Revisiting the Rowdy Tellez trade, and why all parties involved won the deal
Photo credit:Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
26 days ago
It hasn’t quite been two years yet, but it’s time to look at the Rowdy Tellez trade to the Milwaukee Brewers.
I’ve seen this classified as a trade one the Jays wish they could have a do-over, but that is just completely incorrect. In my opinion, it was a trade where all parties (The Blue Jays, the Brewers, and Tellez) won the deal. Let’s look at the background, as well as why everyone won.
Rowdy Tellez in 2021:
Tellez was not very good with the Blue Jays in 2021. The then 26-year-old first baseman had no option years remaining, and was slashing .209/.272/.338 with four homers in 151 plate appearances. This gave him a 62 wRC+ and a -0.6 fWAR, a far cry from his .283/.346/.540 slash line with eight homers in 127 plate appearances in 2020.
Not just that, but up until the trade on July 6th, 2021, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was playing other worldly at first base. In 354 plate appearances, the future all-star was slashing .336/.438/.671 with 27 homers for a 192 wRC+.
So, Tellez is a 62 wRC+ hitter who shouldn’t be playing DH and definitely isn’t getting games ahead of Guerrero Jr. unless the latter needs an off-day. Moreover, with no options remaining, your options are to either DFA the struggling Tellez hoping he sneaks through (which he would not have), or trade him for pennies on the dollar for a need.
They did the latter.
The Blue Jays needs when the trade occurred:
Now, let’s establish what the Blue Jays needs were before revealing what the Jays traded Tellez for.
Here is every reliever that appeared in a Blue Jays game in the month of July before the Tellez trade: Patrick Murphy, Adam Cimber, Jacob Barnes, Tyler Chatwood, Tayler Saucedo, Anthony Castro, Nick Allgeyer, Tim Mayza, Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, and Trent Thornton.
Those 11 names should make the need pretty evident, as the Blue Jays traded the struggling (albeit promising) first baseman for a reliever named Trevor Richards, and a prospect in Bowden Francis.
The importance of Trevor Richards since the trade:
You may know Richards as “oh, DFA the low-leverage merchant” reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen at the moment. However, what he provided after the trade in 2021 really put the Blue Jays on the right track.
Richards didn’t blow anyone’s mind. In fac,t the acquisition of Adam Cimber was the better move, but Richards gave the Blue Jays an option they desperately missed in the 7th inning while leading.
With the Blue Jays in 2021, the then 28-year-old posted a 3.31 ERA and a 4.61 FIP in 32.2 innings pitched. Moreover, he had an impressive 30.3 K% and an 8.2 BB% for a 22.1 K-BB%. Like I said, not mind blowing, but solid numbers for a medium leverage reliever.
He struggled to start the 2022 season, but after coming off the injured list with a neck strain, Richards posted a 4.33 ERA and a 2.69 FIP in 35.1 innings pitched. This came with a 32.2 K% and a 12.5 BB% as well. For what it’s worth, the Blue Jays bullpen had improved drastically to the point where Richards was pitching in low-leverage, which he did well in.
Even in 2023, Richards is having a good start to the season. His 5.14 ERA is elevated, but prior to being brought out for a third inning of work this past Tuesday, his ERA sat at 3.24, which is actually quite solid. Not just that, but his 4.24 FIP isn’t too bad, and he has the highest K% of 35.4% on the roster. His 13.8 BB% is on the high side though. Even then, here’s his Baseball Savant page. A whole lot of red where it matters.
For what Richards did to stabilize the bullpen in 2021 and the fact that he’s a solid reliever on the 2023 Blue Jays, the Jays came out winners in this trade.
Rowdy Tellez since becoming a Brewer:
With that being said, the Brewers also won this trade. They were able to offer the left-handed batting first baseman proper playing time, something the Jays could not.
After the trade in 2021, Tellez slashed .272/.333/.481 with seven homers in 174 plate appearances with the Brewers. This gave him a 113 wRC+.
In 2022, Tellez slashed .219/.306/.461 with 35 homers in 599 plate appearances. However, that was only good enough for a 110 wRC+, which is certainly above average, but not what you’d expect from a guy that hit 35 dingers. Moreover, he started his year off hot, slashing .248/.307/.530 with eight homers in 127 plate appearances for a 130 wRC+.
The sample size of ~130 plate appearances is used because that’s around how much he has in 2023. In 129 plate appearances in 2023, he’s slashing .239/.318/.540 with 10 homers for a 125 wRC+, very similar to his 2022 production.
Whether or not he’ll have a small decline as he did in 2022 is to be seen, but what Tellez provides is power from the left side of the plate. Hopefully, the success can continue and potentially, he could earn his first all-star nod if he does well.
Bowden Francis has a bright future:
There is one other piece to this puzzle, Bowden Francis. The 27-year-old right-hander made a brief debut with the Blue Jays in 2022, but has pitched the majority of his Blue Jays career with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
Looking at his statistics without context in 2022 doesn’t paint a great picture. He finished with a 6.59 ERa and a 6.02 FIP in 98.1 innings pitched, eventually moving to a bulk role partway through the season.
However, once we look at July 6th onward, his 4.47 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 46.1 innings pitched is a much better sign. Moreover, he had a 29.8 K% and an 8.3 BB%, pretty solid numbers. He continued that success in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he had a 1.51 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched. He also had a 34.6 K% and a 6.6 BB%.
Francis had a great 2023 spring training as well, posting a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings pitched. He had a 28.8 K% and an 11.5 BB% as well. Francis was sent to Buffalo, where he had a 3.86 ERA and a 6.49 FIP (3.56 xFIP) in 7 innings pitched before hitting the injured list. What’s more impressive is his 40 K% and his 6.7 BB%. Since becoming a Blue Jay, he’s shown the ability to generate strikeouts, while maintaining a good walk rate.
Plus the stuff is great. He has a mid 90s fastball that averages 93-95, but has touched 96, and maybe even higher. His slider is sharp with plenty of sweep, while his curveball is one of the best in the entire organization.
While it’s to be seen whether or not the Jays plan to use him as a starter or a bulk reliever, there’s a possibility he will get an opportunity with the big league team. For the past year or so, he’s posted good results, and the stuff is pretty darn good as well.
So who won the trade?:
Like the Santiago Espinal trade, every party involved won this trade in some way or another.
On the Blue Jays end, they acquired a reliever who drastically improved the bullpen and helped them push for the 2021 playoffs, missing out by just a game. Not just that, but Richards is still a good reliever to use in low-leverage and Bowden Francis looks promising.
The Brewers acquired a first baseman who’s good for 25+ homers a season, potentially even more. While he isn’t the same calibre as a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for example, Tellez will always give you an above average season in terms of wRC+. Moreover, he doesn’t sacrifice striking out for the power, something that is quite common amongst slugging first basemen.
And for Rowdy himself, he has the opportunity to flourish in Milwaukee. Sadly, with Guerrero Jr. playing at a MVP level early in his career, Tellez didn’t have much of an opportunity in Toronto. With the Brewers, he has the opportunity to play every day, something that he’s excelled at since the 2021 trade.
I’m not sure if this will be a series, but I did a similar article revisiting the Whit Merrifield deal, which you can read here.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D.
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