Blue Jays: Parallels with the 2017 Jays Are Eerily Similar
By Charles Kime
The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves at 33-34 after being swept at their “home away from home” in Buffalo by the New York Yankees. They’ve had a tough stretch, going 4-9 in their last 13 games versus American League playoff contenders Houston, Chicago, Boston, and New York. The parallels with the 2017 Jays are very similar.
The hitters held up their end for the most part, batting .271 with 22 home runs and 61 runs scored (4.7 per game) for a 2.2 fWAR. Of course, eight of those homers and 18 of the runs came in the 18-4 shellacking of the Red Sox last Sunday, but they still averaged 3.6 runs per game excluding the blowout victory.
The starting pitching was also for the most very stable, going 3-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 71.1 innings (average of 5.49 innings per start) with a 0.6 fWAR. However, the bullpen was an atrocious 1-5 with zero saves and a 5.79 ERA (26th in baseball) over those games for an fWAR of -0.2.
According to Manager Charlie Montoyo, the team remains loose despite a series of heartbreaking losses, and the players are “having fun”.
But given eerily similar parallels with the 2017 team, should the Blue Jays be sellers ahead of the July 30th trade deadline?
The parallels with the 2017 Blue Jays team are striking. Through games played on June 17, 2017, the Jays were 32-35, 6.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East, and 2.5 games back of the Twins for the second Wild Card. They had gone 7-8 from June 1st to June 18th that year against the Yankees, Oakland, Seattle, Rays, and ChiSox, a similarly tough schedule as compared to this season facing the Astros, ChiSox, Boston, and New York this past month. The current team, at 33-34, is 8.5 games back of the Rays in the East and 6.5 games back of Houston in the Wild Card race.
By the July 31st trade deadline of 2017, the Jays were 49-57, 9 games back of the Yankees in the AL East and 7 games back of Kansas City in the Wild Card standings. The front office decided to be sellers that July, trading reliever Jason Grilli and cash to the Texas Rangers on July 2nd for minor league outfielder Eduard Pinto, and returning Rule 5 draft pick Glenn Sparkman to the Kansas City Royals on July 8th. They later moved starter Francisco Liriano to the Houston Astros for outfielders Nori Aoki and then-rookie Teoscar Hernandez, and reliever Joe Smith to the Cleveland Indians for minor leaguers Samad Taylor and Thomas Pannone.
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Unfortunately, they weren’t ready for a bigger retool than that at the July 2017 TDL.
Arguably, and with hindsight, they likely would have realized more value if they’d retooled that year by trading away 3B Josh Donaldson (31 years old with 1.5 years of team control left at the time), 1B Justin Smoak (then a 30-year-old All-Star that season with 30 home runs and a .300/.379/.595/.974 slash line by July 31st that year), catcher Russell Martin, who a playoff contender may have valued for his 2015 and 2016 ALCS playoff experience and veteran leadership, which was also the argument for a pair of then 34-year-old starters in J.A. Happ (3.55 ERA over 66 innings through July 18th) and Marco Estrada (5.52 ERA over 109.1 innings as of July 21st).
But they didn’t sell then on those players above or others, and the rest is history. The 2017 Blue Jays went on to finish fourth in the AL East at 76-86, 17 games back of Boston, and 9 games back of Minnesota for the final Wild Card berth.
If this current Blue Jays team finds itself similarly out of contention by late July, will they learn from history and look to sell high on players on expiring contracts at the July 30th TDL? That list includes 2B Marcus Semien, starters Robbie Ray and Steven Matz, utility infielder Joe Panik, and reliever Tyler Chatwood. They could also look to sell high on soon-to-be 30 year old OF Randal Grichuk, who is having a career year and is signed through 2023, not to mention packaging spare part players like 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez and catcher Reese McGuire in trades as well to help with 40-man roster management.
They’re five weeks away from making such decisions.
Arguably that would be a waste of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s MVP season, the “show me” year of Marcus Semien where he’s also playing at an MVP-calibre level again, the revivals of starters Robbie Ray and Steven Matz, and not to mention ace Hyun Jin Ryun and the prize free agent CF George Springer. It’s also another lost year of control of the young core but if they aren’t going to contend this year, they might as well retool and realize value where possible at the July 30th TDL.