Blue Jays Trade: What the 2015 Rich Hill Deal Says About J.A. Happ

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 25: J.A. Happ #33 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on June 25, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 25: J.A. Happ #33 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on June 25, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

What do we get if we apply the 2015 Rich Hill trade paradigm to a J.A. Happ trade?

At the 2015 trade deadline, the Oakland A’s were 45-59, 13 games behind the division-leading Astros.  The Dodgers were leading the NL West with a 58-45 record, but the Giants were only 1.5 games back and closing.   The Dodgers needed another starter and a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder / bench bat with some power, and Oakland’s Rich Hill and Josh Reddick were both free agents at the end of the year.

Rich Hill was injured in 2013 and 2014, but was pitching to a 2.25 ERA with Oakland in 2015 (albeit with a 3.56 xFIP).  He was considered one of the top rental arms at the 2015 deadline.  Josh Reddick was having a solid year with the bat, with a .296/.368/.449 line and a 121 wRC+.  Both would be free agents after 2015, with a combined ~$5 million of salary remaining.

The stage was set for a match made in heaven Iowa July.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

In exchange for Rich & Red, the A’s received three prospects:  Frankie Montas (LA’s #4 prospect), Grant Holmes (#5) , and Jharel Cotton (#17).  All three were well regarded but not considered elite prospects.  Holmes was ranked #60 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects (#82 on Montas was BA#82, despite missing time to a rib injury.  And Cotton was not on a top-100 list, but was considered to have upside – he was ranked BA#84 on their pre-2017 list.

In his article about the price that Happ might command, Joel Sherman speculates that if Hill were traded without Reddick, he would have returned two of those three prospects.  Suppose (“for the sake of the argument“, as we Irish say!) that Hill would have been worth one of Holmes or Montas, plus Cotton.

Happ has a 4.03 ERA in 2015 – not as good as Hill’s 2.25, but Happ’s 3.66 xFIP is very comparable to Hill’s 3.56.  Happ also comes with much less injury risk than Hill did, and could potentially be traded earlier than Hill’s July 31st.  So it is not unreasonable to say that 2015 Hill and 2018 Happ have similar value.

It follows that, following the Hill paradigm, Toronto should expect a return of something like two prospects – the first a BA #60-90ish and the second a strong prospect with top-100 upside.

The Yankees, Braves, Phillies, Red Sox, Mariners, Dodgers and Diamondbacks are all speculated to be looking for another starter.  The Brewers are also rumoured to be interested.  So what would this paradigm look like, applied to a few of those teams?

Yankees – Albert Abreu (BA #66) has been called more of a thrower than a pitcher, but he has #2 upside.  Jonathan Loaisiga (BA #69) has a plus-plus fastball and mid-rotation upside, and has a 3.00 ERA in four starts with the Yanks in 2018.  And for the second player, how about Erik Swanson?  Not rated as one of the Yanks’ top 30 prospects, but showing potential at Trenton in AAA despite a 5.11 ERA.

Braves – sorry, guys – the chances of getting Soroka, Wright, or Anderson are (ahem) “not high”.  But Luis Gohara (BA #70) has great stuff (just not great control) and is already pitching in the big leagues (albeit with a 6.89 ERA).  For the second player, how about Tucker Davidson (Atlanta’s #17 ranked prospect) – a hard-throwing lefty who is being transitioned from relief to starting? A lottery ticket, granted, but one with a large potential prize.

Phillies – the Phils have only a single player on the BA100, and we are not going to get Sixto Sanchez (ranked BA #16).  But Adonis Medina is ranked #49 on the fangraphs top 131 and #74 by  Adonis is still in high-A ball, but has good stuff and is learning quickly. projects him making it to the majors in 2019.  And for the second player, Jose Taveras (not in Philly’s top 30) is a 24-year-old who lives more off deception and movement than true stuff, and is projected as anywhere from a #4 (minor league ball) to a #6 (fangraphs) starter.  Alternatively, his unusual stuff may be special in a long relief role, in a what-was-that Kent-Tekulve-ish way.

Brewers – Corbin Burnes (BA #60) has four MLB-ready pitches, decent control, and has a 2019 ETA.  Freddy Peralta (BA #77) also has 4 MLB-level pitches with above-average control, and is commended for his ability to adjust.  For the second player, how about Brett Phillips?  A fast centre fielder with a 70-grade arm but a 40-grade hit tool, we was recently demoted by the Crew with a -32 wRC+ in 9 games in 2018. If (big if) he ever found his hit mojo, he could be something special.

Next: Blue Jays have scouted the Brewers' system

The bottom line

Clearly, there are many ways to skin a trade cat.  Different list rank players differently, and teams may well rank them even more differently.  Still, a look at the Hill paradigm gives at least a feel for the kind of package that a Happ could return.