Nobody really thought the Blue Jays would trade Marcus Stroman to the New York Mets when reports first surfaced on Saturday with them as a possibility. Almost 24 hours later, we still don’t know how the Mets are going to proceed, though it appears as if their goal here was to corner the market on starting pitching and dictate where it moves in the last few days before the deadline. On the Blue Jays side of things, despite the initial shock of where Stroman was headed and the return that seemed light, when you look closer at the deal, it actually reinforces everything we know about this front office and how they operate.
They Have Their “Guys”
Since Ross Atkins took over we’ve repeatedly heard rumors of the club targeting the same player over and over again. Jay Bruce was targeted numerous times over the years, going back to Alex Anthopoulos’ days in charge, and continuing until Bruce finally hit free agency after the 2017 season. They also targeted Luke Maile a bunch of times before finally landing him off of waivers in April 2017. Those are some players we know of, but I imagine there are more examples where the club will repeatedly like a player and do their best to acquire him. This trade is no different, as Shi Davidi reported that the club was aiming on taking Simeon Woods Richardson in the second round of the 2018 draft, only for him to be selected by the Mets before they had their chance. So they circled and circled like a shark stalking its prey, waiting for the right time to acquire him, and now he is a Blue Jay.
The downside of this is that sometimes people can be so fascinated by the data and their reports on a player that they fail to see the player objectively anymore. One of the last times the Blue Jays were said to be trying to acquire Bruce, my source with the club had told me that there was a big divide at that point within the Front Office on his true talent level. We don’t know if that is the case here, but one would think that with a trade as important to the rebuilding efforts as this one, there must have been consensus.
The Front Office Has Their Idea of Value and Isn’t Going to Move From it
Stroman’s value has presumably never been higher because of how good he has been pitching, and with the Blue Jays’ window of contention opening, while Stroman is hitting his prime might have seemed like an opportune time to extend him, the front office clearly felt otherwise. They obviously liked the idea of getting 12 years of player control in a return for Stroman, with the additional payroll flexibility going forward on the premise that they can spend to acquire a big name pitcher like Stroman whenever they choose to do so. Be it Gerrit Cole this winter, or Stroman, Trevor Bauer, or James Paxton next winter, or the other names that are sure to become targets in the free agency and trade market before the Blue Jays hit contention, there will always be arms to acquire. Ross Atkins must have felt like that package of control and flexibility was more attractive than locking himself into Stroman before he needed to, and you can’t really blame him for that. If it doesn’t work out, Atkins is going to be held responsible, and if the team doesn’t spend when the time comes, then Rogers can be as well. But we knew all along that this end was coming, despite nobody ever saying it outright. The signs and messages have been present all along.
They like Having a Bulk of Mid-Level Pitching Prospects
Ross Atkins gave an interview this past off-season where he listed virtually all the 40+ FV pitchers they had acquired along with the ones they had drafted and inherited from Anthopoulos, and said that among the group of around 10 pitchers, he and his team hoped that a few would develop something extra and become a top of the rotation arm. Whether this was based on some analytical study the Blue Jays had done on players in the 40-50 FV range taking the next step, or just general trust in the ability of their Player Development staff to create something from nothing, it did provide a large tent in which the club’s moves could be grouped. The logic was to acquire a lot of mid level prospects who with a change or two could become great, and entrust your staff to make that happen.
In Anthony Kay and the aforementioned Woods Richardson, the Blue Jays acquired another two arms in that 40-50 FV range, with FG having Woods Richardson at 45 and Kay at 45+, while MLB Pipeline pegs them both with 50 FV. Keith Law had Kay as one of his honorable mentions for his mid-season top 50 list, meaning he likely came in around the #60 spot on the list, and Baseball America had him at #91 in their mid-season update. What this means is that these are exactly the type of pitchers the club has been targeting. Not sexy acquisitions by any means, but you can see from what they currently have in their arsenal that the tools to be great are present and waiting to be unlocked.
For Woods-Richardson, it’s the ridiculous K/BB numbers in a league where he is close to four years younger than the average player, thanks to his fastball/curve combination that is said to be nightmarish on hitters. If his changeup develops to complement those first two, it is easy to see why the Blue Jays were high on him. As for Kay, he’s had a history of success in the minor leagues, and his fast rising performance to make it to AAA just a year after debuting in the minors can be attributed to his three above average pitches and his ability to suppress home runs. What has done him in during his stint at AAA has been those home runs, but for some reason, I think a 14.6% HR/FB might be just a bit unsustainable, and regression to normal levels should be coming, even with the juiced AAA ball.
Put all of this together, and it isn’t difficult to squint and see either one of these guys taking that next step, just like Atkins said with the other group of pitchers he has acquired in the past. If you continue to stockpile arms like these, eventually some are going to have to work out, it’s just simple probability.