0
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The next few months are critical for the Shapiro era’s rebuild

It’s Large Adult Son Season.

The Blue Jays own the 11th overall pick in this year’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft and they’ll use it to acquire a new prospect to join the system. The window for signing International Free Agents also opens on June 15th and the Jays, who have acquired International bonus pool money in the Dwight Smith Jr. and Kendrys Morales trades, are expected to be in the mix for some of the top names on the market.

This will be the fourth draft overseen by the Cleveland Crew. Since taking over in 2015, Mark Shapiro and Co. have used top picks to add studs like Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson, and Jordan Groshans, but they’ve also had some misses, like (a guy who’s already out of baseball) J.B. Woodman, (possibly) T.J. Zeuch, and (as it seems right now) Logan Warmoth.

The Cleveland Crew has had the most success in Toronto when going younger in the draft. Warmoth, a low upside college senior, already looks like a bust. Woodman, another senior, is already out of baseball. I hate to throw Zeuch into this mix because his issues have been injury-related, but he was also a senior. Bichette and Groshans, two of the Blue Jays’ most interesting prospects, were drafted out of high school, and Pearson, the organization’s best arm, was taken out of junior college.

As of right now, the only player drafted by the Shapiro regime who has made the jump to the Major League level is Cavan Biggio, a fifth-round pick from 2016. Ultimately, we won’t know how well the group has drafted for a few years because of the nature of development in baseball, but, as it stands right now, things look pretty solid given how highly rated Toronto’s farm system is.

Ryan wrote yesterday about what to expect from the upcoming draft. The Jays are linked to Junior College righty pitcher Jackson Rutledge, who draws similarities to Pearson. If Rutledge isn’t available for the Blue Jays at No. 11, expect them to consider high school outfielder Corbin Carroll, a prospect similar to Groshans in that he’s a wildly polished hitter for his age.

Regardless, I won’t spill too much ink speculating over which player will be added to the system with the 11th overall pick next week. The draft and international free agent window are important to the Blue Jays rebuild as the organization continues to funnel high-quality talent into the system, but, even more critical is what happens before the July 31 trade deadline.

As the organization has finally dove head first into a rebuild, we’ve started to get an idea of who should and who shouldn’t stick around with the team long-term. And, to be blunt, it’s a whole lot of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Very little is set in stone and a lot can change in a few years. There’s a very good chance that only a few of the players we’re currently watching on this throwaway, show-me-what-you-got season will actually be on the team if/when the Blue Jays become contenders.

Vlad Jr. in an obvious one, as he’s the core of this whole thing. Rowdy Tellez has been solid in the first 250 plate appearances of his career. Danny Jansen’s hitting hasn’t come around but he’s shown Major League-quality defence behind the plate. Lourdes Gurriel is showing that he might be more effective as a corner outfielder than an infielder, which might not be a bad thing given the struggles of Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, Jonathan Davis, and Anthony Alford. Trent Thornton has been a pleasant surprise this year, much like Ryan Borucki was last year.

But there are still a lot of question marks. The team is devoid of good outfielders, the rotation is completely in flux, and there might not be a really good impact bat beyond Vlad.

The system is loaded with talents like Bichette and Pearson, with other intriguing names behind them in the lower levels like Groshans, Kevin Smith, Alejandro Kirk, Miguel Hiraldo, Eric Pardinho, and Adam Kloffenstein. Triple-A Buffalo’s rotation has struggled while Double-A New Hampshire’s pitching staff features multiple breakout arms.

I mean, it’s a crapshoot, and nobody knows who’s going to pan out and who’s going to flop, but there’s talent there to make Jays fans optimistic. The key is continuing to stock high-quality talent to the system because the more you throw at the wall the more likely it is that something will stick. This isn’t really groundbreaking stuff.

The more interesting point of conversation is this year’s trade deadline. I’m not at all worried about the front office’s ability to add a good prospect at the draft and through international free agency. My bigger concern is what they can do with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Ken Giles.

Since being acquired in the Roberto Osuna deal, Giles has regained his status as a very good closer. This is a guy who the Astros gave up a lot of prospect capital to acquire prior to the 2016 season that never really panned out in Houston. As great as Giles is, the Jays aren’t close to contending and Giles’ services are best utilized on a contending team.

Sanchez is a complete enigma. He’s still being bothered by his finger issues and struggles to go deep into games, which ultimately puts his future as a starter in question. Given the fact he’s a Scott Boras client, it’s seemed inevitable for quite some time he won’t be around with the team long-term. Stroman is the most difficult case. He’s been excellent and is still young enough that he looks like he could be a part of a contending rotation in Toronto. Despite appearing in trade rumours, he’s also expressed a desire to stay with the team.

Since taking over the team, Shapiro and Co. haven’t done a good job selling off key players at a high point of value. They did a half-in, half-out rebuild thing, which I imagine was at the request of ownership, clinging to certain players who could have been dealt to kick off a full-on rebuild. The prime example of this was Josh Donaldson.

The front office hung on to Donaldson after an amazing finish to the 2017 season hoping that he could either help the team compete for a wild card spot or be dealt at the deadline to a contender. What ended up happening was a disaster, as Donaldson missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, and was flipped for a nothing prospect.

That brings us to Stroman, Giles, and Sanchez, who could net the front office some major help for this rebuild.

Just last year, the Tampa Bay Rays dealt fan favourite and former ace Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In return, Tampa Bay got two young, controllable players in Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow who could help the team immediately. And they’re doing that. Glasnow is arguably the team’s best starter and Meadows is putting up an MVP-calibre start to the season. There weren’t any huge mid-season deals last year involving closers, but a few years ago the Yankees turned Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman into Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Gleyber Torres.

If the front office can’t manage to turn the three into a big boon for the rebuild, it’ll mean they pissed away the four biggest assets they inherited when taking over the team in 2015. They already messed up with Donaldson and they need to execute with their three big, veteran arms to compensate for it.

I know there’s a major appetite to keep these guys around as long-term solutions, especially with Stroman, but given what we saw from the Archer trade Tampa Bay made, dealing these three should be a major boost to this rebuild. Unlike with the draft, you can be more selective with the prospects you’re acquiring, looking for specific players in areas of need who can jump in and help the team sooner rather than later.