Under Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, the Blue Jays trades have been consistent with the team’s stated organizational plan. Furthermore, that trade record has been satisfactory.
The Shapiro-Atkins record of trades has been better than some people believe. I don’t think this is a hot take. However, if it is, let’s go to the phone lines.
What is the plan?
Caller Bob: This season is a nightmare. What is management doing? I have no idea. They won’t tell us what the plan is. Thanks for taking my call. I’ll hang up and won’t listen like every time before.
Radio Host: The plan for the Blue Jays under Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins has been very clear. Mark Shapiro said the following in a July 2017 interview.
"“We clearly need to continue to compete, we clearly need to continue to get more talent around those existing players but yes, we have enough of a base of talent here to still contend.”“I do think we can build that team without that cycle (a Cubs or Astros-like tear-down) occurring here, but how we’re situated at the moment might cause for one transitional period between now and getting there,” said Shapiro. “If we build this organization through our philosophy with an obsessive focus on acquiring and developing the best young talent and strategically building a balanced major-league roster, we will have an opportunity to sustain a championship-calibre team.”"
The Blue Jays have tried to thread the needle. Remain competitive with an older team as the organization rebuilds its farm system. The team will not materially sacrifice its future for the sake of competing now.
One can disagree with the Shapiro-Atkins blueprint. Last year I recommended starting the reset sooner but I understand the reasons for their decision. However, their strategy has been clear.
What type of trades could the Blue Jays make?
Caller Steve: The Shapiro-Atkins trade record since coming to this city is horrible. They haven’t acquired a player who has produced at least 1 bWAR of value. Defend their ability to trade smart guy! Love the show, thanks.
Radio Host: I think before one can evaluate the trades executed by the current regime, we should consider the context in which management has been operating.
With the stated post-2015 plan to both contend in the near-term and transition into a team with one of the best MLB farm systems, what type of trades should one have expected not to occur before 2017?
- Trades of any of the core players (Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Edward Encarnacion, or Jose Bautista);
- The inclusion of young, good players on the MLB roster (Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, or Roberto Osuna) in a transaction; or
- Trades involving their mid or top-tier prospects.
Accordingly, under these circumstances, it would be extremely difficult to acquire players with a bWAR in excess of 1. Why would another team exchange such a player for a below mid-tier prospect? Unless the Blue Jays had a surplus of good MLB players in one position, what would be the point of trading for another good player, all things being equal?
After the 2016 season, Encarnacion left for free agency. Martin and Tulowitzki were players in decline and carried big salaries. Trading either of them for players with a bWAR in excess of 1 was highly improbable even if salary was retained. Management’s trade options were limited given the plan.
How successful have the trades been?
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Caller Jeff: Okay, I see your point about the bWAR profile of players that could have been reasonably acquired through trades.
Radio Host: I am brilliant, aren’t I?
Caller Jeff: Um, no. Back to my question. How well have the Blue Jays done in the trades that the current management group has completed?
Radio Host: Okay, this is how I have evaluated the trade scorecard of the Shapiro-Atkins regime.
For players sent to the trade partner, I determined the players’ bWAR from the date they were traded by the Blue Jays until the earlier of the player reaching free agency and August 15, 2018. For players acquired by Toronto, their bWAR was calculated from the date of acquisition until the earlier of their free agency date and August 15, 2018. The reason I considered the free agency date is because the player’s then-current contract on trade date is a factor in the assessment of the trade. Signing or not signing the player to a new contract is a separate management decision.
My evaluation excludes trades completed after the 2018 season started. That list includes Steve Pearce, J.A. Happ et al. The reason for this exclusion is that those transactions were executed by the Blue Jays with the future in mind and not in pursuit of current value. Also, it is too soon to get a sense of the results of these trades.
Using my cut-off method for determining the applicable bWAR, List 1 shows the total value of players received in trade. Some of the notable players have also been included in the table. Figures enclosed in brackets mean that the bWAR number is negative.
List 1 – Value of Players Received
- Total value of all players – 2.1
- Drew Storen – (0.5)
- Joaquin Benoit – 1.4
- Francisco Liriano – 0.6
- Teoscar Hernandez – 0.7
- Randal Grichuk – 0.9
List 2 reflects the total bWAR value of players given up in trade and some of the noteworthy names involved in those transactions.
List 2 – Value of Players Traded
- Total value of all players – (0.2)
- Ben Revere – (1.3)
- Drew Storen – 0.3
- Drew Hutchinson – 0.0
- Francisco Liriano – (0.2)
- Dominic Leone – 0.0
In terms of prospects involved in the Shapiro-Atkins trades, the most recognizable prospects traded by the Jays include J.B. Woodman (released by St. Louis), Connor Greene (#28 in the Cardinals farm system), and Edward Olivares (#28 in the Padres system). Prospects acquired by the Blue Jays include Thomas Pannone (#28) and Reese McGuire (#23). All rankings per MLB Pipeline. It should be noted that Leone has been injured and has not appeared in an MLB game since May 4.
Overall, I would argue that the Shapiro-Atkins team has performed at a satisfactory level on the trade front. In the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline window, the Blue Jays traded Storen and Hutchinson for a net bWAR gain of 1.7 and also acquired a pretty good prospect (McGuire). At the same deadline period in 2017, the Jays converted Joe Smith and Liriano into Hernandez, Pannone, and Samad Taylor. More importantly, the Blue Jays have not traded a prospect that was mid-tier or better.
The last word
The trades executed by the Shapiro-Atkins regime have been consistent with their stated plan. One can certainly argue that they have missed the opportunity to receive maximum trade value for Donaldson and Osuna. However, for the trades completed prior to the start of the 2018 season, the Shapiro-Atkins tandem has performed at a satisfactory level. The criticism that management has not traded for a player that has produced a bWAR value of at least 1 is not only incorrect (see Benoit) but also misplaced given the circumstances.