Blue Jays: An opportunity to take advantage of the Yankees this off-season

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 06: J.A. Happ #34 of the New York Yankees fields a grounder and throws out Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning during MLB game action at Rogers Centre on June 6, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 06: J.A. Happ #34 of the New York Yankees fields a grounder and throws out Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning during MLB game action at Rogers Centre on June 6, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays are still in the earlier stages of their rebuild, and because of that there could be an opportunity to take advantage of the Yankees this winter.

As we watched the Blue Jays’ division-rival Yankees get eliminated by the Houston Astros on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder how Brian Cashman (the Yankees’ GM) will respond this winter. The Yankees have shown some financial restraint over the past few seasons, but I have a feeling that’s going to be put on hold this off-season, and the Blue Jays should be paying attention.

We’ve talked here at Jays Journal about how the Blue Jays should make a full-court press for Gerrit Cole this winter, especially because it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Astros to keep him. However, they are going to have to compete with most of MLB for his services, and I would venture a guess that the Yankees will be at the front of the line with their cheque book ready to go.

And if the Blue Jays play this right, they might be able to benefit as well, even if the Yankees end up with the best free agent starter on the market.

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That’s because like the Astros, the Yankees will need to clear some payroll space in order to fit Cole in their budget, assuming they pay any mind to the luxury tax they’ll trigger if they do sign him to the type of contract he’s expected to command. It’s possible the Yankees just go ahead and pay the bill, but I think a more likely scenario is that they are shopping a starting pitcher or two this winter, and I can see a couple of scenarios that could work out in the Blue Jays’ favour.

For example, let’s say that the Yankees do sign Cole. That will bump down the rest of their starters on the depth chart, one that includes Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, and Domingo German. The latter will likely be suspended to start next season, but they should have enough organizational depth to cover the fifth spot in the rotation while he’s unavailable.

The first name to fall out of the top five would be Happ, who the Blue Jays traded to New York before the deadline in 2018, and I think his 17 million dollar contract will be the top candidate the Yankees try to move this winter. Should the Blue Jays be interested in a reunion? Probably not, but there’s a scenario that could make a lot of sense.

Happ is scheduled to make 17 million in 2019 and he has a vesting option for the 2021 season for the same amount that kicks in at 165 innings pitched or 27 games started. With that in mind, he’s not going to be easy to move at the age of 37 and coming off a season with a 4.91 ERA and a 1.295 WHIP in 31 appearances (30 starts). The Yankees might have to eat some of that contract in order to trade him, but the other possibility is that they could attach a decent prospect in order to make a trade work.

This is purely speculation on my part here, but let’s say the Blue Jays were interested in talking trade with the Yankees again, as they reportedly did in July before the trade deadline. There were rumours that the Yankees were interested in Marcus Stroman, who is now in New York with the Mets, but also in Ken Giles to further bolster their bullpen. Aroldis Chapman could opt out of his current contract this winter, creating a need in the ‘pen, or the Yankees could decide to strengthen the group again this off-season, especially if they miss out of on their rotation targets. Considering all of this variables, does something like a Happ and Clint Frazier for Giles seem like a possibility? The Yankees have been reluctant to trade Frazier in the past, but if it meant getting Giles and creating some payroll space, I’m willing to bet they’d consider it.

Again, this is a made up scenario on my part, but it’s one where I think the Blue Jays could take advantage in order to get a decent prospect from the Yankees. Happ would be expensive, but the Blue Jays can certainly afford him for a year or even two (if his option vests), and his veteran arm could help eat some innings and provide some stability for the rotation. It’s also possible the Blue Jays could ask for someone other than Frazier, as the Yankees have several interesting pitching and outfield prospects in their top 10. It’s hard to say if Cashman would consider parting with guys like Deivi Garcia, Estevan Florial, or even Jasson Domingez (not gonna happen, but you have to ask), but there would be a lot of value to the Yankees in my fictional scenario.

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Now that we’re a World Series away from the off-season officially getting underway, this is just one of many scenarios the Blue Jays’ front office could consider. Both Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have stated the need for help in the starting rotation, and we know they are always in pursuit of adding to their young core toward the current rebuild as well. With the Yankees clearly in “win-now” mode for 2020, the Blue Jays could certainly explore taking Happ’s contract off their hands, and I believe they could find a way to make it more than mutually beneficial. Considering how much I loathe the idea of making a trade with the Yankees at almost any time, this is one scenario I would be okay with.