Blue Jays: An objective look at Devon Travis’ current value

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 05: Devon Travis
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 05: Devon Travis /

Devon Travis, who recently finished just his second season in which he appeared in over 100 games, is one of the more enigmatic pieces in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Playing a position that is already covered several times over, it might be a good time to start assessing his value.

Coming over in what many hardcore fans consider to be one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory, Devon Travis, a respectably well-rounded middle infielder with a closed stance and a short swing to match, has puzzled the Blue Jays ever since coming to the big leagues.

Though he’s undoubtedly talented, the 27-year-old Floridian has struggled to stay off the disabled list since his inaugural 2015 season. Even when he’s healthy, he hasn’t exactly performed as advertised, lowering his stock considerably. Now that middle infield prospects Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio are banging on the door with ferocity and vigour, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has admirably shown that, at least for now, he can be a productive bat atop the order, Devon Travis could be expendable for this team going forward.

Of course, it’s no sure thing that Travis is on his way out. But, for the purposes of analysis and speculation, let’s assume that the Blue Jays are looking for a trade partner. What is Travis’ value? Could he even be worth trading? Interestingly enough, he probably can.

Addressing strictly his contractual situation, he looks extremely attractive for interested teams. In terms of control, he doesn’t become a free agent until 2022. He’s arbitration eligible until then and isn’t making a whole lot of money in arbitration. If a certain team is looking for a cheaper, longer term middle infield asset, Travis might be that guy.

But of course, a player’s contract cannot be the only thing taken into account when measuring his value on the trade market; performance is paramount. While Travis had a tremendous, albeit somewhat short, 2016 season (.300/.332/.454, 410 ABs, 101 G, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 28 2B), he hasn’t managed to get his average above .270 since. While his 2017 season, which saw him appear in a measly 50 games, brought about a barely palatable slash of .259/.291/.438, his performance, at least at the plate, hasn’t quite been good enough to warrant a legitimate sense of marketability.

Despite this, though, he’s managed to put up over 0.5 WAR in each of his four big league seasons. With general estimates assessing the value of one win above replacement to be $8 million (USD), Travis could be a relative bargain — but what could the return be? Ironically, I’d like to point to a recent Blue Jays trade as a measuring stick for his value; that of Aledmys Diaz.

Comparing the two seems absurd, but statistically, they’re strikingly similar. Diaz, a year older than Travis, has, for all intents and purposes, been roughly the same hitter in a similarly structured career. The difference is the ability to play shortstop of course, but the table below illustrates their career totals through the end of the 2018 campaign, mostly at the plate.

"Travis v. Diaz"

Diaz is under control for one more year than Travis, and has arguably been a more effective hitter. Though the WAR totals skew the analysis a bit, it’s surprising just how close these two are numerically. Funnily enough, the two are also represented by the same agency, Excel Sports Management.

The question now is, so what? Who cares if Diaz, a middling bat who spent a season in Toronto, is comparable to Travis? In truth, precedent cannot always be telling in baseball, but at this point, the Jays could conceivably look to deal Travis for a similar prospect to the one they got back in the Diaz deal, right-handed pitcher Trent Thornton.

Thornton, 25, was a mid-level pitching prospect in the Houston Astros organization prior to getting dealt. With potential that has yet to be unlocked, he looked like a decent return for Diaz. That being said, the Blue Jays could get a prospect similar to Thornton in a hypothetical Travis deal.

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Before getting dealt to Toronto, Thornton was the Astros’ 24th ranked prospect. So, it’s logical that, should the Jays end up dealing Travis, they look for a similarly ranked pitching prospect in another organization. Preliminary searches highlight LHP Patrick Sandoval (LAA), LHP Konnor Pilkington (CHW), LHP Garrett Williams (SF), RHP Freddy Tarnok (ATL), RHP Trevor Oaks (KCR), and RHP Reid Schaller (WAS) as potential gets. This, of course, is assuming that those teams are willing to deal those prospects in order to acquire a second baseman. Regardless, this strategy of trading a position player for 15-20th ranked pitching prospect could pay off in the long run.

The point here is, if Aledmys Diaz could bring back some value in the form of a young arm, why couldn’t Devon Travis do the same? If the Blue Jays are indeed confident that the aforementioned Drury and Gurriel can hold down the fort up the middle for the time being, does Travis really need to be on the roster?

Now, this isn’t disregarding Devon Travis as a player. I’m fully aware that he’s shown in the past that he can be a valued hitter, and has often displayed brilliant defense at second. Some fans are deeply attached to him, myself often included in that group. Despite this, pitching has to be the main need of this team going forward, and if they can accomplish that while also freeing up a clogged position, why not go for it?

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Regardless, Travis clearly has some value and could, if marketed correctly, be worth something in terms of prospect capital. If the Blue Jays aren’t interested in dealing him, which is most likely the case, then he’ll have to  put up a consistent 2019 in order to secure his spot on a constantly evolving roster filled with youth and energy. Of all the chips the front office has to play with, Devon Travis is surely one of the most intriguing of them.