Ken Rosenthal reports that the Blue Jays are still interested in trading veterans, but could some of them line up with Vlad Guerrero Jr’s competitive window?
A rebuild is no easy task, and the Blue Jays are at the beginning stages of their first true rebuild in quite some time.
They have the distinct advantage of an elite farm system, headed up by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the top of the MLB Pipeline list. Of course, Guerrero made his MLB debut last week, but there is a lot of talent yet to come in the form of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Nate Pearson, and many more.
Because there are so many pieces of the puzzle that have yet to reach the big leagues, many fans and baseball people believe that the Blue Jays are at least a couple of years away from returning to contender status. However, this team is showing a lot more promise than most of us expected this year, and that could change, or at least accelerate the plans to push for a playoff spot. The way things have been going lately, that seems like a more plausible scenario.
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The veterans that are caught in the rebuild have been performing very well so far, lead by the AL-leading ERA of Marcus Stroman, and strong contributions from guys like Aaron Sanchez and Justin Smoak. Not so coincidentally, they were all mentioned by Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday as possible trade pieces for the Blue Jays later this summer, regardless of how well the team is doing.
The thinking (by some folks) is that even if the trio can continue to produce and the Blue Jays are contenders sooner than expected, it’s hard to think that they’ll all be at their best by the time the rest of the core is ready to reach the best of their potential. In particular, there’s an argument that all building for this team should be catered toward Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s prime. The thing is, that could arrive a lot sooner than some of us expect as well, as he’s already showing an elite ability at the plate.
Marcus Stroman turns 28 years old today, and Aaron Sanchez won’t turn 27 until July 1st of this year. Smoak is in a little different scenario at 32, but let’s talk about when Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s prime might be, and if these guys could line up with that. In my opinion, that’s the most important question to be asking when it comes to the discussion that Rosenthal has sparked with his comments.
I honestly think we could be seeing an All-Star level contribution from Vlad Jr. by next year, but his running mates in the minor leagues are going to need time and experience at the big league level, so for that reason let’s still look ahead to 2021, even if I think this team will “compete” before then. Stroman would start that season at 29 (turning 30), and Sanchez would be 28, turning 29.
You could argue that paying them bigger money as they get to the wrong side of 30 isn’t the greatest investment, but I think you have to consider the five-year window that Vlad Jr. is guaranteed to be a Blue Jay. At the end of that window, Stroman will be just 34, and Sanchez will turn 33 that season.
Given their respective injury histories (especially Sanchez), I can understand if the Blue Jays would give pause to paying them to be premium arms in the rotation, but there are a few other points of consideration. The free agent market isn’t going to be that exciting because of the recent trend of signing in-house extensions, and there’s a very real chance the Jays won’t be able to find a better pitcher than these two on the free agent market. Neither pitcher has the miles on their arm that they could at this stage in their careers either, which should bode well for their arm health at the very least.
There’s also the very real chance that they could be getting low-cost rotation contributions from guys like Pearson, Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton, Eric Pardinho, and several others. They’ll have the money to keep them around if they choose, and again, there may not be better options on the market by that time. I understand the reluctance to pay pitchers over the age of 30 (which they’ll be in their next contracts), but in a market as big as Toronto, they’ve gotta spend the money somewhere when this team is competing.
They’ll supplement the offence someday as well, and maybe they’ll take a page out of the Yankees’ book and spend a pile of dough on the bullpen, but I can’t see how they won’t be able to fit Stroman and Sanchez into the budget going forward. The only question is if Ross Atkins and the front office believe those two can be more valuable in their age 30-33 seasons, as opposed to whatever they could bring back in a trade.
Because I believe this team will compete sooner than we expect, because the free agent market will be soft, and the rest of the team can be constructed in a very cost-efficient way, I don’t know that trading their top two pitchers will end up being the best strategy. A lot will be determined by their health and performance over the next three months, but I’m hoping that Rosenthal’s comments don’t age very well.