Blue Jays: There is much to like about the July 31st trade deadline

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 14: Teoscar Hernandez
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 14: Teoscar Hernandez /

The non-waiver trade deadline has passed and the Blue Jays made two trades. How do the trades align with the organization’s goals? Are the transactions consistent with a team that should hit the reset button or with one that believes it can contend for a 2018 playoff berth? Let’s find out.

The Blue Jays acquired three prospects before the non-waiver trade deadline passed. I will leave the assessment of the prospects to others but the initial reviews are positive. My trade-deadline focus is from a 30,000-foot perspective.

Do the trades align with the following organizational goals, as stated on numerous occasions by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins?

1. Get younger and more athletic

2. Address the relative lack of high-end prospects in AAA compared to AA and high A.

3. Build a prospect infrastructure that can continually fill major league roster holes.

Did the Blue Jays check all the boxes with the July 31 trades?

Given that all three players are below the age of 25, the Blue Jays definitely got younger. More importantly, Hernandez and Taylor are very athletic. Check box #1.

In terms of addressing the talent gap between AAA and the lower levels, Hernandez is now rated by some as the Blue Jays fifth-best prospect and he will report to Buffalo. Furthermore, it is  possible that he will challenge for an outfield spot with the big club in 2018. Check Box #2.

It is too early to say if all of these prospects will make the Blue Jays in the future. However, Hernandez will be in Buffalo; Pannone has been in AA, and Taylor was playing in the Class A short season. Accordingly, I will give box #3 a check.

The other reason I think the two deals make sense is that the Blue Jays added three prospects for two post-2017 season free agents. While it is no certainty that these or any other prospects will succeed in the Show, it makes sense to accumulate as many prospects as possible in order to increase the chances of organizational success.

Can Team Reset and Team Contend in 2018 both be happy?

The question remaining is whether the transactions were consistent with a team that has hit the reset button or were the deals in-line with a team that plans to contend in 2018? My view is that Team Reset and Team Contend can both be pleased with the July 31 transactions. For Team Reset, the prospects acquired fill the stated organizational goals of the Blue Jays. For Team Contend, Hernandez looks like he could be on the major league roster in 2018 and thus fill a roster need.

As a member of Team Reset, I would like to first review why it is important for the Blue Jays to hit the reset button. To be clear, I am not in the tear-it-down-to-the-studs camp that advocates trading virtually everyone from the current roster, including Sanchez, Stroman, and Osuna. My prescription is less drastic: I would trade Donaldson and Happ before the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline. I believe the need to obtain high-end prospects and major league ready players is critical to the future success of the team. Hence, I like the Liriano and Smith transactions.

Why be pessimistic about 2018?

I have summarized some American League data below that I think highlights the decline, particularly the offensive and defensive performance, of the Blue Jays over the past four seasons. The runs from balls not in play figures were obtained from The other data was sourced from The 2017 fWAR figures are the ZiPS updated projections. All 2017 data is as at July 22, 2017.

fWAR – Pitchers

  • 2014 – 11.6
  • 2015 – 14.5
  • 2016 – 19.2
  • 2017 – 17.6

fWAR – Batters

  • 2014 – 24.4
  • 2015 – 34.6
  • 2016 – 23.4
  • 2017 – 11.9

The Blue Jays wRC+ ranking peaked in 2015 at number one, fell to fifth in 2016 and currently ranks 14th. Also, it should be noted that the percentage of runs from balls not in play has steadily increased from 43% in 2014 to 56% in 2017. Furthermore, the Blue Jays Defensive Runs Saved ranking has slipped from fifth, in each of 2015 and 2016, to 14th in 2017.

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My observations are as follows:

  1. The 2015 offensive juggernaut is no more;
  2. The increased reliance on home runs is consistent with a slow team; and
  3. The decline in Defensive Runs Saved can be a sign of an aging team.

What changes are needed before the 2018 season starts?

Let’s look at the roster needs for 2018.

  1. Assuming Estrada comes back and Biagini is a reliever, the big club needs one starter and, in addition to Bolsinger, at least four capable replacement starters in the system;
  2. Two corner outfielders that can play defense. Steve “Dr. Strangeglove” Pearce must avoid left field. It’s pretty bad when Carrera is your defensive replacement. Two of Alford, Hernandez, and Pompey may win starting positions but they are all unproven at the Major League level;
  3. One reliever, assuming that the other members of the bullpen can repeat their 2017 performances; and
  4. A backup catcher that can hit better than Maile but be a better defender than Montero or Saltalamacchia.

Looking at the components of fWAR over the past four seasons, what do you project for 2018? Given the absence of Encarnacion and Bautista, and the decline of Martin and Tulowitzki, are you confident that the 2018 Blue Jays batters will have an fWAR above 20? Do you think the pitchers can match the performance of 2016? I don’t.

For those who think the Blue Jays can contend in 2018, you may be correct. In the completely distorted words of John Kenneth Gailbraith:

"fWAR remains the decisive human failure."

Given that the 2017 free agent market is limited and the Blue Jays lack the requisite non-prospect trade pieces, the acquisition of impactful major league players will be difficult. Accordingly, there are too many holes for the Blue Jays to fill if the goal is to contend in 2018.

Next: Blue Jays GM provides updates on Travis and Pompey

The Bottom Line

It is because I am pessimistic about the 2018 Blue Jays season that I really liked what the Blue Jays did on July 31. The three prospects acquired fit the bill for a team that is badly in need of an influx of high-end, young and athletic talent. Also, the type of prospects obtained align with the stated organizational goals. However, the acquisition of Hernandez does give the Blue Jays the flexibility to make additional moves if they decide to contend in 2018. For these reasons, I think the Blue Jays had a successful 2017 non-waiver trade deadline day.