a team willing to unload a controllable player. Given the success of some recent rebuilds around baseball (Chicago Cubs, etc.), teams are less likely to target the long, 4-to-5 year rebuild. A player with 2-to-3 years of team control left is often viewed as part of the solution, not a trade chip.
Creativity plays a heavy hand here, perhaps financially. With attendance numbers sitting near the top of the league, the Blue Jays have, at the very least, helped their bottom line. The Jason Grilli deal was a fine example of Toronto essentially “buying” a player, and if that becomes an option on a grander scale, the acquisition of team control then becomes more doable.
Next: Trades that built the Blue Jays, in retrospect
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