Toronto Blue Jays: Potential Trade Targets On Cash Strapped Teams

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 14: David Robertson #30 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch during the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on April 14, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 14: David Robertson #30 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch during the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on April 14, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

As we enter MLB’s Winter Meetings this week, which cash strapped teams could the Blue Jays deal with and who might they target?

According to Spotrac data on MLB payrolls, every team is currently under the luxury tax threshold of $210 million for 2021. It’s become a de facto salary cap.

That may well change this week, as new Mets owner Steve Cohen starts flexing his financial muscle, John Henry in Boston tries to accelerate the Red Sox rebuild, and the Yankees (DJ LeMahieu), Dodgers (Justin Turner), and Astros (George Springer) look to re-sign key free agents.

However, apart from a handful of owners willing to flirt with the luxury tax, many teams find themselves cash strapped after the lost revenues of 2020.

In fact, MLB and all 30 teams are suing their insurance providers, citing billions in losses during the 2020 season due to the pandemic.

However, by all indications, the Blue Jays and their ownership appear committed to being aggressive this offseason and adding some high impact MLB talent. Reading the tea leaves suggests they could add to payroll, which stood at $132 million at the end of 2020.

CEO Mark Shapiro recently stated that,

"“If we think that the right deals are there and we make those recommendations, the resources are going to be there for us to add in a meaningful way. We will conduct this off-season much like last off-season [when they signed free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu to a 4 year/$80 million deal].”"

So which teams are cash strapped and willing to make a deal?

Contributors on this site have mentioned a number of players teams might be willing to trade in exchange for salary relief, just as the Red Sox did in February when they traded 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and former Cy Young award winner David Price to the Dodgers for salary relief, Alex Verdugo and two prospects.

Certainly names like Wil Myers, Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray, Johnny Cueto, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Kevin Kiermaier, Blake Snell, Lance Lynn and Zack Greinke have been mentioned as players who could be moved in deals for salary relief, as have the Jays own Randal Grichuk and Tanner Roark.

Jays Journal contributor Callum Belshaw just looked at some great potential trade targets here. This article focuses more on which teams might deal due to the need for financial flexibility by trading away contracts.

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Philadelphia Phillies

Buster Olney of ESPN wrote that the Phillies have communicated to other teams that they are facing a financial crunch and are open to offers for Zack Wheeler, with 4 years and $96.5 million left on his contract through his age 34 season. While the story was denied by owner John Middleton, the Phillies need young talent at almost every position, and with their All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto now a free agent, would they be interested in a trade package of one of the Jays MLB ready young catchers like Alejandro Kirk or Riley Adams, along with a young pitching prospect and needed salary relief for Wheeler?

As Olney notes, the Blue Jays, Angels and Mets are known to be looking for starting pitching, and the remaining value and term on the 30 year old’s deal certainly compares well with the Ryu contract. Wheeler put up a 2.9 bWAR  in 2020 with a 4-2 record and 2.92 ERA over 11 starts.

Phillies SS/2B Jean Segura (owed $30 million through 2022) has also been mentioned as a possible trade candidate, and the Jays have been rumoured to have interest in middle infielders this offseason, including free agents LeMahieu and Kolten Wong.

Tampa Bay Rays

CF and left-handed hitting Kevin Kiermaier certainly ticks a lot of boxes. He’s a three-time gold glover, and at age 30, he’s younger than free agent George Springer. He’d be a huge upgrade defensively over current Jays CF Randal Grichuk, and with two years and $23.5 million remaining on his contract (with a $13 million club option for 2023 which includes a $2.5 million buyout), he would offer a great bridge to top Jays prospect Austin Martin, who may be groomed as a CF. His $11.5 million salary in 2021 is almost 23% of the Rays current projected payroll, and trading him would fit the Rays’ model.

Trading for 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell would certainly cost much more in prospect capital, but at 22% of the Rays current 2021 committed payroll, the team is apparently “open to the idea of [dealing him]” given the financial losses they suffered in the 2020 season.

With three years and $39 million left on his deal, the 27 year-old Snell’s contract is certainly very appealing after he put up a bWAR of 1.1, with a 4-2 record and 3.24 ERA in 2020, helping lead the Rays to the World Series.

Catching is the Rays’ most glaring weakness, so Danny Jansen or Alejandro Kirk could be the start of a trade package that might be an overlay given it would be within the same division, but as The Score notes,

"a one-two punch of Snell and Hyun-Jin Ryu would make Toronto’s staff that much more formidable in a division where you can’t have enough pitching… and would send a strong message to free agents considering the Jays."

Cincinnati Reds

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Reds are listening to offers on right-hander Sonny Gray as they look to reduce payroll in 2021. He has two years left on his contract at $10 million AAV, with a club option for 2023 for $12 million, which looks like a steal compared to the contracts the Jays gave Tanner Roark and Robbie Ray. Gray has posted a 3.07 ERA and 3.33 FIP with a 50.9% ground ball ratio, and averages of 10.8 strikeouts, 3.7 walks and 0.82 home runs per nine innings pitched in Cincinnati since 2019.

The Reds are said to be looking for SS help, which suggests Jays’ infield prospects Jordan Groshans, Otto Lopez, Orelvis Martinez or Miguel Hiraldo might be a conversation starter on Gray?

St. Louis Cardinals

Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak indicated that their payroll will decline in 2021 given how much ticket sales impact their revenue stream.

Whether declining Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million club option was enough remains to be seen, but could one of their young stud starting pitchers like Dakota Hudson or Jack Flaherty be pried away with the right pitching prospect trade package?

Texas Rangers

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said they will have a smaller payroll next season, stemming from the loss in revenue this season from having no fans at Globe Life Field.

"I’m not certain what the overall budget will be. It will be down from where it was this year, but I’m not sure exactly where. Revenues are down significantly."

With ace Lance Lynn and left-handed power bat Joey Gallo both likely available, the Jays could package a young catcher and pitching prospects in a deal. Lynn is due $8 million in 2021, his final year of team control. Gallo is due an arbitration raise on this year’s $4.4 million salary, but is controlled through 2022.

as MLBTR notes,

"Texas obviously wasn’t willing to give either player away for underwhelming returns at the 2020 trade deadline merely to cut costs… [but] Daniels’ acknowledgement the team doesn’t seem to be a piece or two away from contention figures to lead to future speculation on those shorter-term assets."

Chicago Cubs

Certainly we’ve already heard that 3B Kris Bryant, plus starters Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendriks might still be available, even after outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., were not tendered contracts for 2021. New team president Jed Hoyer hasn’t indicated he’s looking to add payroll.

Here We Go

Compared to the fast-paced action of the NBA, NFL and NHL offseasons, MLB tends to have a slow developing and boring offseason.

But as the Blue Jays look to add starting & relief pitching, and make defensive upgrades to the middle infield and CF, there are clear trade targets that offer MLB talent upgrades to their roster.

Cash strapped teams looking to improve their financial flexibility can certainly offer players that would help both with run prevention and team defence, and make the Jays better as their competitive window opens.

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With the current committed 2021 payroll of only $70 million, the Jays would need add almost $60 million just to hold the Opening Day 2021 payroll constant with the end of 2020 amount. With every indication from the front office that they’re willing to do that, the upcoming Winter Meetings should give us a better sense of how they plan to take advantage of their financial flexibility.