“Yankees build a super bullpen and find a real first baseman,” screams the headline of last night’s piece at FanGraphs from Travis Sawchik, who reviewed what was called in other corners a — guffaw — blockbuster for the ages.
The Yankees have re-acquired David Robertson, added a very nice piece in the suddenly-good Tommy Kahnle, and the withering husk of Todd Frazier (who will undoubtedly go bananas once in pinstripes). They gave up Tyler Clippard to offset some salary, and also at least one nice prospect from their rather deep well.
Question is, do we care?
On one hand, we care because it’s an interesting deal and the Yankees and White Sox are each in an interesting place — places not terribly dissimilar to where the Jays may find themselves a year from now. On the other hand:
To date, the season has been 108 days long.— Gruber's Mullet (@GrubersMullet) July 19, 2017
The Blue Jays have been last in the AL East 107 of those days.
Perhaps I’m still just sour from last night’s demoralizing loss — uh… and Sunday’s… and all of them — but I’m finding it pretty hard to write a serious take about what the Yankees deal means for the Blue Jays’ playoff quest. Which is bullshit! Because there was a time last night where it genuinely felt both the Yankees and Red Sox might actually be going in the wrong direction.
Maybe they still are. The Red Sox’ offence has been punchless of late, and a loss to the Jays last night would have meant they were just 3-8 over their last 11 games. The Yankees were 9-21 over their last 30, heading into last night, and were down until they managed five runs in the top of the fifth inning against Minnesota, too.
The Red Sox being 4-7 over that span isn’t a whole lot better, I know. And the Yankees trade may simply be putting lipstick on a pig. But… probably not.
“The Yankees entered the day with a 49.6% chance of reaching the postseason according to FanGraphs playoff odds, the look of a team on the fence,” Sawchik writes. “The Yankees were willing to make a splash and bet on a run differential that suggests they are one of the best teams in the AL, and did so without depleting their system.”
I seem to recall a team that made a similar calculation in 2015, to their great benefit.
So what do we make of it, then?
Well, for starters, we can put to bed that “rumour” about the Yankees’ interest in Kendrys Morales — which there was never anything to in the first place, beyond Joel Sherman spitballing some options.
And as for my suggestion that these are paths that could be taken next year by the Jays, that’s… well… optimistic, to say the least. But you’ll at least recognize what I mean in the abstract.
The Yankees weren’t really supposed to be true contenders this season, but things broke well for them, and they played well enough in the first four months to justify reinforcements that now make them quite a bit better, both now and in the future (only Frazier is a free agent after this year), and look like they really are serious about making a run — all without doing very much damage to their prospect pool.
The White Sox are in some kind of a rebuilding beast mode now, but they went into 2016 with a roster that looked a shade below true contender, and even as late as last June were trying to stay in the race, trading for James Shields (and about half of what was left on his contract).
The Yankees are a bigger, badder, more prospect-laden version of what the Jays could be next year with the right adjustments to the roster and a little bit of health and luck in the first half. The White Sox are what the Jays could become very quickly if that doesn’t happen, and if next July (or the following winter) they sell off their big pieces with two-plus years of control remaining: Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna.
You hate to think about a Blue Jays future without those guys, but maybe only until you start to think about this a little bit — and about some of the precedents the trade market has already set.
Andrew Miller had two-plus years left when the Yankees dealt him last July. A healthy Osuna pitching like Osuna could certainly net something similar — which is perhaps a reason not to convert him into a starter!
And Drew Pomeranz (who is not as good as either Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman) had two-plus years left when the Red Sox acquired him last July, sending Anderson Espinoza — an excellent prospect at the time, who ranked 24th on the 2016 mid-season top 50 at Baseball Prospectus — to the Padres in return.
Espinoza is maybe a cautionary tale at this point, as he hasn’t pitched yet this season due to injury. And even if the Jays did trade one of their two starters for someone like him, they’d be doing so only in the hope that he turns out as good as Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez, which… doesn’t sound great. But on the other hand, Espinoza is hardly a bust yet, and in such a scenario the Jays would be gaining six years of team control — practically seven if you manipulate it right — as opposed to two for the player they’re dealing away (plus one in a season they would have already deemed a waste). And those six years would line up a whole lot more closely with the paths that guys like Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are on than would the two years of Stroman or Sanchez.
I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
The Jays are also on track to have some Todd Fraziers floating around to move, too. And Tommy Kahnles.
In fact, the more you think about it, and the more you see what other teams are doing, the more it becomes apparent that the reason right now isn’t the time to rebuild isn’t because this team is built to keep contending for the next few years (though it can do that, to diminishing degrees). It’s because the heavy lifting of the rebuild is setup to be done next summer anyway. And it’s going to be done in the form of trading away guys like Stroman, Osuna, and Sanchez. So why blow a hole in your market now, when acting like a cautious contender for another eleven months will allow you to reset much more efficiently?
You’ll lose the opportunity to get something back for Josh Donaldson, yes, but you’ll gain things like future spending power by keeping your audience mostly intact. You’ll pickup some small trade assets in the interim. And who knows? The damn thing might work in 2018 anyway.
Just don’t say I didn’t warn you
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