The Toronto Blue Jays had arguably the best trade deadline in MLB this year, and probably pulled off the best trade early in the previous off season as well. As a result of these moves, they won the AL East, went on to the playoffs, and were beaten by the world champion Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. The organization did what they had to do to win.
But were all these moves really worth it? They didn’t accomplish their ultimate goal of winning the World Series in the first year, but there’s always next year….right?
The Blue Jays will likely be good next year, and may even be among the best offensive teams in the league again, but will that success last long term? Did they give up too much in the trades?
It’s a question that’s been in the back of my mind since the deadline. When the news came out the Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos would not be returning, and possibly due to a disagreement about trades with new Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, my curiosity was piqued again. Just how much did the Blue Jays give up?
First, I am in no way an expert on the Blue Jays or their farm system. Also, I am not someone who believes you can judge a trade immediately after it happens. What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate well to what’s actually happening on the field.
Some trades initially do look better than others right away, and the trade that brought third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto is one of those. The Blue Jays sent four players (3B Brett Lawrie, LHP Sean Nolin, RHP Kendall Graveman, and SS Franklin Barreto) to Oakland in exchange for Donaldson. Lawrie himself is a decent third baseman (he also played some second base this season), and has roughly the same amount of MLB experience as Donaldson (5 years, 494 games to Donaldson’s 5 years 5 years, 563 games). Offensively and defensively, Donaldson is the better overall player, although Lawrie (26 in January) is about four years younger than Donaldson (30 in December). Still, a straight Lawrie-for-Donaldson trade wouldn’t be fair, but the four player package was enough for Oakland to give up the 2015 A.L. MVP.
Both young pitchers (in December, Nolin will be 26 and Graveman 25) pitched at the major league level with mediocre results. Nolin (the Blue Jays’ former #11 prospect) appeared in just 2 games and finished with a .333 ERA while Graveman appeared in 21 games and totaled a 6-9 record with a 4.00 ERA. Barreto is just 19 and spent the season at level A, but still talented enough he was the #8 Toronto prospect before the trade.
Toronto’s smallest trade deadline moves occurred on the July 31 trade deadline. One move brought Mariner’s RHP Mark Lowe to Toronto in exchange for three young LHP: Rob Rassmussen (26), Jacob Brentz (20), and Nick Wells (20). Brentz and Wells both pitched at level A. Rasmussen did pitch at the major league level for both Toronto and Seattle, although with disappointing results. In just four days on the major league roster with the Blue Jays, he appeared in just one game and pitched only one inning. In Seattle, he pitched 14.1 innings with a 2-1 record over 19 games and an unfortunate 10.67 ERA and 2.302 WHIP. That alone makes the acquisition of Lowe all the better, especially considering Lowe carried at 1.00 ERA and 1.167 WHIP over 36.0 innings in 34 games in Seattle. In Lowe’s 23 games and 19.0 IP with Toronto, his ERA rose 3.79 while WHIP dropped to 0.842. Lowe was signed to a minor league deal before the 2015 season, and is now a 32 year old free agent.
Another small move occurred on the deadline day between Toronto and Philadelphia. The Phillies received two young RHP pitchers (Jimmy Cordero, 24, and Alberto Tirado, 20) from the Blue Jays, who received LF Ben Revere in return. Cordero and Tirado both pitched at the minor league level for Philly (Cordero AAA and Tirado A), and could work out well for a team trying to get rid of bad contracts and rebuild. Prior to the trade, Tirado was ranked as Toronto’s #15 prospect. In Toronto, Revere’s stats actually improved. With Philly, Revere was batting .334 with 109 hits and 1 HR over 96 games. After the move to Toronto, his already solid average went up slightly to .354 with another HR in the 56 games he played with the Blue Jays. Revere is under contract through the 2018 season.
One day earlier, the Blue Jays pulled off one of their biggest trades when they acquired LHP David Price from the Detroit Tigers for a package of three LHP. Overall, David Price had a very successful 2015 despite being traded for the second time in his career. His stats before and after the trade are very similar, although slightly better in Toronto. One of the pitchers acquired by Detroit, Toronto’s former #16 prospect Jairo Labourt, spent the 2015 season at level A. Matt Boyd pitched for both the Blue Jays and Tigers, and although his numbers are not overly impressive, he did show signs of improvement after the trade. With Toronto, Boyd pitched in just two games (both starts), lasting only a combined 6.2IP with a 14.85 ERA and 0-2 record. However, in Detroit, Boyd pitched in 11 games (10 starts) with 50.2 IP, a 1-4 record and 6.57 ERA. Blue Jays former #1 prospect, Daniel Norris, was the third player sent to Detroit and the most consistent before and after the trade. In 5 games for Toronto, Norris recorded 23.1 IP with a 1-1 record and 3.86 ERA. For Detroit, he threw 36.2 IP over 8 games, with a 2-1 record and 3.68 ERA.
The other big trade, and the most interesting to me, happened three days before the deadline when the Blue Jays sent three RHP and SS Jose Reyes to the Colorado Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins. Anthopoulos had asked the Rockies about Tulowitzki several times before the season (likely around the same time he made the move for Donaldson) but the right trade didn’t present itself until July.
Overall, Tulowitzki had a decent 2015 season although his .300 BA and .348 OBP dropped to .239 and .317 after the trade. Hawkins also had similar numbers with both teams, with his ERA improving from 3.63 to 2.76. Tulowitzki, who has a history of often being injured, is currently 31 years old and does not become a free agent until 2021. Hawkins will turn 43 years old later this year and become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.
Undoubtedly, the Blue Jays strengthened the left side of their infield and improved two spots in their lineup with the additions of Donaldson and Tulowitzki.
But the Rockies are excited about all three of the young pitchers, and appear to be interested in developing pitching specific to their ballpark. The youngest of the three, Jesus Tinoco (20), spent the 2015 season at level A in both the Blue Jays and Rockies systems, with his new team hoping to develop him into a back end starter.
RHP Miguel Castro was ranked as Toronto’s #5 prospect, and has dropped to the #10 prospect in the Rockies organization after the trade. Although he had limited experience – 13 games for the Blue Jays, 5 games for the Rockies, and a combined 17.2 IP – the Rockies expect him to work as a relief pitcher. He had an 0-2 record and 4.38 ERA and recorded 4 saves for the Blue Jays. However, the Rockies and Castro have some work to do before he can be a reliable arm out of the bullpen. After the trade, Castro had an 0-1 record with a disappointing 10.38 ERA.
The third pitcher sent to Colorado, and the “key” to the trade, was RHP Jeff Hoffman, who himself has an interesting story. I’ve heard about Hoffman since he was drafted in 2014 out of East Carolina University. My brother (@MichaelPrunka) is a local sports reporter and attended ECU at the same time as Hoffman, and was very excited to see someone he had reported about drafted 9th overall with a $3.1 million signing bonus. He recalls multiple scouts visiting ECU to see Hoffman pitch, including Cubs GM Theo Epstein (the Cubs drafted 4th and chose Kyle Schwarber).
In his three years at ECU, Hoffman’s ERA dropped from 3.67 to 2.94. During his sophomore season (2013), he threw more innings (109 2/3) than any other ECU pitcher. It was expected Hoffman would be one of the top three draft picks in 2014 before his season ended prematurely when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Even post-surgery, he was still drafted 9th overall and did not make his professional debut in until this past May. After 11 starts at Advanced A, he was promoted to AA, and is expected to make his MLB debut sometime in 2016. Some expect him to be an average mid-rotation starter, while others predict he is a future ace. While the Rockies are excited for all three of these pitchers, but it’s Hoffman at the top of their list for the team’s future.
Without a doubt, the Blue Jays had a much better team after the trade deadline than they did before. They acquired three pitchers, a shortstop, third baseman, and a left fielder to improve their team – and it worked, despite falling just short of making it to the World Series.
But to acquire these six players, the Blue Jays lost a total of 13 pitchers, 2 shortstops and 1 third baseman – including six of their top 20 prospects. Two of the pitchers acquired (David Price and Mark Lowe) are now free agents. Just before the off season, Mark Buerhle announced his retirement, and starter R.A. Dickey is 41 years old (although expected to pitch again next season). That leaves the Blue Jays rotation two pitchers short.
The Blue Jays already had the #1 offense in all of baseball, but were only 23rd in pitching. Their offense should be great again next season – Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both signed through next year, Donaldson and Russell Martin is signed through 2019, and Tulowitzki through 2021. But as the saying goes, you can’t predict baseball. Bautista is 35 years old now. The often injured Tulowitzki is another year older (31) and is playing on artificial turf for at least the foreseeable future. With a few slumps or injuries, their power offense could suffer.
Baseball fans may never really know why Alex Anthopoulos decided to leave the Blue Jays, but the theory of a disagreement between him and Mark Shapiro is not that unimaginable.
“Shapiro, a brilliant man who normally chooses his words precisely, at one point was said to have discussed the lack of top prospects at the upper levels and the need to replenish the coffers following the big, season-altering trades, and Anthopoulos apparently took that as a slap.” – CBS’ Jon Heyman
I’ve heard a lot about Mark Shapiro during the time he worked for my hometown Cleveland Indians. While he doesn’t have a ring to show for his years in Cleveland, I respect the work he did. If he did express concern over trading so many prospects…I really can’t blame him.
Someone asked me if I was worried about the Blue Jays just after the trade deadline when they added Price and Tulowitzki. At the time I said I wasn’t, but would be if they had added more pitching. They may have finished the season 6 games ahead of the Yankees and won the division, but they also have two empty spots in their rotation, and no pitchers on the horizon. None of their top pitching prospects are expected to be MLB ready until 2017.
There is a certain amount of caution when considering prospects. The jump from the minor leagues to the majors is significant, and there’s really no way of knowing how each player will handle it if/when they get there. Of course, there is also free agency or trades to fill the needs of a ball club. While I don’t see the Blue Jays and Mark Shapiro spending big money on free agents or making more big trades, they may not have any other option.
The Blue Jays certainly had an exciting trade deadline, and second half of the season, but they certainly have more work to this offseason. It will be interesting to see how the team will proceed with a new team president, and a newly departed GM.
Only time will tell if these trades were worth it in the long run. Would you have made these moves?
I don’t think I would have.
Toronto Blue Jays Top 20 prospects (pitchers), July 27, 2014 (after draft signing deadline):
1. Daniel Norris (LHP) – traded to Detroit for David Price
2. Aaron Sanchez (RHP) – MLB debut 2015
3. Dalton Pompey (OF)
4. Jeff Hoffman (RHP) – traded to Colorado for Tulowitzki & Hawkins
5. Robert Osuna (RHP) – MLB debut 2015
6. Max Pentecost (C)
7. Mitch Nay (3B)
8. Franklin Barreto (SS) – traded to Oakland for Josh Donaldson
9. D.J. Davis (OF)
10. Sean Reid-Foley (RHP) – ETA 2018
11. Sean Nolin (LHP) – traded to Oakland for Josh Donaldson
12. Dawel Lugo (SS)
13. Matt Dean (1B)
14. A.J. Jimenez (C)
15. Alberto Tirado (RHP) – traded to Philly for Ben Revere
16. Jairo Labourt (LHP) – traded to Detroit for David Price
17. John Stilson (RHP)
18. Chase De Jong (RHP)
19. Richard Urena (SS),
20. Matthew Smoral (LHP) – ETA 2017
Current Blue Jays prospect rankings:
1. Jonathan Harris (RHP) – ETA 2018
2. Anthony Alford (OF)
3. Sean Reid-Foley (RHP) – ETA 2018
4. Max Pentecost (C)
5. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr (OF)
6. Richard Urena (SS)
7. Rowdy Tellez (1B)
8. Conner Greene (RHP) – ETA 2017
9. Mitch Nay (3B)
10. Ryan Borucki (LHP) – ETA 2018
11. D.J. Davis (OF)
12. Clinton Hollon (RHP) – ETA 2019
13. Dwight Smit (OF)
14.Dan Jansen (C)
15. Justin Maese (RHP) – ETA 2019
16. Matt Smoral (LHP) – ETA 2017
17. Matt Dean (1B)
18. Tom Robson (RHP) – ETA 2018
19. Lane Thomas (2B)
20. Carl Wide (3B)