Blue Jays: 2012 Redux- A Jays/Marlins Megadeal?
By Jim Scott
Could the Jays and Marlins be a match for a mega-deal similar to the one done in 2012?
In November, 2012 the Jays and Marlins announced a mega-deal. The Jays would get budding superstar Josh Johnson, veterans Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, as well as John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, and $4 million. The Marlins would get a package of younger players: Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, Justin Nicolino, Anthony Desclafani and Jake Marisnick.
The deal was motivated in part by the Marlin’s desire to reduce salary, particularly with respect to the back-loaded contracts it had signed which were starting to become expensive.
Fast forward to 2017.
The new Marlins ownership team have announced their intention to reduce payroll by as much as half, from the 2017 level of $115 million to something in the $50-100 million range. To do so, they will have to do what the 2012 Marlins did – trade players with high-value contracts, particularly when those contracts still have multiple years to run.
Toronto Blue Jays
Could history repeat itself?
The Jays are hoping to contend in 2018, but they have multiple questions marks and holes to fill. By my (admittedly rough) calculations, and assuming a modest 5% increase in payroll from 2017, they have about $30 million in payroll to play with based on where they stand today. Could a deal similar to 2012 – where the Jays acquire multiple expensive players from the Marlins, filling multiple significant holes in the process, make sense for both teams? After all the Jays have been speculated to be interested in Giancarlo Stanton, and Dee Gordon has been put forward as a solution for second base. If those ideas work in the micro, might they not work in the macro?
Insert the usual caveat here: this idea is speculation on my part. But possibly intelligent speculation?
Let’s start with the Marlins. They would be looking to get rid of players with high salaries and multiple years remaining on their contracts. In exchange, they would be looking to get young players, ideally a combination of MLB-proven players and high-upside prospects, all of them still relatively cheap. As in 2012, they might be willing to chip in some $$ if the prospect haul justified it.
And now the Blue Jays. Toronto would be looking for players who filled holes and made an immediate (2018) contribution at the MLB level. So a first baseman, or a third baseman (for purposes of this article, I am assuming that the Jays retain Josh Donaldson) would not be their first priority.
So how about this, purely (as we Irish say!) “for the sake of the argument”?
Jays get Giancarlo Stanton ($25 million in 2018), Dee Gordon ($10.5m), Martin Prado ($13.5 million) and Christian Yelich ($7m), plus $20 million paid half in 2017 and half in 2018. Marlins get Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar, and a package of prospects at the Smith jr/McGuire/Tellez/Greene/Harris/SRF level.
Here is my reasoning:
Stanton is a fine player, and is coming off a career year. At age 27, he should be at his peak for several years. The negative about Stanton is his price. He is owed $295 million over the next 10 years, and is perceived to have limited (or negative) surplus value. The Marlins will likely trade him for financial reasons, but are unlikely to get much in return (Stanton was put on revocable waivers in August 2017 and was not claimed) . The Jays would be paying full price for Stanton, but would receive the middle-of-the-order bat they will need to replace Donaldson.
Dee Gordon is coming off an excellent 3.3 WAR year, but his value is largely in his speed and he will be 30 years old next year. With $51 million potentially remaining on his contract, his surplus value might also be limited. But he is a solid defender at 2B and a natural leadoff man, both of which the Jays lack.
Prado had negative WAR in an injury-affected 2017, and at 34 next year is likely in decline. He is owed $28.5 million over the next two years, and is unlikely to generate much (if any) surplus value. But he can play second, third and left field and could be the super-utility that the Jays need until Lourdes Gurriel arrives and potentially the 3B replacement for Josh Donaldson in 2019 if Vladdy Jr. is not ready.
As a general rule, teams should hesitate to sign players who generate limited surplus value. No team can afford to pay the full $9 million for every win. The exception is where the player is an exceptionally good fit for the team’s needs. Stanton, Gordon and Prado might well fit this category.
If I were the Jays, I would want the Marlins to add one player (like Johnson in 2012) who clearly does have surplus value. I would target Yelich, who had a 4.5 WAR in CF in 2016 and 2017, and who is signed to a team-friendly deal through 2022.
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The package coming from the Jays would start with Devon Travis. Devo would likely have won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015 had he remained healthy. He has a career +3.8 UZR/150 at 2B and a career 112 wRC+ and is under team control through 2020. He is good, young and cheap, with upside – just what Jeter needs! But if the Jays commit to Dee, they will have nowhere to play Travis, so losing him becomes less painful.
The second major part of the Jays’ package would be Kevin Pillar. He is coming off a poor (but still 1.9 WAR) 2017, but earned 3.3 in 2016 and 4.3 in 2015. Like Travis, he is under team control via arbitration through 2020, and like Devo, if the Jays play Yelich in centre field (or Alford, or Teo) he will not have a position.
And finally, the Jays would add a package of prospects. Not Vladdy or Bo, but players like Sean Reid-Foley and Rowdy Tellez (both in the Baseball America top-100 list in May) might tempt. Or Reese McGuire, with his Eastern League player of the week award, superior defense and 2017 wRC+ of 134 in AA. Or Connor Greene, or Thomas Pannone, or whoever tickles the Marlin’s fancy.
If the players + prospects package were sufficiently enticing, I would expect the Marlins to kick in some cash. Something on the order of $20 million, split between 2017 and 2018.
2012 deja vu
This idea is similar to the 2012 deal in that the Jays would be getting a top young player (Yelich vs Johnson), and some veterans who were still good, but expensive (Stanton/Gordon/Prado vs Buehrle/Reyes/Buck). In return the Marlins would get young MLB talent (Travis/Pillar vs Escobar/Alvarez) plus a handful of good prospects to replenish a depleted system.
Impact on the Jays’ payroll
Suppose for a moment that the Jays did this deal. And suppose that they release or trade Carrera, and trade Morales (eating $4 million of his salary). Could they make the numbers work? Have a look at what the 2018 payroll might look like. Very tight, and without a lot of “wiggle room” but potentially doable.
Impact on the FA market
The difficulty for the Jays – or any team- in the offseason free agent market is juggling the different opportunities and needs. Overpaying on one need might not leave enough cash for other needs, and holding back cash for one player might mean losing out on another. Much easier to fill all of your major needs with a single deal, when possible.
Next: What to do with Devon Travis going forward
The bottom line
This idea is only one illustration of a potential mega-deal. Many other options exist. If you think that Prado’s contract still has significant value, you could replace him with Derek Dietrich. If the Marlins love Yelich all to bits, perhaps they could talk Ozuna instead (only two years remaining of team control, and his 2018 arb award is likely to be substantial). But in concept, the potential clearly exists for the Marlins to dump substantial salary and the Jays to fill multiple holes, to their mutual advantage.