Blue Jays: Trade rentals have next to no value

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 13: Marco Estrada
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 13: Marco Estrada /

The Blue Jays had another poor start from their rotation on Sunday, getting just 3.2 innings from Marco Estrada before he had to be removed. With both he and Francisco Liriano having terrible outings this weekend, their already compromised trade value took another hit.

The Blue Jays have had an incredibly frustrating season in 2017, battling a combination of injuries and underperformance on their way to their current spot in the basement of the AL East. The offence has been the greatest culprit when you survey the season as a whole, but lately the rotation has been underwhelming to say the least.

The club expected that they would return one of the strongest rotations in baseball this year, bringing back a starting five from last year that was among the most healthy and productive groups in the game. A 20 game winner in J.A. Happ, the AL’s ERA leader from 2016 in Aaron Sanchez, and their playoff ace in Marco Estrada made for a formidable group at the front of the rotation. Adding a healthy Marcus Stroman, and upgrading from R.A. Dickey to Francisco Liriano was only supposed to make them that much better.

Fast forward to July, and Stroman has been the only member of the rotation who has held up his end of the bargain, arguably performing even better than the front office and the fans had expected. Happ and Liriano have battled injuries and underperformance, Sanchez spent almost all of the first half on the DL, and Estrada has completely lost whatever it was that made him an effective starter. He began the year looking strong as usual, but has regressed to an ERA over 9 over his last month and a half, and is bordering on unusable.

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For as frustrating as things have gone for the rotation lately, it’s actually worse when you take a closer look. Both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are under club control until 2021, Happ has a year remaining on his contract, and Estrada and Liriano are on expiring contracts. The plan all along was to contend, but in the event that they fell out of the race, they would have valuable rental trade chips in Estrada and Liriano. Estrada has been very effective in the post-season during the Blue Jays’ playoff runs, and Liriano is a dynamic left-hander that could serve in a few different roles.

Instead, the Blue Jays are basically left wondering what to do with the two veterans. Estrada started again on Sunday and was unable to get through the 4th inning, allowing four earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched. Once again, the first inning was the biggest issue for the change-up artist, as he surrender three runs in the opening frame. He managed to get through the second and third without being roughed up, but got into trouble again in the fourth before being lifted from the game.

It’s entirely possible the two still end up as trade chips, but instead of garnering a solid haul for the  Blue Jays’ minor league system, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins will be lucky to acquire useable prospects without having to send money as well. Estrada is earning 14 million this year, while Liriano makes a little over 13 million. Estrada’s ERA sits at 5.33 on the season, and Liriano is at 6.04. As an added bonus, it looks probable that the latter will end up having another short stint on the DL, after having to leave the game on Saturday with stiffness in his neck.

Maybe saying “their trade chips have no value” is a bit of an overstatement, but Estrada and Liriano represent the most logical candidates to be moved if the Blue Jays decide to be sellers. They could expand that list to Jose Bautista if he’s willing to waive his 10-5 rights, as well as Joe Smith who is on a one year contract. If they want to take it a step further, both Happ and Josh Donaldson are free agents at the end of 2018, so there are a lot variables at play at the moment. If they decide to make trades outside of those “rental” types, then obviously they should be able to get a solid return for Happ, and especially for Donaldson.

Next: Blue Jays: It's in the way they're losing

The one thing I do know for certain though, is that neither of the impending free agent starters have done the club any favours with their recent performance. If I’m a rival GM, I’m not sure I would want to bring either of them into a pennant race at the moment, which obviously severely limits their trade options.