It certainly seems as if the Toronto Blue Jays are heading to a trade deadline where they will be some combination of selling, re-tooling, and re-building. If they handle this trade deadline correctly, they could compete for a playoff spot as soon as next season. However, it all is up to Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins to determine how big this re-build is going to be. Regardless of how they approach it, Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs should be the top target at the deadline.
It’s no secret that the Chicago Cubs have underperformed thus far in 2017, and a lot of that has to do with their starting pitching. Jake Arrieta is pretty far removed from the dominant 2015 Arrieta. John Lackey has a 5.20 ERA. The bottom two slots in the rotation have been a revolving door with Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery currently filling in for the injuries of Brett Anderson and Kyle Hendricks.
The Cubs sit at 42-42, which has them just 3.0 games back of the division leading Milwaukee Brewers. Given how strong the NL West is with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies, it’s division or bust for the Cubs if they want to defend their World Series title. What do the Cubs desperately seek? Pitching. The Blue Jays have pitching and good arms to move in the likes of Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. To a lesser extent, Francisco Liriano would also be of interest to teams to slot in at the back end of a rotation. It is entirely possible that if the right offer came along, the Blue Jays would consider moving Marcus Stroman, but that’s an entirely different topic.
The Cubs have what the Blue Jays need when looking beyond 2017. That is an outfielder. It’s doubtful the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista will agree to pick up the mutual option for 2018 which leaves Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce for 2018. If he’s fully recovered from his injury, one would imagine that Anthony Alford could claim a spot in the 2018 outfield. Dalton Pompey is a candidate as well.
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Beyond those listed above and potentially Ezequiel Carrera, the only other player who is in the system that could find their way on to a major league roster is Dwight Smith Jr. The outfield is pretty thin looking for 2018 and beyond until the likes of Harold Ramirez, J.B. Woodman, and Joshua Palacios start moving through the system.
Given the state of the Blue Jays system as well as what the outfield could look like next year, the Blue Jays top target at the trade deadline should be Ian Happ. Happ made his major league debut this season and has hit 12 home runs with 27 RBI through 182 plate appearances. He’s slashing .264/.333/.571 with a 131 wRC+ and .374 wOBA. It’s been pretty impressive for the 22 year old despite a 31.3 K%.
Why do I think Happ should be the Blue Jays top target? He fills the following for the Blue Jays:
- Switch hitter
All 4 of those are what Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro wanted to do in the previous off-season but failed to accomplish. Given the talent gap between the majors and the lower levels of the major league system, Happ fills a team need for years to come along with Kevin Pillar. Happ also can play 2nd base, something the Blue Jays would definitely find intriguing with the injury history of Devon Travis. Two outfield spots would be a given for Opening Day 2018 and one would hope that one of Alford or Pompey will be ready to man a corner outfield spot with Steve Pearce next year and beyond 2018 when Pearce is no longer with the team.
Ian Happ definitely will not come cheap. He’s been a top prospect with the Cubs for a while now and has posted some great numbers through the minors. The power has developed for Happ in his first major league season as well.
The question for the Blue Jays would be what price would you pay to get Happ? I think the answer can be had in a pretty comparable trade made by the Cubs just a few seasons ago. At the 2014 trade deadline, the Cubs and Athletics hooked up for a trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for Addison Russell, a fringe major league ready prospect at the time.
If you follow along with those lines, to get the ball rolling on trade talks with the Cubs, you discuss sending both J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada to the Cubs to see if they’d bite. Estrada has been a proven playoff performer the past few seasons but has struggled mightily since the beginning of June. He has looked better lately, but still has some things to figure out to get back on track.
Since returning from the disabled list, J.A. Happ has been much more like the Happ of 2016. He would give the Cubs a reliable and consistent left hander to slot in right behind Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. J.A. Happ also has a year of control for next season as well, something that the Blue Jays could leverage in this hypothetical trade offer.
The Cubs have reportedly scouted Marcus Stroman. Stroman could easily fetch Ian Happ in a deal. However, I personally do not move Stroman anywhere at the deadline unless the return is BIG.
If you move Happ and Estrada at the deadline and fail to re-sign Marco Estrada in the off-season, you have 3 rotation spots locked up in Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Joe Biagini. That’s a good starting point.
The Blue Jays and Cubs do seem to align as logical trading partners given what each team has. While trade speculation articles are extremely fun to do, it’s only my personal speculation and idea. It’s impossible to put a trade together and definitively take it to the bank, so take this for what you will. Regardless, the Blue Jays top trade target should be Ian Happ. I think the Blue Jays have what the Cubs would want in return for the 22 year old outfielder. Ian Happ in a Blue Jays uniform for the next few years could be a whole lot of fun at the Rogers Centre.