The Toronto Blue Jays entered the season as a team poised to contend for AL East division crown and a popular pick to secure one of the two wildcards spots. The optimism for the Jays has quickly faded after winning just three of their first fourteen games. A rocky start combined with a litany of injuries, including DL stints for star third baseman Josh Donaldson and top starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ, has left the team north of the border with limited hope for rebounding from their early season struggles. With several players set to reach free agency after the season and the competitive nature of the AL East, the Blue Jays should swallow their pride and retool for the next few seasons by being sellers at the trade deadline this summer.
A side note before we begin… There is reason to believe that the new CBA agreement could have a detrimental effect on the amount of trades that are executed at this year’s deadline. For one, the heavier luxury tax penalties for teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold will make buyers less inclined to take on large contracts at the deadline. These harsher penalties will make buyers less motivated to take on lucrative contracts, but it will also hurt sellers as they will not have as many possible trade partners. Unfortunately for teams trying to sell at this years deadline, the teams that are normally the most active at the deadline — Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers — all do not have the payroll flexibility to take on another contract unless they are willing to suffer the luxury tax penalties. As a result, the Blue Jays may find themselves between a rock and a hard place this deadline with no teams willing to offer the prospects that could expedite their rebuild and no shot at contending for a playoff spot. With all the stipulations on the table, here a few possible pieces the Blue Jays should trade and the packages they can expect to net in return.
Troy Tulowitzki (SS) – Free Agent in 2020
Tulo is owed 58 million over the next four years so finding a trade partner with the financial flexibility to take on his contact will be tough to come by at the deadline. The projected contenders are also all pretty set at shortstop so there may not be a need to begin with. Add all of this to the fact that Tulo’s performance is in steady decline and it will be nearly impossible to get rid of him. If GM Ross Atkins is somehow able to deal Tulo to a team that would be willing to take on some of his contract, he should do so eagerly. There is simply no room on a rebuilding team for an overpaid, injury-prone, shortstop who is on the wrong side of 30.
Possibility of Being Traded: 20%
Potential Suitors: Miami Marlins
Josh Donaldson (3B) – Free Agent After 2018 Season
If the Blue Jays continue to struggle, Josh Donaldson will be the biggest name to hit the trade block come July. Similar to Andrew Miller last season, Donaldson could offer a year and a half of production for a team that decides to trade for him, which significantly raises his value compared to a player that will reach free agency this offseason. While Donaldson has caught the injury bug with a calf injury that should put him on the shelf for the next two to four weeks, he has been historically good during his tenure with Toronto and the Blue Jays can be expected to net several elite prospects in return for his services. No position player of Josh Donaldson’s caliber has been dealt in recent years, so it is hard to find a comparison that could give us an idea of what the Blue Jays can expect to receive in return if they chose to deal the star third baseman, but you can bet that it would be a lot.
Possibility of Being Traded: 25%
Potential Suitors: Giants, Red Sox, Yankees, Mets
Jose Bautista (OF) – Free Agent After 2017 (Mutual Option after 2018, Vesting Option for 2019)
Jose Bautista is off to a rough start, which does not bode well for the Blue Jays prospects of dealing the aging, controversial, defensively inept outfielder. Bautista’s defensive decline makes him much more suitable for an AL team that could use him at DH, which cuts the amount of potential trade partners in half. As this offseason showed, teams are also less willing to sign a player who has alienated so many fan bases with his controversial antics over the past few seasons. Getting rid of Bautista would also clear the way for top prospect Rowdy Tellez to emerge as the clubs DH option for the rest of the season and into 2018. If Bautista continues to struggle, the Blue Jays should deal him even if they are selling low. There is no sense in paying Bautista upwards of 18 million in his age 38 season if the Blue Jays are not expected to contend.
Possibility of Being Traded: 30%
Possible Suitors: Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, Astros
**(The Orioles and Rangers would make sense as trade partners if it wasn’t for Dan Duquette’s offseason comments claiming that Orioles fans would not welcome Bautista and the outfielders scuffle with Rougned Odor of the Rangers last season).
Russell Martin (C) – Free Agent After 2020
Russell Martin signed a 5 year, 82 million dollar contract that is extremely backloaded prior to the 2015 season. With 60 million remaining on Martin’s contract and his struggles in the early going, it will be nearly impossible to execute a trade involving Martin unless he picks up his performance. With that said, Martin has been one the most reliable backstops in the MLB over the last decade and if he is able to be adequate offensively, he could be a huge asset for a contender at the deadline. The Blue Jays would surely have to eat a lot of Martin’s contract, but if he is able to garner even half of what the Rangers gave up for Lucroy’s services last deadline, the Blue Jays would be wise to let him go. The Blue Jays have #12 prospect Max Pentecost and #13 prospect Reese McGuire waiting in the wings to become the catcher of the future, so Toronto would have young, viable replacements to insert in the catching role if they decide to part ways with Martin. It could be argued that the Blue Jays should keep Martin around to groom their young starting pitchers, but if they are able to get a decent return from Martin, they would be wise to pull the trigger.
Possibility of Being Traded: 35%
Possible Suitors: Red Sox, Mets, Indians
J.A. Happ (LHP) – Free Agent After 2017
J.A. Happ has quietly been one of the best starting pitchers in the American League over the past 18 months, but his age (34 years old) his looming free agency, and his recent injury make him much less tradeable. If Happ does not rebound from injury to regain his pre-trade form, the Blue Jays should not deal him for pennis on the dollar as they could easily re-sign him in the offseason. However, if Happ pitches post-injury the way he did before getting hurt, the Jays could swap a valued left hander that has no place in their future outlook for prospects that could aid in their rebuilding effort. Solid rotation pieces are always a hot commodity around the deadline, so it is no surprise that given Happ’s manageable contract of 13 million and the array of teams that could use starting pitching depth, he has a higher number of potential suitors that the aforementioned position players.
Possibility of Being Traded: 40%
Possible Suitors: Giants, Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, Yankees, Indians, Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Orioles
Marco Estrada (RHP) – Free Agent After 2017
You can take pretty much everything I said about Happ and apply it to Estrada (33 year old middle-of-the-rotation starter , 14.5 million dollar contract, multiple teams having starting rotation needs, etc.). Estrada has been slightly less effective than Happ over the last few seasons, but he does not have the early season injury concerns. Those two factors are probably a wash, giving Estrada roughly the same chance of being dealt as his rotation partner.
Possibility of Being Traded: 40%
Possible Suitors: See J.A. Happ
Francisco Liriano (LHP) – Free Agent After 2017
There are not many starting pitchers as volatile as Liriano. If his drastic turnaround after being dealt from the Pirates to the Blue Jays last offseason is any indication, it is clear that Liriano can go from being borderline unstartable to a top-of-the-rotation arm rather at the drop of a hat. Teams may also be concerned about Liriano’s lack of success when catchers not named Russel Martin are catching him. In the 43 games that Liriano has started with Martin behind the dish, he has a 2.93 ERA, but when Martin is not catching Liriano, he has been significantly worse. Ultimately, the Blue Jays have no reason to keep Liriano around if they are not in contention, so like Happ and Estrada, it may be in Toronto’s best interest to get whatever they can in exchange for the southpaw’s services.
Possibility of Being Traded: 45%
Potential Trade Partners: See J.A. Happ & Marco Estrada