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OK, No, But Seriously, What About Trading Roberto Osuna?

Jays Journal has a piece up today in which the suggestion is made that the Jays should look into trading Roberto Osuna, and that he would fetch a higher bounty for the Jays than even Josh Donaldson. The piece misses the mark in a few ways — most glaringly by comparing the possible haul available for Osuna (arbitration projection of $5.6 million, with three years of control left) to what the Astros sent to Philadelphia for Ken Giles two years ago (two seasons at the league minimum left at the time, and five total years of control remaining) — but nonetheless, the idea is intriguing.

So, OK, let’s think it through a little. The first thing that comes to my mind on this is that, while I don’t doubt that Osuna would likely bring back some real quality, if I’m a team negotiating with the Blue Jays, I’m not exactly without concerns. Are the Blue Jays a contenders? A quick review Sports interaction will let you know the current odds for them. 

First of all, there’s the money. Sure, Osuna is going to be paid less than his market rate for the next three years, but it’s not like he comes without cost. His $5.6 million projected salary in arbitration (per MLBTR) is close not too far off Jonathan Papelbon’s record-setting rate for a first-time-eligible reliever, which was $6.25 million back in 2009 (also per MLBTR). Papelbon jumped to $9.35 million in his next year of arbitration, and Osuna could certainly at least get close to that territory with another Osuna-like season. The record for a third-time-eligible reliever is “only” $11.4 million (Zach Britton in 2017), but still that means Osuna looks on track to receive close to $25 million over the remainder of his deal. That’s not a burdensome contract, but it’s also not nothing.

Secondly, there’s his health. Osuna has been extremely reliable for the Jays over the last three seasons, if not necessarily “durable.” By that I mean, there have been some injuries and issues that have sidetracked him along the way. Roberto handled his very public battle with anxiety this season with maturity and dignity and rebounded from it on the mound, so I’d have no concerns about that. But he started 2017 on the DL with “cervical spasms” after experiencing “tightness in his neck and upper back,” which, according to an ESPN report last spring, was actually the aggravation of an injury he’d suffered in 2016. Later on, in September 2017, he missed games with a neck problem as well. Hmmm.

Couple that stuff with Osuna’s “violent delivery,” the fact that he’s already had Tommy John, and the fact that the Jays seem reluctant to push his workload into 100 inning territory, let alone allowing him to attempt to go back to being a starter, and you’ve maybe got some red flags there.

On the other hand, are these red flags any bigger than the ones on Andrew Miller, when he was dealt from the Yankees to Cleveland in mid-2016? MIller’s injury history suggests probably not — or at the very least that they would have been considered similarly.

Why do I bring Miller up? Because when Cleveland acquired him he was at precisely the same point in his contract as Osuna will be this coming July. Similarly priced, too: at the time of the trade Miller was owed $18 million for 2017 and 2018, plus the remainder of his $9 million salary for 2016 (about $3 million).

Like Osuna, despite some injuries here and there, Miller had been a horse: 73 appearances in 2014, 60 in 2015, and 44 through that point in 2016 (Osuna’s last three seasons have gone 68, 72, 66 — not including the playoffs).

And, like Osuna, Miller had been extremely valuable: 6.2 WAR from 2014 until mid-2016 per FanGraphs, 5.5 per Baseball Reference. Osuna isn’t quite on that level, but he’s damn close. Those totals for Miller came in 177 games, and in Osuna’s 206 game big league career his fWAR is 6.1, and his rWAR is 5.3.

Because of some of the concerns listed above, and simply because relievers are volatile by nature, there absolutely is risk in holding Osuna now, with an eye to potentially trading him in July. He might not be healthy then. He might not have as good a year as all the others he’s had in his young career. The Jays may not be in a position to move him. But relievers are hot commodities at the trade deadline, because virtually every team could use another electric arm in their bullpen for the stretch drive. Even if they manage it so that he’s healthy and effective in the lead-up to the deadline, he’ll have a lot of value.

In other words, if Osuna stays for now, he pitches like one would expect, things are still likely to work out very, very well for the Jays: either they continue to have an outstanding young closer and actually contend for a playoff spot, or they move him for something that, one figures, would have to look quite a bit like the package New York received for Miller.

That package was, as the kids say, pretty goddamn fuckin’ good. The headliner was Clint Frazier, who has lost his prospect status after amassing over 130 at-bats in 2017, but heading into last season ranked as a top 25 prospect in baseball by BP and MLB Pipeline, and top 40 per BA. New York also landed Justus Sheffield, a left-hander currently ranked number three in a still strong Yankees system by BA and number four by BP — a high ceiling, low floor kind of guy who should at least be a good reliever. Plus they added a couple more bodies on top of that!

If a package close to that is out there right now, there’s a strong argument to be made for the Jays taking it and aiming to piece together a still-good cheapo bullpen in other ways (the Jays Journal piece suggests looking at Conner Greene or Sean Reid-Foley for a role back there, but just about any evaluator I’ve read doesn’t figure it’s time yet to give up on them as potential starters, and creating more career paths like Osuna’s, in general, is a bad idea). I don’t see it happening, personally, given the commitment to fans, players, and broadcast partners alike that they’re going to try to be competitive this year. But it could.

In July, though? If by then the Jays are ready to start looking at taking a bit of a step back in 2019? It’s going to be awfully hard to see them do anything but move him. Osuna will be much more valuable to someone else at that stage, and the pieces he’ll bring back will be tremendous additions to the Jays.

Hell, even if the Jays aren’t even looking at stepping back too much — even if, as they should, they re-sign Josh Donaldson and keep trying to add legitimate big league calibre players for this year and to play with Vlad and Bo in 2019 and beyond — the temptation to move Osuna is going to be awfully high. And if you look at how moving Miller worked out for the Yankees in 2017, you understand why.

Sure, sure, they’re the Yankees and loaded with arms, and capable/unconscionable enough to just go out and sign back Aroldis Chapman. And yes, the players from the Miller deal didn’t impact their 2017 roster anyway. But you know what I mean! That deal was a win for the Yankees’ future, and not too much of a loss for their present, either. (And I think we all know how well fucking Cleveland made out in the deal.)

Which is to say… uh… maybe try to enjoy Roberto Osuna while you still can this year, Jays fans. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

  • Nice Guy Eddie

    I agree. I think trading Osuna is obvious once the team is out of contention. A closer on a 76 win club, that is going down not up, is a luxury that it would be foolish not to leverage on the trade market. I would much rather part with 2019/2020 Osuna than with anybody of value in the farm system. Time to do the big rebuild

      • Guzman's Jheri Curl

        The other possible red flag is Osuna’s drop in heater usage. FB % in 2015 was ~70%. That number dropped below 50% in 2017. If Roberto develops a Mariano cutter in the process nobody complains, but the concern here is that for stretches last year Roberto didn’t seem to have the same confidence in his gas. Velo ticked down at times, and the FB seemed a little flat (eye test), with hitters squaring him up more regularly than previous years. All of this could have been related to his injuries, who knows.

        Bottom line, agree with Stoeten here….the Osuna trade doesn’t happen until deadline scenario when Jays are outside playoff picture, as you aren’t selling seasons tickets then and can justify to fans. Good health/performance from him this year improves the Jays leverage in negotiations (and makes him more expensive to keep) heading into the annual power arms auction.

    • I’m not sure that’s true. Thought about saying something like it in the piece, because one one hand, I think bullpens are volatile enough that it makes sense that teams might not push so hard right now and will see what they’ve got before giving up a bunch of assets. But on the other hand, look at what teams are paying for free agent relievers right now.

      • ErnieWhitt

        I think it would also hugely depend on who the WS contenders are at that time. Sure – Roberto would upgrade every staff, but if you’re the Yankees and have a healthy bull pen are you really going to pay more than what a team might pay now to have him for the full year? I don’t know – it would depend on the specific case.

  • if they contemplate trading him, it’s because they’re out of it in 2018 (or think they won’t be contenders)…if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make some sense to, before dealing him (say, at the deadline), start the process of converting him to a starter? i mean, if they’re so far out of it that they’d trade him, losing him for a month/6-wks while he gets stretched into a starting role in AA/AAA, would be worth it just to see what he can do as a starter in Sept.

    if it doesn’t work out, and assuming he avoids injury, he’d still be considered a top-notch closer/reliever, with good (albeit slightly less) value. worst case: he doesn’t take to starting, blows up his arm, and loses most of his value on the market.

    but goddamnit, if he shines as a starter – or even just shows signs – they’ve really got something to work with as far as a rotation in 2019 goes, just in time for vlad/bo’s arrival. OR, if they really want to go full rebuild, he’d have more trade value, even with less control remaining.

    so sure, you have to always be open to trading anyone, but to trade him before ever seeing what he could be as a jay starting seems shortsighted. you’d hate to deal him – even if for a decent haul – only for him to be immediately converted to starting and have similar success.