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Could Reds serve as a viable trade partner for Blue Jays? Examining how their interests may align

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Photo credit:Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
2 months ago
It’s been all smoke and no fire for the Toronto Blue Jays thus far, as the organization continues to be linked to several marquee players – both in free agency and via trade – but has yet to make a splash this winter. As GM Ross Atkins weighs his options, could a deal with the Cincinnati Reds potentially be in the cards?
That’s a topic many have speculated on up to this point. While nothing has materialized between the two clubs, that hasn’t stopped a handful of media outlets from tying them together in the rumour mill, particularly surrounding a trade for Jonathan India, who’s likely to be dealt this off-season amid Cincinnati’s surplus of infielders.
Like most franchises, the Blue Jays will explore dozens of possibilities before narrowing their search to a small group of preferred targets. As they attempt to acquire 2-to-4 position players between now and next spring, it appears India is at the very least one potential avenue they’ve canvassed, as Canadian reporter Bob Elliott reports.
Even if India were a fit for the Blue Jays (which I’ll touch on later), the bigger question is whether their interests can align with the Reds’ needs. Beyond that, could they find common ground involving a trade for the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year, who’s under club control through 2026?
On the surface, these two clubs possess items that can help assist each other’s rosters, at least to some degree.
Toronto, of course, is seeking to fill vacancies in the infield and outfield, preferably with some much-needed thump. Conversely, Cincinnati is looking to add multiple arms even after the signings of Nick Martinez and Emilio Pagán.
The Blue Jays aren’t rich with pitchers, especially ones that could become expendable. But Alek Manoah – who’d undoubtedly improve a Reds rotation that struggled to stay healthy in 2023 – could be the exception if the club lands Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell in free agency or acquires Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes via trade.
In regards to India, assembling a one-for-one deal with Manoah, as many have already theorized, would be valuing him at his reduced 2023 stock rather than his 2022 American League Cy Young finalist version – an approach Toronto’s front office has reportedly advised interested suitors against.
Jeimer Candelario’s shocking arrival has positioned India as the odd man out. Still, for a player with three seasons of club control remaining, the Reds aren’t going to trade him for the sole purpose of making a move. If they pull the trigger, it’ll likely be because someone offers an impact pitcher or two.
That someone, however, probably shouldn’t be the Blue Jays. Or, at least, it shouldn’t unless the return isn’t solely tied to India.
The 27-year-old infielder, slated to earn a projected $3.7 million in arbitration – $1.2 million more than Santiago Espinal – likely wouldn’t move the needle all that much, if at all, for Toronto’s offence next season as he hit .244/.338/.407 with 17 home runs and a 99 wRC+ in 119 games with Cincinnati a season ago.
And, as displayed by India’s 2023 Baseball Savant card, the only areas he thrived in during his third big-league campaign were controlling the strike zone and running the bases.
In addition to his below-average offence, India has been one of the worst defensive second basemen in the majors since his rookie season in 2021, with his -23 Outs Above Average ranking last out of 39 qualified defenders (min. 1,000 innings) and his -21 Defensive Runs Saved positioned second last. Thus, his future will almost certainly include a consistent DH role wherever he lands in 2024.
If you require further evidence, consider this: the Reds second baseman was worth 1.2 fWAR last season, which would’ve placed him third among Blue Jays second basemen, behind Davis Schneider (2.0) and Whit Merrifield (1.5), with Cavan Biggio in his rear-view mirror at 1.0.
India by himself probably isn’t a worthwhile acquisition for Akins and his staff. But if the underperforming righty was swapped out for another player – like left-handed outfielder Jake Fraley – or included as part of a bigger deal, Cincinnati could emerge as a more appealing trade route.
There are higher-end players Toronto could covet, potential All-Star TJ Friedl, for example, as the 28-year-old centre-fielder – worth a career-high 4.4 fWAR in 2023 – can impact both sides of the ball. But considering he isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2026 and is under club control through ’28, procuring his services would undoubtedly cost a significant haul – a demand the Blue Jays brass likely couldn’t afford.
An outfielder like Fraley, however, should be far more attainable to acquire, as he has three seasons of control – all of which are arbitration-eligible – before becoming a free agent. Also, he profiles more as a platoon hitter versus right-handed pitching than an everyday player as opposed to his teammate Friedl.
The fellow 28-year-old lefty supplied significant juice in those matchups last season, posting a .467 SLG  across 339 plate appearances that would’ve placed second amongst Toronto’s offence, trailing only Brandon Belt’s .515. He also clubbed all 15 home runs against righties while earning a .199 ISO and 115 wRC+.
While there are flaws to Fraley’s craft, particularly his concerningly low hard-contact output and average defensive abilities in all three outfield spots, there’s no question he’d bring upside to a lineup that lacked power across the board in 2023, especially from the left side of the plate.
At a projected $2.2 million in his first ARB year, Fraley would barely make a dent in the Blue Jays’ 2024 payroll, maintaining flexibility to spend resources in free agency on other impact bats to further complement a core group of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer, Alejandro Kirk and Daulton Varsho.
This path could also benefit the Reds, who may command a package centred around relief arms like Nate Pearson (one minor-league option remaining, under club control through ’26) and Yosver Zulueta (two options remaining, six seasons of club control). In turn, that duo would surely improve a bullpen which ranked 27th in strikeout-to-walk rate difference (11.0 per cent) across the majors in 2023.
Pearson has shown flashes of becoming a reliable high-leverage reliever with the Blue Jays over the last few seasons. However, his command – or lack thereof – has continuously reared its ugly head, forcing him back to square one in the minors. Even so, his overpowering arsenal would likely stand out in a ‘pen headlined by closer Alexis Díaz, Lucas Sims and Pagán.
It’s probably unrealistic for a blockbuster trade to unfold between Toronto and Cincinnati, given the pieces each has to offer, but there are certainly a few paths where both could scratch each other’s backs.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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