Back in 2015, Alex Anthopoulos was the GM of the Blue Jays and he made a small trade that would forever change the future of the franchise. He never got to enjoy the fruits of what became of that deal in Toronto, but I’m sure he’s doing just fine now that he guided the Atlanta Braves to the championship last season.
As I was looking at some of the players in the latest international signing market, I got thinking back to 2015 when the Blue Jays were able to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Obviously that’s the part of that offseason that has made the biggest impact, with young Vlad blossoming into a generational talent last season at just 22 years old and finishing 2nd in AL MVP voting. His brightest years are certainly still ahead of him too, and that’s the parting gift that Anthopoulos’ front office left behind when his contract ran out at the end of the 2015 campaign.
Looking back at the period that led up to Guerrero Jr’s signing, I had forgotten all about a smaller trade that helped make it happen, and also allowed the Blue Jays to sign some other players that could still make a difference in the future.
At the time the Blue Jays were looking to acquire some extra money to use in their international bonus pool, and fortunately they were able to find a team willing to trade them some. In exchange the Jays sent prospects Chase De Jong and Tim Locastro to the L.A. Dodgers for $1,071,300 of bonus pool money, which turned out to be a significant sum. Teams could exceed their allotted bonus pool if they chose to do so in 2015, but the decision came with financial penalties, and some restrictions on future drafts that escalated depending on how far over the limit teams decided to spend.
Since the Blue Jays had $2,324,100 as their bonus pool that offseason, the extra million and change allowed them to sign Guerrero Jr. without facing the stiffest financial and draft penalties that they could have. They ended up signing their future star first baseman for a 3.9 million, which turned out to be some of the best money the organization has ever spent to acquire a player. Getting back to the trade that brought the extra bonus pool money, it was also significant in that it may have been the push that the front office group needed to sign off on the decision.
In hindsight there’s no way that any team would have passed on such an opportunity, but we have to remember that Vlad Jr. was a teenager at the time at just 16 years old. There was no way to guarantee that he would be a future MLB star, and making that kind of commitment to him was more than just about money. Without the extra bonus pool cash, they would have had to give up the next two international draft classes, and that could have been costly.
"“While landing Guerrero wasn’t dependent on that deal, acquiring the extra spending slots under the old system reduced the penalty levied against the Blue Jays for blowing past their 2015 bonus pool allotment of $2,324,100.As a result, the Blue Jays were able to sign right-hander Eric Pardinho, ranked as the club’s No. 4 prospect by Baseball America, plus shortstops Miguel Hiraldo (No. 10) and Leonardo Jimenez (No. 21), among others, during the 2017 signing period, one that they would have had to otherwise sit out.”"
While none of the players from that 2017 international class have made their way to the big leagues yet, they could all still have futures at the highest level. Their careers have changed a bit since Davidi wrote about them in 2019, with the 21 year old Miguel Hiraldo ranking as the highest of the prospects in the Blue Jays system at #6 according to MLB.com. Jimenez is still only 20 and sits at #11 on the list, and unfortunately injuries have really derailed Pardinho’s progress, leaving him at #24 these days. That said, he’s still only 21 years old as well, so there’s still time for him to turn things around.
Regardless of what happens with each of those prospects, the Blue Jays have already benefitted in a significant way from that decision back in 2015. Without that small trade with the Dodgers they may not have been able to reach a consensus in the front office that signing Guerrero Jr. was worth the cost, nor would they have been able to sign more players in 2017. It’s not always the blockbuster trades that make the biggest difference.