Might the potential exist for a three-way trade between the Blue Jays, Padres and Red Sox?
The off-season is upon us, and teams are looking for ways to position themselves for the 2020 season. Different teams have different needs, which is a good thing for the trade market, but often teams’ needs and the things they have to offer to potential trade partners do not align. This can lead to opportunities for multi-team deals (such as the Trevor Bauer deal this last season, which involved Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Diego).
Consider the following three teams.
Toronto Blue Jays
The San Diego Padres have a new manager, and an enhanced win-now mandate. The have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball – so strong, in fact, that they could experience a severe Rule 5 crunch at the upcoming November 20 deadline, forcing them to expose good players who could be lost for minimal return. They would love to make a play for hometown hero Stephen Strasburg, but even with a hometown discount (questionable) he will not come cheap. And the Pads are handcuffed by the six years and $102 million owed to Eric Hosmer, and the 3/$67.5m owed to Wil Myers.
Myers is projected to earn roughly 2 fWAR over those three years, which means that his contract is roughly $50m under water.
The Boston Red Sox have a similar money issue. They have announced that they will try to get under the luxury tax line of $208 million for 2020. This will pose a challenge, as their 2019 payroll was $225 million and early estimates for 2020 with the current roster are around $218 million. And this does not include any off-season upgrades – such as to first base, where Mitch Moreland is a free agent and Michael Chavis may be needed at second base.
The BoSox’s highest paid player is David Price, with three years and $96 million left on his contract. Price is projected to earn roughly 6.0 fWAR over those three years, which means that his contract is also roughly $50 million under water.
The Toronto Blue Jays are in the second year of a rebuild. Their greatest need is pitching. They have some interesting young talent in their minor league system, but several of the better prospects will not be MLB-ready until late 2021 or 2022. They also have some talent at the major league level, but those pitchers have very limited experience.
So, the Jays’ greatest immediate need is for a veteran top-of-rotation pitcher to teach the young guns and to bridge the rotation until 2022 when the reinforcements arrive. Longer term, they also need a near-to-mlb-ready pitching prospect with #1 starter upside. Because they are in rebuild mode, the Jays would prefer to not deplete their minor league system to achieve these goals. Their most valuable major league assets who are not integral to the rebuild have largely already been traded (with the possible exception of Ken Giles). So the greatest asset that the Jays can bring to the table is their low payroll and ability to absorb a bad contract.
Can you see where I am going here?
Consider the following three-way trade:
Boston gets Wil Myers from San Diego. Jays get David Price (with no salary relief) from Boston and Luis Patino from San Diego (plus a lower-level prospect or two). San Diego gets a couple of non-rule-5-eligible prospects and possibly a low-cost outfielder (McKinney? Alford? Fisher?) from Toronto and Boston.
Boston wins because they save $10 million (the difference between Price’s 2019 $32m and Myers’ $22m) while receiving a player who fills a position of need (Myers) with upside (3.5 fWAR in 2016). This might be just enough to keep Boston under the luxury tax line, and they achieve it without making a giant cash payment in the current offseason to get rid of Price.
San Diego wins because they free up the $$ to bid on Strasburg and also free up two 40-man spots for the Rule 5 draft. The loss of Patino hurts, but he will not be MLB ready until 2021 anyway, and he is not even their top pitching prospect. A rotation headed by Strasburg – Paddack – Gore could be the stuff of which dreams are made.
The Jays win because they get the veteran starter they need in Price with three years left – just what they need to make it to their “third wave” of young pitchers. They get that starter without having to play a free agent game whose rules are stacked against them, and even get a player who has enjoyed playing in Toronto in the past, and who was something of a fan favourite. The $32 million is a big number, but it ends just about when Vladdy, Bo and Cavan start to become expensive in arbitration. And in Patino, they get a pitcher with Nate Pearson-level upside who is projected to be MLB-ready in 2021.
Why would this deal not work?
In order for this deal to work, each team would have to believe that they are getting what they want. If the Padres did not see freeing up salary room as critical, or if the BoSox did not believe in Myers’ upside, or the Jays were pessimistic about Price or Patino, the deal would likely be a non-starter. Though other variations exist – substitute Eric Hosmer for Myers, for example, or MacKenzie Gore for Patino. For the right package, the Jays could increase the prospect haul for the Padres, or even add Giles to the deal. Or the BoSox could add Jackie Bradley Jr., going (potentially) to either the Jays or the Pads. And of course cash could always be added – in some direction – to offset any final imbalances.
The bottom line
It is sadly true that free agents do not see Toronto as a prime destination (yet?). A combination of Canadian taxes, sacculacophobia (a psychological fear of milk in bags), playing on concrete and the Jays’ current <ahem> “non-contender status” could make attracting a Zack Wheeler or Jake Odorizzi (never mind a Strasburg or, Gerrit Cole) difficult. The Jays may accordingly be forced to place greater emphasis on the trade option. But finding the right trade might require looking at non-conventional options – like this one.
And yes, this trade scenario does “help Boston”. But I believe that the Jays’ primary focus should be on making themselves better, with “not helping their opponents” as a clearly secondary objective.