Introducing a new series! This is Armchair GM, a weekly to bi-weekly segment in which I take a look at some of the rumours swirling around the Blue Jays world, and the baseball world at large. I’ll identify a team need, then flesh those rumours out into fully fledged trade ideas that I think make some sense for both sides.
Early Wednesday morning, the Blue Jays announced that they’d dealt Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners for a couple of pitchers, Erik Swanson and Adam Macko. One of the biggest talking points throughout the entire season was that the Jays needed a left handed hitter, and they just opened a spot in the outfield for one. Of course, the Jays have shown early interest in free agents such as Brandon Nimmo, but it’s possible that their best bet is just through trades. Another common talking point of late is that the Cardinals may be a good fit, as they have a surplus of outfielders but lack a catcher now that Yadier Molina has called it a career.
There’s a reason here for the mutual interest. The Jays could target a couple of the Cardinals outfielders, as Lars Nootbaar is a lefty, Dylan Carlson hits switch, and Nolan Gorman is another lefty who can swing to the outfield.
On the other hand, the Blue Jays have got 3 catchers, any of which the Cardinals could be interested in. Alejandro Kirk is probably the safest option, as a currently elite catcher. However, Gabriel Moreno could become one of the best catchers in the league moving forward, as the organization rates him as an extremely great defender with a great contact tool and speed, as shown below. Danny Jansen makes sense as a hedge option for St. Louis, as he would certainly cost the least of the three.
Logistically, the Blue Jays probably don’t have much of a choice when it comes to which outfielder they would want. Lars Nootbaar has already established himself as a fantastic player in the bigs, and he’s got a whopping 5 years of control left, meaning he’s not a free agent until after the 2027 season. The Blue Jays wisely are known to play the service time game, which is why I think it makes the most sense that Danny Jansen is the return. He’s a free agent after the 2024 season, so the Jays are getting an extra 3 years of control, and a similar quality player. As such, it wouldn’t be a one for one trade. So what are the Jays options in terms of add-ons to get there?
Neither Jansen nor Nootbaar had a full year in 2022 for various reasons. Both were great in the time they did have though, as Jano posted 2.6 fWAR in 248 plate appearances, whilst Lars had 2.7 fWAR in 347 PA’s. Both enjoyed breakouts, Nootbaar in his second MLB stint, and Jansen in his 4th.
Projecting how each player will look moving forward is quite a tricky one. Honestly, there’s a lot of reasons that it’s hard to see Jansen being able to quite replicate 2022. He looked like an entirely new player, going from a career .694 OPS to an .855 OPS in 2022. Nootbaar, on the other hand, is probably more likely to repeat that success on paper. For Lars, the worry is that he hasn’t even had 500 MLB at bats thus far. A sophomore slump, or worse, is possible.
Allow me to introduce Baseball Trade Values. This website provides each player a value based on production, contract, and years of control remaining, among other things. Whilst not even being close to gospel, and being massively overused by those on Twitter, it’s interesting to look at the values as a guideline when discussing trades.
Based on this model, when proposing Jansen for Nootbaar directly, the Blue Jays are getting more value.
Ultimately, this is probably not a deal the Cardinals would do, so the Blue Jays would have to give up more to make it work. A prospect probably makes the most sense, as the Jays obviously won’t be looking to cut too much from their major league roster.
As you’ll remember, in 2021, the Jays drafted a pitcher (Gunnar Hoglund), and then dealt him that offseason for Matt Chapman. A similar situation may play itself out here. In 2022, the Jays drafted high-school lefty Brandon Barriera. He’s a player that makes some sense for the Cardinals, as a high schooler that can be developed. The Cardinals also do not have a surplus of left handed pitching in their system, with Matthew Liberatore the only LHP ranked inside the organizational top 5 by FanGraphs.
This time, it’s the Blue Jays who are maybe giving up a little bit more value, but that’s sometimes what it takes when you’re getting the best player in the deal. Let’s take a closer look at Lars Nootbaar, and break down an at-bad that I believe to be very representative of the kind of player he is.
The date is September 9th, and Lars Nootbaar’s Cardinals are taking on the Cubs. It’s the bottom of the 7th and the Cards lead 3-0, with a runner on and one out. Nootbaar steps in to face Sean Newcomb, a lefty-lefty matchup. With the first pitch, Newcomb grooves a fastball down the middle, and Nootbaar doesn’t flinch. Strike one.
This was not a rare occurrence for Lars. He took 347 at-bats in 2022, and he let the first pitch go by in a whopping 260 of them (74.9%). 127 of those were called strikes, and 20 of them were down the middle. This was, of course, one of those 20. Nootbaar is a passive hitter, who walked 14.7% of the time he came to bat last year. Aaron Judge, who just had one of the best hitting seasons in decades, walked 15.9% of the time. Among hitters with 300 plate appearances, only 5 walked more often than Nootbaar. There’s no doubt about it, he’s got great discipline.
Nonetheless, that discipline was not needed for the next pitch, as Newcomb flipped a curveball that was closer to hitting Lars than being a strike. 1-1.
The next pitch was much closer to the zone, but ultimately it was still quite a bit outside. 2-1.
The next pitch is the closest of the three balls, with some good late sink. Nootbaar shows off that discipline, and lets it go past. 3-1.
In 2022, Nootbaar was thrown 133 pitches in a three ball count. He only hit 19 of those pitches into play. Rest assured, this at bat did not end in a walk.
Newcomb lobs another fastball right down Main Street, and this time, Lars gets every single stitch of it, taking it 412 feet to right centre field. He watched 4 straight pitches go past, getting a feel for Newcomb’s stuff that night, and then punishing an absolute mistake.
Nootbaar’s only 25 years old, with a lot of room for growth in an already superb set of tools. While losing Jansen would be tough, the Jays have a surplus of catchers, and a left handed outfielder would add an entirely new dimension to a lineup that was already amongst the league’s best in 2022.