The price to get Christian Yelich out of Miami is going to be astronomically high. Higher than what it took to get his now-former teammate, Marcell Ozuna — who, at least according to Steve Phillips, the Marlins wanted both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette for. And higher than what the Blue Jays would get for Josh Donaldson, should they choose to move him.
But let’s think about these pieces a little bit, shall we?
The Jays are obviously loath to move their either of their two best prospects. They are also, understandably, not terribly interested in moving Donaldson either — to wit:
Five teams are showing interest in Josh Donaldson, including three persistent ones. Jays don’t hang up but they have no intention to trade whatsoever.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 14, 2017
— Alex Seixeiro (@alexfan590) December 14, 2017
If you’re trying to compete in 2018 — and you are, and are still firmly enough in the Wild Card tier of AL clubs, with enough paths to still improve, that you should be — the only thing you can stomach receiving in return for Donaldson (if you’re trading him before July) is controllable help for the here and now.
Other teams may see the situation the Jays are in, what they’re trying to do, and can try to tailor an offer to their needs, but it’s going to be tough. How do you maintain your status as a contender while trading pieces off your big league roster that are good enough to satisfy the Jays and help keep them a contender, too? Last month Dave Cameron of FanGraphs took an interesting stab at doing so, suggesting the Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter as a possible return. That deal, however, doesn’t look quite as good as it once did, with Aledmys Diaz — himself having been acquired from the Cards — checking a lot of the boxes that the versatile Gyorko would have. And the deal wasn’t quite perfect in the first place, because Carpenter probably isn’t the versatile defender you’d have to believe he is to make it worthwhile. His numbers at third base in his career have been OK, but he only played 100 innings there in 2017 and 400 in 2016, and he really can’t play anywhere else but first base or DH.
An incredible fit for the Jays, though, would be somebody like Christian Yelich of the Marlins. He’s got all the tools that made Colby Rasmus so exciting when the Jays acquired him back in 2011, with far less baggage, and less of a tendency to strike out. He just turned 26. He’s produced 4.5 WAR in three of the last four seasons, dipping to 2.4 in 2015, which can probably be chalked up to injury. And he makes just $7 million this year, and is under contract for a very reasonable rate through 2022 (including a club option for that season).
There has been much talk out there today about whether Yelich would be worth the Jays giving up Bo Bichette. It’s a completely baffling question, because yes, of course he is.
That’s not to say that Bichette isn’t a great prospect or that we shouldn’t be tremendously excited about him. But Yelich is already the kind of player we hope and dream Bichette can be. And he’s under contract still for five years. If the Jays could have flipped Bichette for Yelich they would have done it already. The only reason they haven’t is that Yelich — if the Marlins do eventually move him — will cost a whole lot more than that.
I think the Bichette-and-Guerrero price tag that Phillips said was floated for Ozuna is way off — and I think that what the Cardinals eventually received there shows as much — but, I think as the example of last winter’s Adam Eaton deal shows, it’s going to take a hell of a lot. Eaton, a little older than Yelich, but a similar player with a similarly team-friendly contract, netted the White Sox three top 100 prospects, including Lucas Giolito. The price will be high. Too high for the Jays, I think. As desirable a piece as Yelich is, when you’re talking about Bichette and Nate Pearson and something else, that seems like it’s going to just be much too much.
But what if you could move Donaldson to St. Louis for a more prospect-oriented package, then flip those prospects — prospects the Marlins have been looking at hard over the last few weeks, as they worked out deals with the Cardinals for Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton (which was obviously rejected) — to Miami for Yelich? Or at least flip key ones out of that package, and key ones out of your own system, thus keeping quite a bit more of your own system in tact?
Hell, get Miami to include Starlin Castro, take all that salary back, and you’re still looking at $17.85 million in payroll for 2018. That’s $3 million less than Donaldson is projected to earn, which can then be put into the payroll elsewhere. That’s 5.1 projected WAR between the two players, as compared to 6.3 for JD, but it’s also eight years of control, and a much brighter outlook for 2019 and 2020.
A move like that would definitely cost significant secondary prospects. If St. Louis could add Yelich for a similar package to Donaldson, even with their outfield strong as is, they’d do that, so the Jays would have to pay more than just what Donaldson would bring back. But if you can get enough from the Cardinals for Donaldson to be able to pull it off without moving Vlad, Bo, Alford, and Pearson? That could be a hell of a thing.
I mean, I don’t know if you can do that. And I don’t know if you could stomach moving Donaldson and one of those big four in order to do it — maybe Pearson, or maybe you could take back shitty Martin Prado and his $13 million, too, or instead, and lower the prospect cost that way? — but their loss could potentially be offset by keeping a key prospect coming back from St. Louis. So it’s at least something worth thinking about.
Plus, unless you do the Prado+Castro thing, it ought to leave enough in the budget for the club to go out and still get an outfield bat, and probably still a pitcher, too. I mean, I hate the thought of trading Donaldson, and I don’t think they in any way have to do it, either. I still think they should just extend him. But if you could find a way to make it work like this, the merits are pretty clear. You could honestly say that you’re not much worse off in 2018, and much better positioned to be good in 2019 — especially if you make the choice to sell at the deadline and start moving out guys like Happ and Estrada for 2019 pieces (as opposed to pieces for merely the nebulous future). It’s a much more comfortable July that way, and a much better 2019. Then again, thinking back to that Eaton trade, getting from here to there is probably a whole lot easier said than done. Maybe though!