According to Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays could be exploring other avenues beyond free agency in order to upgrade their starting rotation. Specifically, they could sell high from a position of strength, such as their bevy of young catchers, in order to find more pitching.
I already touched on Davidi’s point in the Daily Duce on Saturday, but, since nothing else is going on right now, it’s probably worth a deeper exploration. Here’s what he said…
First, they’re looking at this week’s acquisition of righty Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers as a floor for the starting rotation, rather than a ceiling, an injection of stable innings providing a base while more impactful arms – at least one and up to three – are pursued.
Second, anything GM Ross Atkins and company have planned on the position player side is tied, to a degree, to what they do on the pitching end of things, and to how much more runway they want to provide to the players they already have in-house.
For example, if they traded someone like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for a starting pitcher, they’d then need to suddenly jump into the free-agent market for another outfielder. Their catchers have also been drawing interest from other clubs. On the flip side, if they do their pitching work in free agency, then any bat signed takes away reps from a group of players that includes Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, and Rowdy Tellez.
The interesting part here comes in the third paragraph, in which Davidi explicitly says that Toronto’s young catchers (I imagine this would be Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, but it could also involve names like Riley Adams and Alejandro Kirk in the minors) are garnering trade interest around the league. This comes after he offers a hypothetical situation in which the Jays trade Lourdes Gurriel after his strong-but-injury-shortened season in order to fill another position of need. I’m not sure there are any legs to the Gurriel thing beyond Davidi just offering an example, but the fact he suggests it and then says the young catchers are also garnering interest is somewhat interesting.
As of right now, the Jays have Danny Jansen, Resse McGuire, and Luke Maile on the 40-man roster. Maile had a rough season last year and could be a non-tender candidate, though he’s only projected to earn $800k in arbitration.
When Maile was injured in August last season, McGuire was called up from Triple-A and ran with the opportunity. He slashed a .299/.346/.526 line over the course of 105 plate appearances, which was significantly better than the .247/.316/.366 line he slashed in Triple-A in 2019. Coupling his streak at the plate with his great glove, McGuire was worth 1.2 wins (per FanGraphs) in just 30 games. Jansen, on the other hand, had a rough season at the plate, slashing a .207/.279/.360 line over 384 plate appearances. His defence compensated, though, as Jansen was worth 1.4 wins.
If I had to venture a guess, it would seem that McGuire would be the player the Jays sell high on in this situation. Jansen has frequently been mentioned by Blue Jays executives as part of the team’s core moving forward. Here’s a quote from Mark Shapiro in August, mentioning Jansen’s name alongside, Bo, Vlad, Cavan Biggio, and Nate Pearson.
“We’ve got a group of really great guys who, as they begin to win together, our fans will form a strong attachment and appreciation for Bo Bichette, for Vladdy [Guerrero Jr.], for Cavan [Biggio], for Nate Pearson and Danny Jansen.”
This could also be in reference to Toronto’s wealth of young catchers in the system. Riley Adams slashed a .261/.366/.443 line between Single- and Double-A last year, Alejandro Kirk slashed a .290/403/.465 line between Low- and High-A, and Gabriel Moreno slashed a .280/.337/.485 line in Low-A. Having three breakout seasons from catchers in A-Ball or higher coupled with Jansen and McGuire already being solid, young catchers at the Major League levels gives the Blue Jays a lot of ammunition for a possible deal.
But is the team really in a position to start dealing prospects or young MLB-calibre players in order to fill other needs? I mean, in the case of McGuire, you could be capitalizing on a late-season hot streak that he’ll never replicate, but, with the other guys in the minors, you could be pulling the trigger too early on prospects with plenty of room to improve. Think back to 2012, when the Jays dealt Yan Gomes and carried on with their catcher of the future, J.P. Arencibia.
Given how deep the market is for starting pitching this year, I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to be dealing away young talent to make additions when you can simply just spend the money in free agency to do the same thing. But, ultimately, it comes down to what situation the team finds itself in this off-season. If pitchers don’t want to sign here because of the AL Beast thing, then trading might be the only route to go. Dealing McGuire for a solid young arm and signing Jason Castro or Travis d’Arnaud might be better than handing out a three-year deal to Tanner Roark or Wade Miley.
Ideally, the Jays are able to get the best of both worlds, maintaining their quality depth while also filling major needs, but it’s good that the front office has options and isn’t shoehorned into one avenue to improve the team. This is why creating quality depth up and down the system is so important.