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Toronto Blue Jays: A Ross Atkins Trade History Evaluation

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Photo credit:Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Ritchie
27 days ago
On December 3, the Toronto Blue Jays named Ross Atkins as the team’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. During his tenure, the Atkins Regime has executed many trades. Let’s examine that trading record.
Off the hop, I should explain my approach to trade analysis. Teams make trades with the information available at the time of the transaction, but that information is incomplete and lacking in certainty. For example, will the players involved in the transaction perform as projected? Will injuries significantly impact future performance? In other words, trades are inherently risky because much is unknown when the team executes the transaction.
Accordingly, my trade-analysis approach depends on when the examination occurs. When the transaction happens, the factors I look at include the following:
  • Did the team receive reasonable value for the players traded?
  • Given where the team finds itself (teardown, rebuild, playoff contender, surplus at one position but weakness at another, etc.), does the trade make sense? For example, all things being equal, a team in the teardown mode should focus on adding younger players in exchange for older ones.
Therefore, if the trade cost is reasonable and the exchange makes sense, I would conclude the transaction was good. However, if the price paid was unreasonably high or the logic behind the trade was baffling, I would judge the trade as poor.
After the trade date, I prefer to examine a transaction as either working out or not, as opposed to whether the transaction was good, bad or indifferent. To illustrate this point, consider the following scenario.  (Hat tip to Jim Scott, a Blue Jays Nation colleague, for this example). I offer you the chance to bet on a coin flip. It is a fair coin, a fair flip, with no tricks.  Hence, on a single flip of the coin, the probability of heads is 50%, the same as for tails. The bet is as follows: If it comes up heads, you give me $1.  If tails, I give you $5.  Therefore, your expected value is $2 (0.50 x $5 – 0.50 x $1).
You agree to the bet. I flipped the coin, and the result was heads, and you owed me $1.  Was it a bad decision on your part? I argue that it was a good decision, given the $2 expected value. Unfortunately for you, the decision did not work out. This approach should be used to analyze player transactions well after the trade date. I will use this method for the analysis to follow.

Trade Evaluation Details

I determined whether a trade worked out or not by using the following approach:
  • From the start of the Atkins Regime to the end of the 2023 season, I downloaded all Blue Jays trades from Spotrac.
  • For any player included in a trade, the period measured is their MLB time from the trade date until they were eligible for free agency. In other words, the length of time an acquired player was under team control.
  • For the time noted above, I determined the player’s fWAR.
  • I should note that I included reliever WPA numbers in the tables because fWAR underplays the value of a bullpen arm.
  • If Toronto acquires a player via trade and trades the player later, the fWAR and WPA numbers attributed to Toronto cover the player’s Blue Jays’ tenure.
  • I ignored cash considerations and international bonus money included in the transaction.
  • I did not account for the reasoning behind the transaction, such as trading an MLB roster player to a playoff contender for a prospect.
Readers should acknowledge that the fWAR and WPA numbers are as at the end of the 2023 season. These numbers will change after future seasons are added to the tally.

The Baltimore Comparable

When the Atkins Regime commenced, the Blue Jays had recently completed the 2015 campaign, including a playoff run for the first time since the 1993 World Series Championship. Toronto was an older team compared to other American League ball clubs. The average age of Toronto’s batters was 29.5 (second-oldest), and their pitchers’ average was 29.2 (third-oldest).
The Blue Jays made the 2016 postseason, playing the Orioles in the Wild Card Game. The average age of Toronto’s batters was 30.0 (third-oldest), and their pitchers were 29.8 (second-oldest).
Table 1 shows Toronto’s and Baltimore’s winning percentages and average ages for the 2015-2020 seasons. Both teams struggled after the 2016 Wild Card Game.
Also, the Blue Jays and Orioles had similar rankings on Baseball America’s organization prospects lists. On the February 2016 list, Baseball America ranked Toronto #24 and Baltimore #27. One year later, the Blue Jays were #20, and the Orioles were again #27.
For these reasons (sub-0.500 records in 2017-2019, in teardown/rebuild mode, and farm systems ranked in the bottom third), Baltimore’s trade history is a reasonable benchmark for me to use to measure the Atkins Regime’s trade history.

Baltimore’s Trade History

Table 2 summarizes the trades executed by the Orioles during the 2016-2023 period, and Table 3 presents the more notable transactions.
From an overall net fWAR perspective, Baltimore’s trades did not work out. They had some solid acquisitions, including Jonathan Villar, Kyle Bradish, and Richard Bleier. However, two noteworthy transactions did not work out for the Orioles.
Baltimore traded Jonah Heim to Tampa for Steve Pearce on August 1, 2016. After the 2016 campaign, Pearce became a free agent. On March 23, 2019, Baltimore traded Mike Yastrzemski for Tyler Herb, a now 31-year-old pitcher who has yet to make his MLB debut.
Given the net negative 8.3 fWAR, Baltimore’s player trades have not worked out during 2016-2023. Let’s see how the Atkins Regime performed on the trade front.

The Atkins Regime

Under Atkins, the Toronto Blue Jays’ trades have worked out well. Please see Table 4.
Compared to Baltimore’s trading blotter between 2016 and 2023, the player value traded by the Blue Jays (34.0 fWAR) is slightly higher than the Orioles (32.3). The notable difference between the two ball clubs is the value received. Whereas Baltimore acquired 24.0 fWAR of player value, Toronto’s acquisitions generated 49.7 fWAR. Hence, Toronto’s net 15.7 fWAR and 3.45 WPA is better than Baltimore’s minus 8.3 fWAR and 2.33 WPA.

Impactful Trades by the Atkins Regime

I selected trades whereby the net impact was greater than 3.0 fWAR. Below are details concerning those trades listed in Table 5:
  • The Blue Jays acquired Matt Chapman (7.7 fWAR) from The Athletics. Oakland received Gunnar Hoglund, Kevin Smith, Zach Logue and Kirby Snead. Those players have generated minus 1.4 fWAR.
  • In 2018, Randal Grichuk (4.7 fWAR) became a Blue Jay. Toronto sent Conner Greene (0.4 fWAR) and Dominic Leone (-0.1 fWAR) to St. Louis.
  • Boston acquired Steve Pearce (1.5 fWAR) from Toronto in return for Santiago Espinal (4.7 fWAR).
  • Toronto sent Francisco Liriano (0.0 fWAR) in exchange for Teoscar Hernandez (10.5 fWAR) and Norichika Aoki (0.4 fWAR).
  • Pittsburgh added Drew Hutchinson (-0.4 fWAR) to their roster and sent Francisco Liriano (1.4 fWAR), Reese McGuire (2.3 fWAR) and Harold Ramirez (2.8 fWAR) to Toronto.
  • The Blue Jays sent Marcus Stroman (4.4 fWAR) to the New York Mets in exchange for Anthony Kay (0.3 fWAR) and Simeon Woods Richardson (0.0 fWAR).
  • Toronto delivered Gio Urshela (7.7 fWAR) to the Yankees for cash considerations.
  • The Cardinals remitted international bonus pool money to the Blue Jays for Lane Thomas’s services (4.8 fWAR).

A Ross Atkins Trade History Evaluation

Many MLB observers have concluded that the Atkins Regime’s trade record is poor. I sensed that the Atkins scorecard was good. Therefore, I embarked on the research, the results of which I presented to determine which opinion was more defensible.
I do not share the opinion that Atkins’s trade record is poor. My disagreement arises partly because my trade analysis approach differs from many. In hindsight, trades should be evaluated as working out or not, as opposed to good or bad.
I acknowledge that it isn’t easy to benchmark a team’s trade record. All things being equal, a team in a teardown/rebuild mode should produce a higher net fWAR compared to a contending ball club because they are trading older players with limited years of team control in exchange for (often, but not always) multiple players/prospects with more team control. This observation begs the question: How large should the net fWAR of a team in teardown/rebuild mode be before one concludes whether the trades worked out or not?
I am unable to state how large the net fWAR should be. However, the Atkins trades have generated a positive net fWAR overall, which is more than Baltimore’s net figure, suggesting that the Atkins Regime’s trades have worked out well.

The Last Word

During Atkins’s tenure with the Blue Jays, Toronto has completed over 100 trades. Based on the net fWAR generated by the players acquired by Toronto and those sent to other ball clubs, the trades have worked out well. Therefore, in addition to its good amateur draft record, trades during the Atkins Regime have worked out well for the Toronto Blue Jays.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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