Blue Jays still reaping the benefits of 2021 Rowdy Tellez trade

Houston Astros v Toronto Blue Jays
Houston Astros v Toronto Blue Jays / Kevin Hoffman/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays have made many seismic trades, with varying results, over the years that have been debated among fans and baseball pundits. Several notable deals have been struck, like the swap that brought Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to town and sparked back-to-back World Series championships and the blockbuster that landed Josh Donaldson and re-energized the franchise.

The trade that sent Rowdy Tellez to the Milwaukee Brewers for pitchers Trevor Richards and Bowden Francis in 2021 may not be as impactful as the ones mentioned above, but it’s worth looking back on.

By early July 2021, the Blue Jays needed to make some changes. They were only a few games above .500, the bullpen had blown a few critical games, and the season seemed to be slipping away.

Tellez, who was such a key player in 2019 and 2020, was not making the impact he once had and saw his playing time diminish. By then, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had shown the potential to be the franchise cornerstone, and the big lefty was languishing on the bench with a .610 OPS.

The Brewers, with their first base position in a state of flux, were happy to take a chance on the former 30th-round pick. Francis, still a prospect, was thrown in.

For the rest of that season, both primary figures in the agreement were integral contributors down the stretch. Tellez hit .272 with seven homers and a .814 OPS in 56 games to help the Brew Crew win the NL Central. Richards immediately became one of the most reliable, and at times dominant relievers on the Jays. He went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA (136 ERA+) and a 0.79 WHIP over 32.2 frames. 

When Tellez took advantage of his opportunity and blasted 35 homers in 2022, it looked like Milwaukee may have won the trade. Richards regressed to a 5.34 ERA, and Francis made his MLB debut, but only two-thirds of an inning in mop-up duty. 

So far, in 2023, the tide has turned. Richards has at times been one of the most effective relievers in the majors, and Francis has had an incredible campaign since his call-up. Tellez has battled injuries and experienced a dip in his productivity. He’s slumped, down to a .683 OPS with 13 home runs in 89 games. 

Richards abandoned his breaking ball and became a two-pitch pitcher, fastball and changeup. The adjustment has paid big-time dividends as the veteran has rebounded 3.59 ERA (120 ERA+) over 62.2 innings, averaging 13.4 SO/9. He’s entering his final year of arbitration and has undoubtedly earned himself a raise. 

Francis was called up in June when Alek Manoah was sent to the minors and hit the ground running. Used as a bulk-innings reliever, the 27-year-old has pitched to a 1.69 ERA over 32 innings. If he can be a part of the solution this season and beyond, it would do nothing but make this trade even more of a "win" for the Blue Jays.