As we draw closer to the July 31st trade deadline, the Blue Jays’ front office will have to decide whether to see how the market plays out, or to set it themselves.
Whenever a big league team decides to sell off assets, the hope is to maximize their value, and a lot of that has to do with timing.
That’s one of the reasons that we’re seeing so much discussion about the Blue Jays selling off their veterans before the July 31st trade deadline, whether it’s players on expiring contracts like Justin Smoak, or others who have at least an additional year of contract control, like Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles.
At this stage of the rebuild it makes at least some sense for the Blue Jays to explore trading all or a at least a few of their most valuable players, even if you could make a solid argument to the contrary. That said, it feels like that we’re past the stage of “if” guys like Stroman and even Giles are going to be traded, and we’re now looking more at a “when” and “(for) what”.
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A big key to maximizing the value of any trade chip is timing, and the Blue Jays are very fortunate that it looks like most of their trade chips are going to be healthy. There were question marks about Stroman after he had to miss the All-Star game because of a sore pectoral muscle, but he pitched against the Yankees on the weekend and looked to be at or near 100% after some rest. Thankfully it sounds like Giles won’t be on the sidelines for long either after a bit of “nerve irritation”, which was reportedly caused by a massage over the All-Star break. He should be back on the mound some time this week as long as there are no set backs.
Having those two healthy in particular is important for Ross Atkins and company as they explore the trade market, especially because it allows them to ask themselves another important question. Do they want to wait out the trade market and see where value is set by other clubs, or perhaps strike early and be the ones that set the bar themselves?
It’s not as easy as just deciding whether to make a deal early or not, as the Blue Jays will have to have a willing trade partner, and one that is willing to fork over a worthwhile package of prospects and/or near-MLB ready players in return. They can try to manufacture an early deadline, but there is also the risk that you could push a potential suitor away if they’re not ready to pull the trigger on a deal.
For Stroman for example, he’ll be joined by the biggest names on the starting pitching market such as Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, and possibly Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians, if the latter decides to sell. Stroman may not be viewed at quite the same level as those two, but Bumgarner is on an expiring contract, and Bauer will be more expensive, and is widely known for being a bit of a controversial figure at times. There are also other lower-tier options like former Blue Jays prospect Matt Boyd of the Tigers, or possibly Zack Wheeler of the Mets.
You could make the argument that the Jays could be well-served to wait until someone like Bumgarner is dealt (which seems inevitable), and then they could take advantage of pitching-needy teams that missed out of the veteran southpaw. They could also reinforce the extra year of contract control for their guy, and hope that they could even get an overpay if the market plays in their favour.
On the other hand, we saw what happened when the Blue Jays waited on trading Josh Donaldson last year (I know he was hurt, but even before that), and they clearly missed out on the window of maximizing his return. By the time the deadline rolled around they had no choice but to take what they could get, with all due respect to Julian Merryweather. They’re not going to lose Stroman at the end of the season for nothing like they would have with Donaldson, but the way this situation has developed feels like it needs a resolution by the end of this month.
If the Blue Jays held on to Stroman until the very end of July they could get three more starts out of him. While that would be helpful for Charlie Montoyo‘s depleted rotation, it would also pose the risk that Stroman could get hurt, which would either drop his value, or make him ineligible to be traded at all. It’s probably not a worth risk taking if they can find a suitable return sooner than later.
Of course, that return is the biggest variable, followed by when any potential trade partner is willing to go through with a swap. While the Blue Jays may want to create a sense of urgency, they will have to find a dance partner. That said, with less than 16 days to go before the deadline things could start moving quickly.
There is no doubt that some potential deals have already been discussed, so we’ll see whether Atkins and company are the first to blink, and whether that turns out to be a good, or a bad thing.