The Blue Jays clearly need some starters over the next week or two, but should they find them in trade or can the internal candidates bridge the gap until the regular starters return?
In the aftermath of the Daniel Vogelbach trade, I’ve noticed many fans getting upset that the first move that the Blue Jays front office has made wasn’t a pitching related move. Pitching is clearly the need of the team at this very moment. First off, this addition does not prevent the Blue Jays from making more moves. To me, I like the shot the team is taking on in Vogelbach without giving up anything in terms of players. That being said, the team does still needs starting pitching help.
In the last week, the Blue Jays have been decimated with injuries to their starting rotation. They went from having six guys for five spots to having a three man rotation. First off, Nate Pearson went down with right elbow tightness. Matt Shoemaker followed not far behind with right shoulder inflammation, and finally Trent Thornton with looks like an elbow issue. This all left two empty spots in the rotation.
The question is whether the Blue Jays are in a position to start adding pitching at the expense of their player assets within their system, and I am very torn on this. Like most fans, I always want the team to do well, especially because playoffs are a real possibility this season with the expanded playoff system for 2020. But is this the right time to go for it in this small sample size of a season? Does the team sell the farm on limited sample sizes, lack of information, and what could be a one-time expanded playoff format for a kick at the can? Or, are the internal candidates like Thomas Hatch, Jacob Waguespack, Shun Yamaguchi, Anthony Kay and Ryan Borucki better options than what can be found on the open market.
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The internal options would come at the expense of diminishing the effectiveness of the Blue Jay’s bullpen. A bullpen that is 1st among all teams in fWAR, 4th in ERA, 4th in FIP, 2nd in HR/9, and 6th in K%. By most metrics they are ranking at the top, if not in the top third of the league. They have been undeniably incredible this season, and have been an unlikely strength of the team.
The benefit of using internal options would be that is does not cost the team assets. The team would not have to sacrifice future value for short term gain. In a normal season, if the Blue Jays are around .500 and less than 30 games into the season, we would have three more months until the trade deadline to evaluate what the Blue Jays have, and especially what other teams have. There would also be only five American League playoff spots as well.
If the playoff format returns to normal next season, would trying to get a 7 or 8 seed in 2020 be worth giving up assets for? Can the Blue Jays run Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay out there every five days and still get to the playoffs anyways?
Since the playoff format is expanded this season, there is only a handful of teams that are actually out of it already and would already consider themselves sellers. There are only seven teams (as of this writing) with less than a 10% chance of making the playoffs according FanGraphs (Red Sox, Royals, Pirates, Angels, Rangers, Mariners, and Tigers). Six of those teams are in the American League. Only seven teams in each league miss the playoffs. If six teams are already unlikely to make the playoffs, the Blue Jays do not need to beat that many others in the standings to get into the dance. And in the playoffs, anything can happen.
This season has come with another weird caveat. Since the season is so short, the teams have to make trades on the smallest sample sizes ever. I know the newer statcast metrics drill down to true talent levels quicker and on smaller sample sizes than the previous generation of stats, but to make a trade the Blue Jays will have to be comfortable with possible small sample size errors in the data.
If the Jays look to upgrade their rotation by trade, they should be doing so with the future in mind. They should not be trading for expiring contracts like Kevin Gausman’s or Taijuan Walker’s. They should be looking for a guy with team control for at least an extra year or two like Danny Duffy, Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, or Alex Cobb. But then we get back to, what will those guys cost, in terms of prospects, and are they actually better than what the team already has.
As I mentioned above, the bullpen is will take the largest hit if the team decides to put one or two of their relief arms in the rotation. But with the latest addition of Julien Merryweather, who has been nothing but impressive, and hopefully the possible return of Ken Giles soon, the team may be able to sustain a good bullpen in the short term.
Of course, the Blue Jays don’t necessarily have to trade from prospect depth either. There are guys on the current roster that may not be considered part of the next winning Blue Jays team that could be traded. But I’m guessing that selling teams will want to have ‘prospect types’ rather than ‘over-the-hill types’. The front office may need to get creative if they take this path.
In baseball, the playoffs can be a total mixed bag of outcomes. Just getting into the playoffs is usually far more important than where one is seeded. Baseball is far less predictable in small sample sizes like the playoffs than any other major North American sport. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t get much pitching help and the Blue Jays make the playoffs with what they currently have on their roster without risking future assets.
I am all for upgrading the team but at what cost and I am glad I won’t have to make these tough decisions. Weighing present value for future value is basically the general managers role in a nutshell. And this season has created all kinds of special quirks that all front offices have to deal with. I hope Atkins can thread this needle of balancing the now for the not too distant future.