Why The Toronto Blue Jays’ Trade Deadline Was All About 2017

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(Frank Gunn/CP)

By: Rossy Pasternak

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline has passed, and the playoff picture has become a little more clear after many of the enormous moves.

 

The Toronto Blue Jays were in a very uncomfortable position during deadline day. First-year President Mark Shapiro, and his rookie GM Ross Atkins, had the incredibly difficult task of building up a farm system while going for gold at the same time. What they ended up doing on the day does a little bit of both.

It all began with the trade for Melvin (Formerly B.J.) Upton Jr. Upton, who was acquired for mid-tier pitching prospect Hansel Rodriguez, is owed approximately $22M over the rest of this season and next, but the Jays are only on the hook for $5M of that, with the Padres paying the remainder.

The Upton move first struck me as a peculiar one. What would the Jays want with a strikeout prone outfielder when they have a dynamic trio of Saunders-Pillar-Bautista, and a great utility man, Ezequiel Carrera. Then, I realized what the Jays were doing. This move not only improves the Jays chances of winning the World Series this season, but it also acts as insurance if Bautista leaves. If he leaves, the Blue Jays can transition to Upton as a very cheap, above-average stop-gap for prospects like Anthony Alford, who currently has pole position in most Blue Jays prospect ratings.

What followed the Upton trade further confirmed my theory. The Blue Jays were going for it all in 2016 – while also building for the future.

The trades for pitchers Scott Feldman and Mike Bollsinger were both small, depth deals that act as insurance if any of the Jays pitchers get injured. Feldman is a capable long-relief type guy in the bullpen, and Bollsinger is a spot-start type who shouldn’t be relied upon for anything more. Both of these acquisitions came at a low-cost – Bollsinger for Jesse Chavez and Feldman for minor league pitcher Lupe Chavez – and offered a low reward. This was Atkins and Shapiro knowing that they were better off spending their money – and prospects – elsewhere.

Atkins and Shapiro used those savings to pull off one of the most creative and brilliant deals I can remember. They turned a depth pitcher in Drew Hutchinson, who has only pitched 12.2 innings in the big leagues this season, into two top-five organizational prospects, and a former stud in Francisco Liriano. I have to admit, I have been a huge Liriano fan since he broke through with the Twins, and could not be more excited to see what his reunion with catcher Russell Martin can do for him. Liriano and Martin were paired for two of Liriano’s best three seasons, and one has to think that reuniting them can bring back some of his old form.

The Liriano trade acts both as a win-now acquisition as well as a move for the future, as with him came two prospects from the Pirates: outfielder Harold Ramirez and catcher Reese McGuire. Ramirez is a hit-for-average outfielder who can field well, and takes over the #5 spot in the Blue Jays system. McGuire, who takes over the #4 spot, is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. The 14th overall selection in 2013, McGuire comes with high expectations, and a very low floor. At the least, he should be an excellent defensive catcher at the MLB level – maybe even as soon as next season. McGuire actually draws many comparisons to the Jays current catcher, Russell Martin, who he will be competing with, and learning from, as soon as next season.

These prospects are the real attraction for the Blue Jays at the end of the day. Liriano is a nice addition to a rotation in need of a 5th arm once Sanchez moves to the ‘pen. Liriano will also probably take over for R.A. Dickey next season, when the knuckleballer becomes a free-agent.

The Jays were handsomely rewarded for taking on the $13M remaining on Liriano’s deal. Because of the expiring deals of Encarnacion, Bautista, Saunders, and Dickey, they actually had more flexibility when adding to the 2017 payroll, and they used that to their advantage with the Upton and Liriano trades.

The trades solved a few problems for the Blue Jays, not only heading into the stretch-run, but also into next season. Upton and Ramirez are contingency plans for Bautista’s – and possibly Saunders’ as well – departure, adding to the outfield depth the Jays already had with Alford and Dalton Pompey waiting in the wings. Liriano is best-case a nice mid-rotation piece, and worst-case a cheap innings eater at the back of the rotation. Bollsinger and Feldman bolster the stable in the bullpen and minor leagues. And the prize piece of them all, McGuire, becomes the Blue Jays catcher of the future.

If you expand the sample size, you will see the Blue Jays have actually been planning for the departure of Encarnacion and Bautista for a while. Alex Anthopoulus, the team’s former beloved GM, saw the opportunity of a lifetime to pair the stars he had on short-term bargain deals with stars who were controlled for many more years. This started with the trade for Josh Donaldson, who has become the heir-apparent for Bautista as Face-of-the-Franchise, if he hasn’t already surpassed him. The same logic was used in the trade for Troy Tulowitzki during last seasons deadline.

The Blue Jays have been preparing for this winter – October included – for years now. The deadline was only the continuation of a process that has been years in the works. The fruits of the trio of Anthopoulus, Atkins, and Shapiro’s labour are just beginning to show.

What are your thoughts on the Jays deadline moves? Is moving Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen the right thing to do? Remember to join the discussion and comment your thoughts in the comments section!

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