ESPN baseball insider Buster Olney was on TSN 1050 with Michael Landsberg today to discuss how the Blue Jays should navigate selling their most valuable roster players with the non-waiver trade deadline coming up at the end of July.
“They’re going to get something good for him if they decide to trade [Happ] and they absolutely should. I looked at fangraphs.com this morning, which does a great job of updating playoff chances and the Blue Jays stand at three per cent. They’re not making the playoffs and given that it would absolutely be the right business decision to move all the parts that you can. The great thing with the Blue Jays now is in the month of June because other teams haven’t necessarily declared themselves [sellers], they could take a J.A. Happ into the market and probably do better than if they wait. The longer the Jays wait to trade J.A. Happ it means that there will be more pitchers dropped into the trade market.”
“To me now is the time you should do it. If Josh Donaldson is healthy and he’s back on the field for an extended period of time absolutely you should move him as soon as possible.”
This is obviously a difficult pill for the Jays to swallow. I don’t think we expected the team to make the playoffs this year, per se, but I think we all had much higher aspirations than selling at the beginning of June. The month of April was excellent and it appeared that the Jays were on pace to play competitive baseball in September but a horrendous, expansion-era-level-bad month of May completely derailed that.
The Jays now sit 26-33. They’re like 100 games back of the division, which doesn’t matter because an AL East Banner was never in the conversation for 2018. The real issue is that the team is 10 games back of the second wild card. They have to jump Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and fucking Detroit to get themselves into a conversation where they can catch the logjam of good teams in the AL West. With Seattle and Anaheim playing as well as they are, the climb starts to look incredibly daunting.
Given the way things are shaping up — Happ pitching well and Donaldson struggling with injuries — the former is going to be Toronto’s biggest trade chip if they do decide to sell. Beyond that, if you look back to last year’s trade deadline, the market indicated pitchers were way more valuable than position players. The best position player rental who was dealt last year was J.D. Martinez from Detroit to Arizona, and the Tigers got an extremely underwhelming return for a guy who went on to put up an MVP-calibre finish to his season with the Diamondbacks.
I disagree with Olney on Donaldson. At this point, I would rather the Jays hang on to their former MVP and give him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. Players can be given a qualifying offer if… A. Have never received a qualifying offer previously in their career (this is a new wrinkle in the CBA), and B. Have spent the entire season on that team’s roster (so in-season acquisitions are ineligible). Given the return for Martinez at last year’s deadline and Donaldson’s difficult season thus far, there’s probably more value for the Jays in either getting a compensation draft pick in 2019 if Donaldson leaves in free agency or getting him on a one-year deal next year. Maybe that’s just my I-want-Donaldson-around-in-the-future bias showing.
I agree with Olney on Happ, though. It’s been well known that J.A. is Happ-y in Toronto. He’s a very effective pitcher and is a great veteran to have around as young pitchers come up and join the team. Still, Happ can be dealt to a contender and still re-signed in the off-season.
The interesting thing about this year’s trade market is the volume of teams who are in an identity crisis. I think the AL is fairly predictable, with New York, Boston, Houston, Cleveland, Seattle, and Anaheim being the six teams gunning for five playoff spots, but the NL is more open. Are the Phillies and Braves actually going to be able to win the division? Are the Dodgers actually bad? The race for the wild card seeds seems entirely wide open at this point. Rather than waiting for a few other teams to fall out of the race and become comfortable with being sellers, it would be prudent for the Jays to get out ahead of the race and try to maximize what they can, right?