Toronto Blue Jays: Two Birds With One Trade?

CLEVELAND, OHIO - MAY 05: Mitch Haniger #17 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates after hitting a solo homer during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 05, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - MAY 05: Mitch Haniger #17 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates after hitting a solo homer during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 05, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays’ two greatest needs are starting pitching and outfield.  Might they solve both needs with a single trade?

The Seattle Mariners have recently announced that they are “deep in sell mode“.  Problem is, many of the contracts they are hoping to move are arguably under water.  Might they be tempted to trade current assets for salary relief, much as they did when they included Edwin Diaz in a trade package to induce the Mets to take on the contract of Robinson Cano?  And if they did, might the Jays be able to take advantage?

First, let’s talk about Mike Leake.  He is under contract for 2019 ($16m), 2020 ($15m) and has a 2021 mutual option for $18m with a $5m buyout.  So the M’s owe him roughly $28 million for the next year and a half.  Problem is, Leake has been struggling – he has a 4.71 ERA and a 4.66 SIERA so far in 2019, and his fastball velocity has dropped from 93 mph in 2015 to less than 89 mph now.  The only thing going for him is his workload – he has averaged over 190 innings over the last 6 years and has averaged 6 innings in each of his 12 starts in 2019.

Clearly not worth $28 million – particularly to a Mariners team with an active payroll just over $130 million.  But still of value to a team looking for an innings-eating #5-ish starter for 2019 and 2020 – just long enough for their minor league arms to be ready to take over.  Remind you of anyone?

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Second, let’s talk about Mitch Haniger.  Acquired by the M’s from Arizona in the 2016 Jean Segura trade, Haniger exploded with 7 WAR for Seattle over the 2017 and 2018 seasons.  But there were red flags.

Haniger was maintaining a .330+ BABIP – not likely sustainable, given his skill set.  Sure enough, in 2019 his BABIP has regressed to a more logical .268 and as a result his wRC+ has declined to 115 – almost exactly as was predicted by Steamer and ZiPS entering the season.  So Haniger now looks like an above-average defensive right fielder with a good but not elite bat.  Worth perhaps 2-3 WAR, depending on injuries. Well worth having, but no longer the “untouchable” he might have been in 2017.

So why would the Jays be interested?  Well, given their current outfield situation, a 2.5 WAR outfielder with some experience batting leadoff who can also play centre field in a pinch is nothing to sneeze at.  Plus, Haniger is only eligible for arbitration in 2020 and a not a free agent until 2023.  And of course, there is always the chance that moving to the Rogers Centre Launching Pad could make good magic happen.

Can you see where I am going here?

The Jays have a need for a Leake and a Haniger.  They should (?) have the salary room to accept a bad Leake contract (assuming he waives his no-trade clause) in exchange for a good Haniger one.  Of course, there would be other pieces involved (some of the Jays’ middle infield talent?) but the essence of the deal would be similar to the Diaz+Cano trade.

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The bottom line

The Jays have the advantage that, with the many young players projected to be on the 2020 roster, their payroll should be manageable enough to accept a bad contract or two if in exchange they could get assets that would accelerate the rebuild – and decrease the rebuilding pain.

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