The Blue Jays should take advantage of a weak free agent market for starting pitching by selling in the 2016 offseason.
Note: This article is the first in a point-counterpoint discussion. The opposing view can be read in full HERE.
There is an old adage in baseball that a team can never have too much starting pitching. But there is another adage that says that a team should be open to any trade that makes the team better. Of the two, I favour the latter.
The upcoming 2016-17 free agent class is remarkable in the lack of high-quality starting pitching options. It has been described as the worst free agent class in decades. The top options available are a 37-year old with a history of injury (Rich Hill), a starter who has not had a SIERA below 4.00 in his last 6 years (Jeremy Hellickson) and a 43-year-old with an 87 mph fastball (Bartolo Colon). So, with so few high-quality starters available as free agents, starting pitching should sell at a premium price on the trade market.
This creates a dilemma for the Blue Jays. A good dilemma.
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The Jays current have five starting pitchers lined up for 2017: Sanchez, Stroman, Estrada, Happ and Liriano. Remarkably, every one of them profiles as a solid #3 starter or better. And that is not all. The Jays also have Joe Biagini, who had a 3.06 ERA and a 3.45 SIERA out of the bullpen in 2016. And Mike Bolsinger, who struggled in 6 starts with the Dodgers in 2016 but who had a 3.62 ERA over 23 starts in 2015. And some guy named Osuna, whose five above average pitches scream for a transition to the rotation. And this does not include any off-season signings (Henderson Alvarez? Jarrod Parker?), extensions (Gavin Floyd?) or promotions (Conner Greene?). In short, the Jays are stronger in the starting pitching department than they have been in many years, with any of their top pitchers almost certain to garner very strong trade interest.
So should they listen … and listen hard?
The easy answer is the one from the truism above. A team should always listen on trade offers, and should be prepared to trade any player at any time if that trade makes the team stronger. So yes, the Jays should entertain offers. And yes, they should move if the price is right.
So what would a “right price” look like?
Some examples come to mind. Remember when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s at mid-season for Addison Russell et al? Russell had a 3.9 fWAR in 2016, playing a brilliant SS for the Cubs. Both Jeff and Jason were half-year rentals. Or when Arizona got Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair and Ender Incairte for Shelby Miller? Or when Detroit scored Daniel Norris (at that time, ranked the #17 prospect by mlb.com – he put up a 3.38 ERA in his first full year with the Tigers in 2016) for a half-year of David Price?
Yes, I know that every deal is different. Price was an ex-Cy Young winner, and Miller still had three years of team control at the time of the trade. But my point is this: when a team is desperate for (what they perceive to be) quality starting pitching, they will sometimes overpay. And first-year economics will tell you that the price will be the highest in a time of low supply and high demand. Not to mention that trading for a front-of-the-rotation starter in the offseason likely gains a team a QO and a compensatory draft pick down the line.
So what would a deal look like? Assuming that the Jays expect to contend in 2017, a trade for 17-year-old prospects is likely not their focus. They would want MLB-ready assets. As for example – Houston is speculated to be shopping Alex Bregman for a front-line starter. Bregman was the #2 pick in the 2015 draft and is already playing in the majors at 22 years old. The Jays could play Bregman at SS, trade Tulo, and use the dollars saved for a bat (Votto?). How about Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo or Nomar Mazara from Texas, who learned the hard way that a stars + scrubs approach to starting pitching may not work in the postseason? The Marlins are looking hard for rotation help – would they part with Christian Yelich and his 130 wRC+, above-average defense in LF, left handed bat, .376 OBP, plus baserunning skills, and team-friendly contract through 2022?
The bottom line
The Jays should only trade starting pitching if they get an exceptional return. But the chances of getting such a return have never been higher. And if they get a chance to make the team better, younger and cheaper, they should jump at it.