Blue Jays As 2018 Trade Deadline Buyers

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw /

Most of the discussion this offseason has been about Blue Jays 2018 rebuilds, reloads and reinvention.  But what if the Jays find themselves in a completely different position at the 2018 trade deadline?

The Fangraphs web site has a feature called Depth Charts, which takes the statistical projections from systems like Steamer and ZiPS and turns them into various aggregate projections for teams, leagues and positions.  For example, the projections for team standings at the beginning of a season and for playoff odds mid-season both come from Depth Charts.

I mention the Depth Charts 2018 projections because they now show the Jays as an 86 win team, two games ahead of the Angels, and the second AL Wild Card team.

Now, I could fill the remainder of this article with caveats about projection systems.  and the hundreds of reasons that they are little more than intelligent guesses.  But would it not be prudent to give some thought to the scenario that would arise if Depth Charts proved to be correct?  That the Jays are a wild card team (or better!) at the trade deadline, and that they face buyer, rather than seller decisions?

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Let’s play that game for a bit (if only because it is a lot more fun that speculating about what we could get for Josh Donaldson).

The first question is the 2015 meta-question: should a team trade a good prospect for a half-year rental in a year in which they are close?  Many people criticized the David Price (and Tulo) trades, but those deals *did* at least help the team to make it into the playoffs.  Should a contending 2018 Jays team carpe the diem, or should they conserve resources for the Vlad-Bo-Nate era?

Suppose, for the sake of the argument (as we Irish say!) that the Jays did choose to load up for a 2018 playoff run.  And further suppose that they chose to invest heavily in one major rental, rather than (or possibly in addition to) filling numerous smaller holes.  Who could they target?

Let’s start with the pipe dreams.

The Minotaur legend

OK, so I am starting this list with a major minotaur chimera.  But in my defense, Clayton Kershaw does have an opt-out from his Dodger contract after the 2018 season which many project he will exercise (or at least use as leverage).  And he does not have a no-trade clause – his right to void the contract in the offseason after a midseason trade is of limited effect in 2018.  So suppose, against all expectations, that the Dodgers are out of it at the trade deadline – would they consider moving CK for a king’s ransom, and then pulling a Chapman and re-signing him in the offseason?  And is there any player in baseball who would be more valuable to a team in a one-game wild card game and a playoff run?

The Bam Bam bubble

Washington is also expected to be a contender in 2018.  But again, for the sake of the argument, suppose they were out of it by the deadline.  Would they consider moving Bryce Harper for a substantial package, expecially if they felt that they could not afford the $400 million that some expect him to earn in free agency?  And even if Washington were receptive, would the Jays be as willing to pay the megaprice for an outfielder – however talented – they they would pay for a starting ace?

The Kid K Kool-Aid

And for the last of my flights of fancy – suppose it were the Astros who had holy-cow-batman bad luck, and were out of the running at the deadline.  Would they consider moving the now-Boras-client Dallas Keuchel, particularly if they felt that his salary demands would not fit within  their ~ league average payroll in 2019 and beyond?  And perhaps more to the point – would the Jays see DK in the same light as CK, a difference maker in his own right?

OK – so now let’s get a bit more real.

The Baby-Face Assassin

If Baltimore is hurting at the trade deadline, most analysts believe that they will be marketing Manny Machado pretty heavily.  With his next projected contract in the $300-400m range, it is unlikely that the Orioles will be able to retain his services in any event, and elite hitters who can play short and third are hard to come by.  Would the Jays be interested?  I suspect not – at least, not enough to match the ridiculous offers that Baltimore would receive from other teams.  My reasoning?  In order for the Jays to be buyers in the first place, they would need to have had some decent luck.  As in a healthy Josh Donaldson, playing to form, and decent (albeit not Hakuna Machado level) production from some combination of Tulo, Solarte and Diaz.  So while Manny would be a welcome upgrade, the upgrade would not (in my scenario) be from a position of weakness.

Miller Time 

Andrew Miller demonstrated pretty conclusively in 2016 how valuable an elite situational reliever can be in a playoff run.  Suppose (again, improbably but not impossibly) that the Indians were out of contention at the trade deadline, but that Miller was still producing at his usual are-you-kidding-me level.  Might he and his “puny” ~2 WAR (don’t get me started about reliever WAR calculations) actually add more wins than a ~5 WAR position player?  I would think that 2016 would still be fresh enough in the Jays’ minds that they would view a Miller Time acquisition very favourably.

“Astro’s Dad”?

And as long as I am busily concocting marginally-plausible scenarios …

Imagine that David Price‘s ongoing feud with the Boston media escalates into all-out warfare.  He starts questioning his decision to sign with the Sox, and Sox management starts questioning his effort.  Maybe David even calls Bill JamesBilly Boy“?  Price is pitching fairly well, but the Sox decide to cut their losses and put him on the block.  The other big-market teams are leery, worried that Price will have the same media pressure issues in their cities.  So the only serious suitor is Toronto …

Would the Jays consider trading for Price, in a manner similar to the Astros trading for Verlander last year?  In the 11 games Price started for the Jays in 2015, he went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA (then there was the playoffs, which were “another story“).  Would the Jays (at the right price) be willing to take on his contract, and gamble that Price’s ppp (poor playoff performance) is a function of sss (small sample sizes)?

Next: Randall Grichuk is enjoying his new digs

The bottom line

In business, it is a principle of risk management that a manager should plan for both negative outcomes (how to mitigate them) and positive ones (how to maximize advantage).  A contending Jays team who are buyers at the 2018 trade deadline is a risk well worth thinking about.