Blue Jays: Middle infield targets to inquire about via trade

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Jonathan Villar
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Jonathan Villar /

This article is the 2nd in my two part series on middle infield targets. The first was middle infield targets the Toronto Blue Jays could pursue via free agency. Now, it’s free agent targets to look at via trade. I’m sure you gathered that through the article title, though.

It’s well known and much talked about that the Toronto Blue Jays need middle infield depth, and not just any middle infield depth. With neither Devon Travis nor Troy Tulowitzki having much luck with health, the conversation around the Blue Jays is a need for improvement in the area, one way or another.

They need a guy who can hit, as they had two extremely below average middle infielders offensively in Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins. Both were well below the league average 100 in the wRC+ department. It’s unfortunate, because they both typically bring plus defense.

In my piece on middle infielders that they could target in free agency, I identified the following players:

Let’s take a look at who has either been rumoured to be available via trade, or someone I think they could make a push to acquire via trade.

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Josh Harrison

The Pittsburgh Pirates window to win a World Series is just about over. With the looming free agency of Andrew McCutchen in the off-season of 2018-2019, the Pirates may sell their star center fielder. Josh Harrison is also a free agent the year McCutchen is scheduled to be.

Josh Harrison is what the Blue Jays need. Someone who can provide position flexibility and some speed. He will be on the wrong side of 30 when he reaches free agency but Harrison won’t turn 31 until July of next season.

Harrison primarily plays 2nd and 3rd, but he has played a decent amount in the outfield as well as shortstop as recently as 2014. Harrison likely won’t play short, but that’s where Ryan Goins would factor in should Troy Tulowitzki hit the disabled list. Harrison has battled some DL stints the past few years, but has still managed at least 449 at bats in every season since 2014.

He can provide some speed, a slightly above average bat (104 wRC+ in 2017) and good defense as well. The Blue Jays should keep tabs on the Pirates this off-season because Josh Harrison would fit the bill.

Luis Valbuena

To die-hard Blue Jays fans, they would recognize the name Luis Valbuena. Valbuena came close to cracking the Blue Jays’ 25 man roster after Spring Training in 2012. Instead he ended up with the Chicago Cubs after being claimed off waiver from the Blue Jays.

Valbuena has turned himself from a below replacement level player, to a very effective utility man since joining the Cubs in 2012. In fact, he’s posted the following fWAR’s since 2012:

  • 1.3 (2012)
  • 2.1 (2013)
  • 2.9 (2014)
  • 1.4 (2015)
  • 2.0 (2016)
  • 0.8 (2017)

Valbuena plays slightly below average defense and he does strike out a lot, but he has a TON of power and has a career wRC+ of 96, just four below league average. That 96 total is much better than what you’ll get out of Darwin Barney or Ryan Goins. He can also play some 3rd and 1st base, but has had previous experience at shortstop and 2nd base.

The question would be whether the Blue Jays feel Valbuena is too far removed from his days that saw him play from time-to-time at 2nd and shortstop. He can play outfield in a pinch, so he is versatile. At only $8 million for 2018 and a 2019 mutual option for $8.5 million, Valbuena is intriguing.

Yangervis Solarte

Solarte was a thorn in the Blue Jays side when he came up to the New York Yankees, before being shipped to the San Diego Padres in the Chase Headley trade at the 2014 trade deadline. Solarte can play decent defense and has an above average bat, despite a bit of a down year in 2017.

The greatest thing about Solarte is his positional flexibility. He can play at 3rd, 2nd, and short. The Padres aren’t going to be good any time soon, and Solarte is one of their best trade chips that they can use to continue to add to their system.

Solarte’s contract also comes extremely cheap. He’s scheduled to make $4 million in 2018, a 2019 team option worth $5.5 million, and a 2020 team option for $8 million. Given his control, skill, and cheap contract, should the Padres decide to shop Solarte, they could command a very high price for the talented shortstop. The Blue Jays should 100% be checking in on his availability this off-season.

Jonathan Villar

I’m not going to go into much detail about Jonathan Villar, because of the five listed in this piece, it’s the least likely that Villar will be moved. The Milwaukee Brewers were extremely close to qualifying for the 2017 post-season and after a fantastic 2016 season, one would think that would have meant Villar played an integral part of almost getting the Brewers to the playoffs.

It was the opposite for Villar. He struggled for the majority of the 2017 season and so much so that the Brewers went out to acquire Neil Walker. It’s possible the Brewers decide to try and re-sign Walker to play 2nd. Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw are penciled in at short and 3rd, two positions Villar can play. If Walker leaves, Villar likely goes back to the full-time 2nd baseman. However, if the Blue Jays were aggressive in their pursuit of Villar, the Brewers could move him following his subpar 2017 season.

Should the Blue Jays check-in and attempt to acquire Villar, he would be exactly what they need as he plays all over the infield. The one thing he has on the three names above is that he can be a fantastic leadoff hitter, and steal a ton of bases. Villar was dealing with nagging injuries in 2017 which limited him to just 23 steals. However, he stole 62 bases in 2016, so that should give you a sense of his speed. Again, for a team that was so close to the playoffs in 2017, it’s unlikely they would move Jonathan Villar, but he would be my top target if the Brewers listen to offers on him.

Dee Gordon

The final name I’m going to list is a name that has come up a ton over the past year. That is Dee Gordon of the “about-to-rebuild-and-sell” Miami Marlins. The Marlins are reportedly looking to move on nearly all of their veterans, and Dee Gordon is likely one of those pieces.

Like Jonathan Villar, Dee Gordon is lightning quick on the basepaths. He stole 60 bases this past season and has a career high of 64 swipes. Gordon could leadoff for the Blue Jays and is a left-handed bat, something they’ve coveted the past few off-seasons.

Should the Blue Jays pursue Gordon this off-season, they could inquire on some of the other Marlins. Specifically, some of the Marlins outfielders that they have available via trade. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna come to mind, as does Giancarlo Stanton. Should the Blue Jays pursue a trade of this magnitude, it would cost a ton. Perhaps they just consider Gordon to have a smaller acquisition cost.

The one thing about Gordon compared to the rest of these names on this list is that he would be added for the purposes of being an everyday player at 2nd base. Harrison, Valbuena, and Solarte could fit the needs of a super-utility guy and not need to play every day at the same position. Villar could also be of that mold, especially given his 2017 struggles. However, Dee Gordon would likely be as a fulltime player at 2nd base. In that case, should Devon Travis be healthy, they could then figure out how to play Travis, which is a good problem to have. Gordon can play shortstop in a pinch as well but it’s likely that he would be viewed as more of an every day player at 2nd.

To conclude, any of these guys could be trade targets to provide middle-infield depth. Assuming they’re all available, I would rank them as follows in terms of my personal top choices:

  1. Jonathan Villar
  2. Dee Gordon
  3. Josh Harrison
  4. Yangervis Solarte
  5. Luis Valbuena

Next: Good, Bad, and the Ugly- J.A. Happ

Regardless of how you’d rank them, any of these names would be intriguing options to add via trade and would all fit what the Blue Jays need going into 2018.