Photo Credit: Troy Babbitt / USA Today Sports

Blue Jays are prisoners of the moment, but only for now

In discussing Marcus Stroman’s trade value with Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith on a recent episode of Sportsnet’s At the Letters podcast, writer and insider Arden Zwelling perfectly summed up the difficulty and complexity of evaluating Stroman-like trades.

“In terms of sports commentary and fandom, we’re such prisoners to the moment,” Zwelling remarked. “You have to make these sweeping assessments of things in the moment, but we won’t know when Marcus Stroman is traded, whether or not it was a good trade or not.”

Zwelling’s thought process, while simple and logical at its core, represents what probably should be the prevailing opinion among Blue Jays fans regarding the trade of Marcus Stroman — it’s too early to evaluate the trade.

In case you missed it, the Blue Jays, now in full-sell mode ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline, traded starter Marcus Stroman to the New York Mets in exchange for two pitching prospects, Anthony Kay, who has since been assigned to Triple-A Buffalo, and Simeon Woods-Richardson, who’ll head to High-A Dunedin.

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Many commenting on the trade immediately slagged on the return the Blue Jays were able to net for Stroman, who, per many insiders, was the best starter available on this year’s trade market.

While it’s more than fair to be critical of the sometimes confounding decisions made by sports executives, criticizing this move isn’t quite as fair, at least not yet.

Beginning with Stroman, he is, for all intents and purposes, a known commodity, at least in this context. Though it’s not realistic that he’ll sustain his 2.96 ERA, nor his 0.72 HR/9 and 3.53 FIP, he has a chance to be a difference-maker in the playoffs going forward, whether it be for the Mets or for another contender.

Simply put, he’s a fantastically capable starter and a wickedly enthusiastic teammate who ruffles the feathers of opposing players and conjures up passionate fandom like no one else.

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Off the field, Stroman and the Blue Jays front office have had numerous relationship issues that, without re-telling the tale that’s been told several times, fractured any possible chances of the two sides agreeing on a contract extension.

Kay, 24, epitomizes, in many ways, the reasons for criticism of this deal. A little older than most pitching prospects of his calibre, Kay, a first-round (31st overall) pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, wasn’t even ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects of the 2019 season.

For most, having at least one Top 100 prospect was considered vital in any sort of return for Stroman, thus beginning the disappointment in a general sense.

“While it’s more than fair to be critical of the sometimes confounding decisions made by sports executives, criticizing this move isn’t quite as fair, at least not yet.”

While his changeup has notably regressed and his recent command issues are startling for sure, many scouts, including top prospect evaluators, have high hopes for him over the next few seasons.

Blue Jays fans may even be able to see him later this season, should he pitch well enough in Buffalo to warrant a call later on in the campaign.

Woods-Richardson, 18, has impressed several scouts and rival evaluators (if recent reports are to be believed) but is simply too far away from the big leagues to be considered anything of consequence, at this time.

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Though it is, as mentioned before, possible that he doesn’t reach the big leagues, the potential is there, and it is simply too early to write him off as a “no-name” prospect.

Of course, the crux of the disappointment comes in the stark difference in value the packages represent right now. It is often said, at least in more traditional baseball philosophies, that the team who wins a trade is the team that gains the best player at the time of the trade, regardless of salary, contractual implications, or any other peripheral factors.

In that sense, the New York Mets fleeced the Blue Jays like no team has ever been fleeced before. But of course, this school of thought isn’t always applicable, especially in newer and more forward-thinking front offices.

Obviously, the true value of the trade will be determined when Kay and/or Woods-Richardson reach their peak value, whenever that may be. Then, that value will be compared to Stroman’s cumulative value at the time of the trade, plus whatever he does during the remainder of his contract.

The thing is, it is so supremely difficult to measure and objectively determine the winner of the trade, especially so early on.

How can one say with absolute certainty that Kay nor Woods-Richardson won’t be equal, if not more effective starters than Stroman is now? What if both end up becoming pitchers of value going forward, and the one who arrives at the big-league level second is instrumental in a championship run down the line?

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Of course, if you’re a Blue Jays fan or even a baseball enthusiast, your disdain for this trade is completely understandable. At the surface, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which the Blue Jays win this trade.

It is equally difficult to envision a scenario in which the Blue Jays are able to acquire, through the draft or through trade, a player who adores, loves, and supports the city of Toronto more than the departed Stroman. For many fans, that hurts, and for good reason.

Still, the Stroman trade needed to happen, especially given the volatility of the starting pitching market and the broken relationship between the current regime and the pitcher himself. As Shi Davidi put it, “it would be nonsensical not to trade him”.

This trade, as well as the current front office of Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro, will, at some point, have to stand judgment and be evaluated objectively for its success in terms of wins and nothing else. Blue Jays radio host and broadcaster Scott MacArthur expresses this sentiment brilliantly and frequently, cautioning every weary caller that this front office, for better or for worse, will eventually stand judgement.

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At some point, this deal, and all others made before it by the current management tandem, will be regarding upon with a neutral eye.

But, that time is not now. Until then, we’ll have to wait and see. For an anxious and occasionally irritable fanbase, that may be hard to do, and understandably so, but attempting to grade a trade without seeing the results is an exercise in futility, at best.

For now, Blue Jays fans can take solace in knowing that while Marcus Stroman might not be with the team, this front office should, if all goes according to plan, create a sustainable contender in Toronto. If not, they will be judged and looked upon accordingly.

  • dolsh

    That’s all fine and dandy, but what we can do is compare the return for Stroman (sitting at 3.1 WAR) against Bauer (sitting at 2.0 WAR).

    In a bubble, I’m ok with the trade, and still think parts of it were hilarious. But when the giggles wear off, and the trade is evaluated against the current 2019 trade deadline economy for starting pitching, it’s a huge failure. I really want the mainstream media to take the FO to task on this one.

    • rube

      Agreed. I’ve been a staunch defender of Atkins and Shapiro to a lot of friends that can’t stomach the rebuild but the deadline deals are, at best, puzzling, at worst, indefensible. Not sure how the offensive window of opportunity – which appears to be imminent – lines up with a barren pitching staff with Pearson, a couple of 18 year olds and the world’s largest collection of minor league arms with optimistic ceilings of being 4th starters. Why sell low on Sanchez when the deal involves Biagini, a minor league prospect and brings back a dude that’s looking like a quad A player? Feels like the plan is to catch lightning in a bottle, but so far – McKinney, Drury, Teoscar, the arms we got last summer – that ain’t happening at all.

      I guess the upshot is me and my 43 year old arm are daring to dream that maybe I’ll still get a shot…super curious to see who gets run out there to finish these season up.