Would trading players like Estrada, Bautista and Liriano necessarily preclude the Blue Jays from re-signing them this offseason?
Many writers speak of two options with regards to upcoming free agents such as Marco Estrada, Jose Bautista and Francisco Liriano. The Jays could either extend them now, making them part of the Jays’ future, or trade them for pieces who could be.
But is the question that binary?
Would it be possible for the Jays to trade one or more of these players and then re-sign them as free agents in the upcoming offseason?
Consider Marco, as an example. He has said that he and his family fell in love with Toronto, and described returning to the Jays as “a priority”. Suppose the Jays approached him and said “Marco, you have been a great member of the team and we want you back. But we need the prospects that you would bring in a trade. Let us trade you to a contender – and give you the chance for a ring that we can not offer you in 2017. We can then re-sign you for 2018, and you will come back to a stronger team“. The Jays might even have preliminary negotiations with Marco’s agent about what such an extension might look like.
Toronto Blue Jays
Next, consider Liriano. He has had some of his best years pitching to Russell Martin, including nearing on a year with Toronto. Would that (and a sufficiently attractive contract) be enough to bring him back to the Jays?
And finally, consider Jose Bautista, who has 10-5 rights and so could veto any trade. Assuming for a moment that his production recovers to the point where he becomes a viable trade chip, would he consider allowing a trade? Jose has spoken about his desire to become a member of the Jays’ management team after his eventual retirement – would agreeing to a trade like this generate additional goodwill with fans, improving his chances?
This discussion might be different if any of these players were eligible for a qualifying offer. But under the new collective bargaining agreement, a player can only receive a qualifying offer once. Liriano rejected a QO from Pittsburgh in 2014, Estrada did so in 2015 and Jose in 2016. And even if any of these players were still QO-eligible, the compensatory picks under the new CBA would likely be only after the second round. (Insert my usual whimper about the ~29th overall pick that the Jays lost when they signed Jose here)
Or course, any such discussion would not be enforceable. It might even be argued to be unfair to the acquiring team, though the lack of enforceability weakens that argument.
Has this ever been done before? Well, the example that comes to mind is the Yankees dealing Aroldis Chapman at the 2016 trade deadline for a package around Gleyber Torres. When Chapman re-signed with the Yanks after the 2016 season, the “Evil Empire” were back where they had started – plus they had added the #5 prospect in all baseball.
The bottom line
The Jays will be facing the decision of whether to be “sellers” in the next few months. But, properly managed, they may well be able to have their 2017 cake and eat it in 2018 too.