What to Do?
Currently, the Blue Jays sit at 43-43, right at .500. It's been an interesting season so far, with the pitching being quite good considering the loss of franchise player Roy Halladay, the hitting being alternately surprisingly powerful and horrifically impotent, and bittersweet in that Jays' fans got to watch the aforementioned Halladay pitch an incredible perfect game (completing a story he started for the Jays in just his second ever major-league start) , dominate the Jays with his new team, and reinvigorate their farm system. A year after it became clear to Jays fans that Halladay would be gone, Doc still casts quite a shadow over the team.
That's not to take away from the accomplishments of the current team. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, the Blue Jays were playing some very fine baseball and were well over .500, though still not really within sniffing distance of the top in the ultra-competitive AL East. Its .500 Pythagorean record suggests that the team has played about as well its results indicate, and while June was not kind to the Jays' batsmen (.660 team OPS for the month), the team's pitching has remained steady. One number that has not been favourable is attendance - the Jays sit at 13th out of 14 AL teams, a testament to a team that, in the public eye, essentially wrote off 2010 before the season ever started.
While, up until a few weeks ago, going into the trade deadline as a buyer seemed like a possible, albeit unlikely option, that's no longer the case. The Jays currently sit 9.5 games out of the wild card and 11.5 out of first. While there is certainly room for improvement, particularly at designated hitter, second base, and first base, two of those positions are occupied by Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, who had huge seasons in 2009 and who were both locked up to long-term deals. I don't see the Jays messing with either one, unless someone bowls them over in a trade for Hill, which is unlikely given his performance thusfar this season. The Jays would be selling extremely low with either one and I don't see it happening. With little chance of competing this year, the Jays will sit back, wait, and hope that Lind and Hill snap out of it. While upgrading at first is possible, with Brett Wallace on the farm, I don't see the Jays making a big splash at first base either, even if they were to find a taker for Lyle Overbay.
A fifth starter and some bullpen arms would also be helpful to the Jays in their current situation. However, with their pitching depth in the minors and a few arms on the comeback trail in Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski, I don't see the Jays being willing to cough up what it would take to get a starter who was better than what the Jays already have. Similarly, while the bullpen has been a problem for the Jays, they aren't likely to do much other than continue to shuffle around the arms that they already have. It's very hard to argue with that line of thinking - the last thing I'd want the Jays to do is to give up a promising young player to get a bullpen arm who will pitch at most 40 or so innings down the stretch. Whatever the Jays do, don't expect them to give up much in the way of top prospects unless they are getting even better young players in return.
On the selling side, there are a ton of players the Jays should be willing to deal, but that doesn't mean any of them will get dealt.
Hill is signed to a team-friendly deal and had a monster season last year. However, his offensive numbers are awful this year and the defensive metrics no longer unanimously consider him an elite defensive second baseman. With Brad Emaus raking in the minors and steady with the glove, perhaps now would be a good time to deal Hill for some good young players.
The only problem with this scenario is that if you expect Hill to perform better than he has, he's at the bottom of his trade value. Aaron has been better with the bat recently and there's a chance his defense has been hurt by the injury he sustained earlier this season. Hill has shown better plate discipline so if he can put together his 2010 approach and his 2009 batted ball stats, he could even be better than he was last season. While UZR has never been a huge fan of Hill's and certainly wasn't last year, both Defensive Runs Saved and Total Zone thought his 2009 was superb defensively and have him as about average this season. I don't expect 36 home runs this season, but dealing Hill now would likely be trading low. Still, it could be worth a shot.
Jose Bautista has been a surprisingly effective performer for the Jays this season. He has shown heretofore undemonstrated pop and is currently leading the league in home runs (21) and, unlike other Jays, has solid on-base numbers as well (.360 OBP). He's under team control next year, is cheap, and could be the Jays best option as an everyday third baseman (though Emaus could potentially fill that role as well.) He's been an everyday player before, but in the past few years he's been a utility guy and this season he has definitely shined returning to the everyday role. If you think we've seen the best of Bautista, it could be a good idea to move him now for max value.
That said, the bloom has perhaps already started to come off Bautista's rose. Jose hit .179/.324/.369 in June, with as many walks as hits, though more recently he's looked a bit better at the plate. He has always been a poor defender at third base (-10.2 UZR/150 there over his career, -9 total zone/150, -12 Defensive Runs Saved/yr are all almost perfectly in unison that he is about 1 win below average with the glove over a full season) so he has to hit to be effective and I'm not sure he'll hit enough to merit a corner spot on a contending team. He's a great player to have off the bench and he might be the best option the Jays have at third, but I'm not sure that gives him huge trade value. A team looking at him might see a guy who had one monster month (his April was only average and basically in line with career norms, and June has been awful). While I don't doubt that Jose will end up with a career year, his stats the rest of the way might not be out of line with career norms, which could turn teams away.
The Jays would love to trade Edwin and the money he's still owed, but I don't see a ton of value here. He's shown power (mostly over one week or so) and an ability to draw a walk which has made his OPS not horrible (.734) and the defensive numbers actually look pretty decent so maybe some of bench coach and defensive guru Brian Butterfield's magic dust is working (though with a colossal small sample size alert and huge caveat that he has historically been an awful defender at third), but he made $5 million this year and his struggles with the glove are well-documented. The Jays might find a taker if they foot most of the bill, but I still don't see a ton coming back.
Lyle Overbay is another player the Jays are surely looking to deal at the deadline. You basically know what you get with Lyle and he's been much better recently (.870 OPS in June) but his overall numbers still look tepid, he makes good money, and he's likely in decline. While I could see a contender with a weakness at first base (e.g. the Angels) taking a look at him, I'm not sure what we could get in return. With Brett Wallace hitting pretty well at AAA (though currently sidelined with a wrist injury), it might be time to move Lyle for what the Jays can get and install Wallace at first base.
Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil
While any team right in the head would love to get their paws on one of the Jays three young, cost-controlled and effective starters, they are just too valuable to a team like the Jays, even with the depth in the system. I think the Jays would have to be very impressed with the return to consider dealing Marcum, the oldest. Marcum has recovered fantastically from ligament replacement surgery this season but is currently sidelined with some inflammation in his pitching elbow. His delivery puts a lot of strain on his arm so the Jays might be looking to move the risk somewhere else and cash in on what has been a very impressive season, and short career, for the right hander. Moreover, Marcum has been a stalwart for the Jays and a comparative veteran on a very young staff, often pitching his best coming off a tough loss. That makes him even more valuable to the team.
Romero is having a stellar sophomore season and looks to be a centerpiece going forward. I don't see him going anywhere. As for Cecil, he's generally been quite good. While the Jays could deal Cecil given the long-term pitching depth they possess, they'd have to be very impressed with what was coming back.
Wells has really bounced back this season, both at the plate and in the field, and most teams would love to have him patrolling centre, but not at that deal. AA shouldn't waste too much oxygen trying to deal VW, and we won't spill much virtual ink talking about it.
Scott Downs, Shawn Camp, Brian Tallet, Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor
Any of these arms should have some value, but it's hard to say how much. Frasor has been poor this season after an excellent 2009, Tallet has been hurt and exposed pitching out of the starting rotation, and Gregg has been shaky but has gotten the job done. Camp has been the beneficiary of good luck/defense, with a FIP 2 runs higher (and xFIP a run and a half higher) than his ERA, but he has been steady for a few seasons now. Still, his tepid strikeout numbers don't really scream late-inning reliever.
To me, Downs is the real prize of this group as he is enjoying another fine season - 3.63 K/BB, 3.16 FIP (2.75 ERA - with his usual excellent ground ball numbers (almost two ground balls per fly ball). Downs is tough on both lefties and righties and has been doing this act for a while now, so there's really little cause for concern other than what accompanies any reliever. The only hitch is that Downs is likely to be a Type A free agent this offseason and so it's not clear the Jays would be able to get back talent that would be greater than the compensation they could otherwise receive.
Gregg might also be attractive to a team looking to capitalize not only on his performance for this season but his potential Type A status going in to next season, but that's hardly a sure thing given how Type A free agent relievers have fared on the market in the past.
Here's an interesting piece. Buck is hitting for a ton of power but nothing else is too out of whack with his career numbers, which are generally poor. The Jays could look to deal Buck and replace him with Jose Molina and/or J.P. Arencibia, who to me is looking more and more like a finished, if imperfect, product. I don't know what the Jays would get back for Buck, and the Jays might wait to pull the trigger, not wanting to replace a veteran catcher with a young one so early in the season, but I could definitely see him being dealt and Molina and Arencibia splitting the job, with the idea that Arencibia could start next season and Molina (or someone else) could serve as his backup.
Seabass has been quite good for the Jays so far this season (.335 wOBA, with rock steady defense) and he has been traded midseason in the past, so it's easy to see how this might go down. He did a great job for the Red Sox down the stretch last season so you could see another team trying to duplicate that success.
At the same time, the Jays may want to hang on to Gonzalez as he has a team-friendly option next season and the Jays really have no one ready to take his place at shortstop. Alternatively, if the Jays get a really good offer, they may accept it and hope they can bring Gonzalez back over the offseason.
What the Jays Would Want in Return
What the Jays need is pretty clear - position players who can hit. Their system is stocked with pitching and the starters who don't make it are likely to be effective relievers. Though the Jays clearly love stockpiling pitching, their first request will be for position players.
While the Jays have been in this very situation many times in the past, and have been relatively quiet, there's reasons to think this season might be different. Anthopolous is not afraid to make a splash and the Jays have made no secret that this season is a rebuilding one. Being pretty good just doesn't cut it in the AL East, so risks need to be taken.
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