What can we gather from all of these transactions? The Blue Jays have switched lanes from the middle, to the fast-paced left lane. The Blue Jays have positioned themselves to be the new player in the AL East, joining the Yankees, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox. Wait, isn't that every team in the AL East? Yep, you got that right. The Blue Jays haven't made the playoffs since 1993, the longest drought in the AL East. More importantly, the team has finished fourth out of fifth in the division in each of the last 5 seasons. The organization thought they had it figured out with J.P. Ricciardi at the helm, but it fell apart, and the team moved on to Alex Anthopoulos. Anthopoulos changed the way the team did business. He built up their international scouting department, changed the way they drafted players, traded off top MLB players for heaps of young prospects, and lowered the team's payroll by 25%.
Last season the Jays had some bright spots and some sore ones. They saw their entire starting pitching staff collapse, including the usually solid Rickey Romero. Hitting wise, things were somewhat more improved. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion showed great power strokes, along with solid contributions from Rajai Davis and rookie Brett Lawrie. Anthopoulos, and his entire front office, knew they had specific areas in which they needed to improve in order to compete with the likes of the Yankees and the Rays. Signing Izturis, trading for Reyes, Johnson, and Buehrle, and signing Melky Cabrera fill a lot of holes, but I don't think the Blue Jays are done. According to sources like Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Jays want to continue to upgrade their starting pitching. If reports like Rosenthal's are correct, and I think they are, the Jays need to look either at the free agent market or look to make another trade to acquire help in their starting rotation.
Free agent wise, the Jays have some options. Even though their payroll recently rose, the team can afford to take on more money because they have one of the richest owners in Baseball, and are making the push to win now. The best options out there are Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, and Dan Haren. Both have issues. Sanchez is looking for $100 million deal, and although his stats have been consistently good, I'm not sure he's worth that much money. Jackson is looking to return to the Nationals, but if the Blue Jays are willing to give the nomadic Jackson a multi-year deal, it might entice him to sign with the team to the north. Lohse might fit in Toronto, but, given the market for pitching, his asking price is inflated, and the Blue Jays may be spending money right now, but since AA became the GM, they spend money judiciously, not superfluously. The most interesting free agent possibility is Haren, but my guess is the Blue Jays want more of a "sure thing" than Haren, but I wouldn't count this out as a possibility.
If not free agency, then why not a trade? The Blue Jays aren't averse to making trades, evidenced by their recent acquisition of almost the entire Marlins 2012 starting lineup. I searched through teams that are in need of something the Blue Jays are willing to trade. Toronto has a stockpile of catchers. J.P. Arencibia, John Buck, and Travis D'arnaud are all trade possibilities, but the issue is finding a team in need of a catcher. The one team that desperately needs an upgrade behind the plate is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have an abundance of young talented pitching, which is exactly what the Blue Jays are looking for. Here's the problem, this trade will never happen.
Just for the fun of it, let's look at what a trade between the Jays and Rays would look like. The Rays current backstop is Jose Molina, brother of Bengie and Yadier. The Rays owe him $1.5 million for 2013, after which he is set to become a free agent. Molina has never been able to combine hitting success with more than 100 games played in a season, but has proven his worth in gold behind the plate. Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh wrote about how many runs Molina has possibly saved with his play behind the plate. In the end, the Jays would love to platoon a better hitting catcher with Molina, and more importantly, find a catcher for the future, one that hits well and fields well.
Despite trading away top prospects like Adieny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick to the Marlins, the Jays still have lots of young talent. Last year, J.P. Arencibia and former Jay Jeff Mathis platooned to combine for 2.1 fWAR for Toronto. Neither was a hitting wizard, but Arencibia provided some power hitting 18 home runs, while Mathis showed replacement level hitting stats. Mathis went to Miami in the aforementioned mega-deal, but the Blue Jays acquired former Marlins catcher John Buck. Buck put up a 1.2 fWAR last season providing his value through his ability to walk, and some solid defense. The Rays don't need a defensively minded catcher, so the obvious choice here has to be Arencibia. He hits for power at a young age, and if he can cut down on his strikeouts, might prove to be a solid all-around hitter in the future. On the other hand, the Rays are not going to trade a pitcher like Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, or Jeff Niemann for J.P. Arencibia. The Rays are all about arbitrage, and an Arencibia for Hellickson deal would be a net loss for the Rays.
A trade of Jeremy Hellickson for D'arnaud would work well for both sides. Hellickson is under contract for cheap in 2013. He'll be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2014, making him most likely affordable for the next 4 seasons. The Blue Jays could also make him a contract extension offer that would cover his arbitration years. Due to D'arnaud's significant upside the Blue Jays would want to lock up any pitcher they received for their top catching prospect. The Rays would lose a proven young pitcher, but they have a number of young pitchers, some proven, some unproven. The Rays would have a young catcher who could start 75 games for them next season, learn from Jose Molina, and get used to MLB pitching. If he shows sparks of greatness the team could perform their favorite magic trick; the one where the Rays lock up a great young player for cheap early in their career (See Evan Longoria and Matt Moore's contracts for more information).
Another possible trade would be Travis D'arnaud and Rajai Davis for Matt Moore. Moore already has a very team friendly contract, and has shown his talent, as well as his ability to improve on the go. Because Moore has a higher upside, and has a very team friendly contract, the Rays might want a little more from the Jays in exchange for Moore. Rajai Davis is owed $2.5 million next season, a very reasonable price tag, even for the Rays, and he projects to steal 40+ bases next season while playing above average defense (according to Baseball Prospectus' projections for 2013). He could assist the Rays in the outfield, especially with the loss of B.J. Upton to free agency, and as a proven MLB player, he would better justify trading Matt Moore for a prospect who hasn't caught one inning in the majors.
More than personel fits, this is a trade between two teams that need to make acquisitions like these in order to compete. Neither team plays in a huge market, and thus cannot attract top tier free agents. This means that trades are great ways to acquire talent. So, let's see what the Blue Jays rotation would look like was the team to deal D'arnaud for a Ray pitcher.
|Rays Lefty Matt Moore|
Both of those rotations are formidable, even in the AL East.
A deal between the Rays and Blue Jays would help both teams, solidifying the Jays starting rotation, and giving the Rays a catcher of the future. Oh, but just in case you forgot, it'll never happen. Neither team wants to help the other, even if it means getting exactly what they want. Instead, the Jays will probably sign a free agent pitcher like Dan Haren, and the Rays will look to pursue players like Justin Upton or Josh Willingham. It's too bad, but it is reality.