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A Blue Jays Rebuild: Selling The Impending Free Agents

It’s been a frustrating season for the Blue Jays. After a horrific, injury-riddled April in which the season seemed to be over just a few weeks in, the Jays dragged themselves back into playoff contention with a very strong May. But in June, it all came crashing back down. The Jays are ultimately heading into the All-Star break in last in the American League East, eight-and-a-half games behind the Red Sox and five games out of the second Wild Card.

It’s mainly frustrating because, on paper, the team should be doing better. This is largely the same team that made it to the American League Championship Series last fall. But, to put it bluntly, the Jays look old. The offence is putrid, the injuries have piled up all year, and every hot streak seems to be immediately met with a quick crash. Even though a third-consecutive playoff appearance is still within reach, it’s difficult to be overly optimistic heading into the second half.

The front office has said that the team isn’t committing to selling as of right now, and is instead planning on operating under a hybrid ‘buy and sell where possible’ approach. They also don’t want to blow the team up. And for good reason. There’s still a solid core here and the fan support has been overwhelming. It’s a confusing and unenviable situation to be in.

That brings us to this year’s trade deadline. Back in April, when things looked like complete doom, I looked at the possibility of a Blue Jays fire sale and rebuild. Who would be involved, what it would look like, and whether it was necessary. Let’s revisit this whole rebuild or retool thing to get an idea of what to expect from the organization moving forward into the trade deadline and what’ll ultimately be a very interesting offseason. I’ll start with this winter’s free agents — the players who are the most likely to be moved at the deadline in a few weeks.

Marco Estrada

What’s happened to Marco Estrada? The Blue Jays Opening Day starter and low-key ace over 2015 and 2016 has had a miserable stretch unlike anything we’ve seen since he was dealt from Milwaukee to Toronto. It began on June 1 when Estrada was drilled by the Yankees and it hasn’t stopped. Over that stretch, Estrada has tossed seven games, has made it beyond the fifth inning in only two of them, and has allowed three or more runs in all but one of them. The walks are up, the soft contact is down, and the homers have skyrocketed.

Personally, I think Estrada will work through it. He didn’t just randomly forget how to pitch and the league hasn’t just figured him out. I also doubt this bad month tremendously hinders Estrada’s value, either. What he accomplished between 2015, 2016, and the first couple months of 2017 is worth a hell of a lot more than what he hasn’t accomplished in the last five weeks.

He’s on the final year of a two-year deal with a $14,500,000 salary.

Francisco Liriano

Acquired in a hilariously lopsided deal at last year’s trade deadline, Francisco Liriano could very well be moving again come July 31. Last summer, the Jays sent Drew Hutchison to Pittsburgh for Liriano, who apparently had a price tag too big for the Pirates to deal with. As a handling fee, the Bucs also gave the Jays a couple of solid prospects.

He was excellent down the stretch for the Jays, posting a 2.92 ERA over eight starts and a couple relief appearances, and was lights out during the Wild Card game out of the ‘pen. This year has been a journey, though. Liriano has been all over the grid, filling the shoes of R.A. Dickey in that vein. Sometimes he’s great, sometimes he’s a disaster. All in all, Liriano owns a 5.56 ERA, which is disappointing for a guy who was expected to push a good rotation over the top this year.

He’s on the final year of a three-year deal with a $13,666,667 salary.

Joe Smith

Also moved at last year’s trade deadline from the Angels to the Cubs, Joe Smith could be on the move again. He was supposed to be a middle reliever, but after Jason Grilli coughed up the eighth inning role, Smith took over and ran with it.

He’s missed the last three weeks with right shoulder inflammation, but has been largely excellent. Most notably, Smith’s strikeout rates have exploded in 2017. Previously, his career-best for a full season was 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but this season, Smith is striking out an absurd 13.4 batters per nine. In his absence, Danny Barnes and Ryan Tepera have filled in more high leverage situations. He’s supposed to be back after the All-Star break, though.

He’s on a one-year deal with a $3,000,000 salary.

Jose Bautista

He isn’t technically a free agent in 2018 or a pure rental asset, but Jose Bautista falls into the possible rental trade category. It was expected Bautista’s days were up in Toronto last winter, but he ended up signing a one-year deal worth $20,000,000 with two years of vesting options. Either side can decline the option for the 2018 season with a team buyout of $500,000.

Anyways, Bautista is a Blue Jays legend. Hell, he’s probably the best position player in franchise history. A lot of dipshits have soured on him because they probably weren’t paying too much attention when he was dragging the team through the mud during those legendary 2010 and 2011 seasons. Obviously Bautista isn’t the same player he was back when he was a perennial MVP candidate, but he seems to have found a home at the top of the lineup. He’s got a great eye at the plate, has been much better in the field, and clearly has quite a bit left in the tank. I would love for him to finish his career in Toronto, but surely the front office will entertain offers on Bautista.

EDIT: Also, as I completely forgot to point out, Bautista had 10/5 rights since he’s been in the league for 10 years and he’s spent five with the Blue Jays. He can decline any trade, making a possible deal very complicated.

What does it all mean?

The Blue Jays have three major rental assets heading into the deadline that would make sense to sell if the team doesn’t believe it’s anywhere near a playoff appearance in 2017. Bautista is the fourth one on that list, though his vesting option makes that a little bit more complicated. I guess Darwin Barney and J.P. Howell are also rental veterans but, uh, yeah.

This isn’t exactly an inspiring group that can bring back an exciting group of talent or massively spark a retool. Looking up and down the trade market, names like Trevor Cahill, Scott Feldman, Clayton Richard, and Jeremy Hellickson pop up as impending free agents on teams nowhere near the playoffs. Liriano and Estrada look very appealing compared to that bunch. But over the next few weeks, more teams are going to be added to that seller list. Also, names who aren’t rentals like Sonny Gray, Justin Verlander, Edinson Volquez, Tom Koehler, and Jose Quintana could very well find themselves on the trade market, thus limiting the value of two months of Liriano and Estrada.

Realistically, you’re looking at acquiring some other team’s version of Rowdy Tellez or Conner Greene at best for those two, and probably even less for Joe Smith. If the Jays do decide to sell, their crop of impending free agents simply aren’t going to net them much of a return. Still, if a player isn’t part of the plans moving forward, it’s better to move them for something than nothing.

The real assets are the guys with control, which I’ll look at over the next couple of days.

  • Just Jeff

    Bautista’s 10 & 5 rights give him a full no-trade, if I’m not mistaken. So moving him is VERY complicated.

    If they can’t get anything of value for Estrada, I could see them looking to move Happ instead. He has one year left at a very reasonable rate. But you’re probably going to talk about that in your next piece…..

  • Rob Ray

    It’s hard to get rid of players who are underperforming as they are the reason the club is in the situation it is in. Bautista had a stretch in May that was so good it skews his overall performance numbers. Any time a guy falls off a cliff like Marco has, you have to wonder if he’s hurt. Liriano and Smith would be the most interesting pieces, but you are correct, the return would be limited.

  • Bill Phelan

    Now, the Blue Jays are NOT contenders. So, let’s MAKE them contenders for NOW and next year. Our AAA team needs
    HELP ! Our Blue Jays need HELP ! So, let’s help improve BOTH teams for NOW and next year (when it will easier to call up a AAA player for HELP than make a trade for HELP. Buffalo fans will thank you for it ! So will the Toronto fans who
    will realize HELP is just a phone call away. There are AAA players who could replace our current MLB crew with MORE
    power, speed, stolen bases, SOs and walks. By replacing the MLB players (NOT producing) with AAA players who will,
    you REDUCE the cost of higher salaries and give the fans HOPE of possibility and collect for players traded away.