Jays and Marlins: An Alternate Scenario
By Jim Scott
There has been speculation about the Jays’ interest in Giancarlo Stanton and in Dee Gordon. But might there be another Jays/Marlins trade fit?
The Marlins are speculated to be in sale mode, given their stated intention to reduce payroll to the $90 million level. This has led Blue Jays writers to speculate about a Giancarlo Stanton trade or acquiring Dee Gordon. Both of these ideas have merit, but there may be other options on the table.
In a recent article for mlb.com, Joe Frisaro notes that the Marlins might be highly motivated to trade Martin Prado and the $28.5 million he is owed over the next two years. But, given Prado’s injuries in 2017 and his age (he will play 2018 at 34 years old) the Fish might have difficulty in finding a taker. Frisaro speculates that one way the Marlins could move Prado would be to package him with a player with positive value – like a Christian Yelich.
Which begs the question: would the Jays be interested in a Prado/Yelich package?
Toronto Blue Jays
Let’s start with Prado. He averaged 142 games and 3.0 fWAR from 2014-16, playing mostly third base but also a bit of second and corner outfield. But 2017 was a bit of a train wreck, with a hamstring injury at the World Baseball Classic, a second hamstring in May, and knee surgery in July that ended his season. Prado hopes to be healthy again for the start of 2018, but it is not clear that he is still in the Marlins’ long-term future.
Then there is Yelich. He is an extremely valuable asset, playing to a 4.5 WAR level in both 2016 and 2017 and being under contract through 2022 at a very reasonable $58.3 million. Yelich would ordinarily be the kind of asset that the Marlins would keep – good, cheap and young – but, as Joe points out, the Fish might want to use him to balance out a Prado deal.
Many teams might hesitate to take on a Prado-level salary, even if a Yelich came attached. But Prado might be a better fit for the Jays than for most teams. He is a very good defensive third baseman, with a strong career 7.5 DRS/1000 (and a 10.7 in 2017, albeit in a shortened season). He also has over 2,000 career innings at second base, where he has been roughly league average. He has not played second since 2015, but that is likely due to team need rather than diminished ability. He has also been an above-average defender in left field (2127 career innings, +7 DRS/1000). So a healthy Prado, if he could regain the 3.0 WAR level of prior years, could play left field for the Jays, backing up Devon Travis at second and Josh Donaldson at third (and potentially moving into those positions if either of those two were badly injured or traded).
Yelich, of course, would be of value to almost any team. Particularly if the team had the luxury of moving him from centre field (where his defense is below average) to a corner outfield spot (Yelich is a career +9 DRS/1000 in left field. For context, only one LF had a higher rate in 2017, Brett Gardner of the Yankees. A team like the Jays, with Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez (and possibly Dalton Pompey) in the wings, can easily put him in the corner.
One other factor to consider is the upcoming Rule 5 draft. The Jays have a number of good young players, and not a lot of room left on the 40-man roster. They risk losing players like Andrew Case, Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, Conner Greene, Reese McGuire, Max Pentecost and Jordan Romano if they do not get 40-man slots. The Marlins, with a much weaker farm system, have less of an issue in protecting prospects. And given the Fish’s stated goal of building a sustainable winner, a package of prospects with upside might be of considerable interest.
So would a package something like Kevin Pillar (to replace Yelich at CF – Kevin averaged 3.2 WAR from 2015-17, which is not far off Yelich’s 3.8 average) + a package of prospects built around the Rule-5 eligible players that the Jays run the risk of losing, be enough to tempt? And would the Jays pay this (admittedly high) price to land a long-term cornerstone like Yelich?
Next: Under the radar free agent: Carlos Gonzalez
The bottom line
The Fish have said many times that they do not want to trade Yelich. Which only demonstrates that they are neither crazy nor stupid – as he is a very valuable asset. But it remains to be seen whether their desire to keep him is greater than their desire to reduce payroll to give themselves flexibility in the future, and to replenish a depleted farm system. So, even if such a deal is unlikely, the Jays would be well advised to keep their eyes and ears open.