This week marked the passing of the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline. With the Blue Jays a year removed from the trade deadline to end all trade deadlines, this season’s transactional activity lacked the same excitement as 2015. While this year’s moves may not be as sexy, that doesn’t mean the Blue Jays’ front office did nothing to improve their already strong ball club.
Lost in this year’s trade analysis however, were many of the intangible improvements the Blue Jays made at this year’s deadline, which, according to Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, are key ingredients in the championship elixir. With this in mind, here is an assessment of the under-reported upgrades that the Blue Jays did and didn’t make at the 2016 deadline.
Melvin Upton and AL East Experience
While many note that Upton amounts to a solid depth acquisition – a defensive replacement who can hit against left-handed pitching and play all three outfield positions, they are underselling one important part of Upton’s portfolio: AL East Experience. Long heralded as baseball’s toughest division, the AL East is presumed in a class of its own when it comes to the caliber of competition (although this can not be verified numerically in recent years).
While Upton may not be able to overtake Michael Saunders or Kevin Pillar in terms of playing time, he will be able to tell you the name of a great steakhouse in Baltimore or the best park to take your wife and kids to near Yankee Stadium. These kinds of intangibles are crucial to any team with its sights set on a division championship or just enjoys eating well on the road.
Bearded Swingman Scott Feldman
While the Blue Jays were rumored to be in on many of the starting pitchers available, the Scott Feldman acquisition came as a surprise. Feldman, however, provides valuable beard depth on a team that may lose two of its more elite beards (Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders) to free agency this off season.
Despite possessing a strong crop of young pitchers in Roberto Osuna, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Sanchez, none of the youngsters have demonstrated the ability to grow the facial hair the team may need come 2017. Aside from his ability to pitch in both the rotation and the bullpen, Feldman has long possessed an 80-grade beard that could slot in nicely as the replacement for either Bautista or Saunders, should the team not be able to re-sign them. The Jays were unable to add anyone that could offset the potential loss of Edwin Encarnacion’s chinstrap, however.
Jays Install a Safety Railing in Russell Martin’s Shower
Catching depth is one of the scarcest commodities in the Major Leagues. Very few teams are lucky enough to have one high-quality player behind the plate let alone two. This is why one of the Blue Jays’ small but important moves at the deadline was to install a safety railing in Russell Martin’s shower.
The Jays realize that protecting Martin, who was forced to miss a handful of games in mid-July (due to a sauna-induced slip in in the shower) needed to be a top priority for the club. The cost of the installation is said to be a fraction of what the Blue Jays would pay to keep Eric Kratz on the Major League roster and the team was able to get a great deal on a contractor because Jason Grilli knew a guy.
Jays Exercise Restraint and Don’t Trade Jose Bautista to the Nationals
Jose Bautista, who’s contract expires after the World Series, may be nearing the end of his Blue Jays’ tenure if management decides they don’t want to pay what it will cost to keep him into his early 40s.
This uncertainty led to the circulation of rumors that Bautista might be headed to the Nationals before the non-waiver trade deadline. While Atkins was no doubt tempted by his hatred of all things connected to the previous management regime, not to mention strong Nationals’ trade packages built around Ryan Zimmerman or Jayson Werth, the Blue Jays’ GM opted to hold on to Bautista. Mike Rizzo’s “it never hurts to ask” policy typically only works when he’s asking about players like Johnathan Papelbon.
Hidden Value in the Francisco Liriano Trade
The most notable acquisition the Blue Jays made this month was Monday’s trade for Pirates’ lefty Francisco Liriano. In addition to Liriano, the Blue Jays acquired two prospects and three weeks of extra media content in the deal.
While many praised the move as a savvy way to acquire Major League talent and prospects at the same time, the real get is the additional columns, video segments and radio discussions about how the Blue Jays may now replace Aaron Sanchez in the rotation. Excited at the possibility of filling their airwaves with further discussion and analysis of the great Sanchez debate, one Sportsnet big wig was quoted as saying: “the ratings generated when Zauny turns bright red on Tim and Sid alone will justify paying Liriano’s $13 million dollar salary in 2017”.
Rusell Martin’s framing abilities will be counted on to help Liriano turn his season around and to offer a players’ perspective in the Sanchez shutdown debates.
Blue Jays Insist that Orioles Acquire Wade Miley
With few high level arms available via trade this season, the market demand for starting pitching saw general managers acting like Canadian house hunters in their attempt to secure rotation upgrades.
Understanding that the Blue Jays’ best chance at success lies in having hurlers like Wade Miley pitch against the club rather than start for it, the team wisely decided against acquiring a back of the rotation innings-eater. While Jose Bautista and company may have been actively petitioning the club to acquire pitchers at the deadline in years past, the Jays’ offence is likely asking for more opportunities to face off against this year’s crop of trade targets.
Jays Trade Drew Storen to Seattle for Slightly Older Drew Storen
The Drew Storen experiment didn’t work out in Toronto. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the once-excellent Storen lost enough miles per hour on his fastball that he was unable to pitch effectively.
Instead of waiting until the end of the year to cut ties with Storen, Atkins shipped him to Seattle last week in exchange for Joaquin Benoit , a reliever with a similar record of long term success and short term struggles. The best-case scenario is that Benoit returns to form and the Jays have another reliable bullpen arm. The worst-case is that Blue Jay fans will get to spend a few innings a week wondering the same thing they did when Storen was pitching: Is he really this bad now? And, can he turn things around? Consistency is important.
Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro skillfully added talent to both their major and minor league teams without subtracting any significant pieces from the current roster. Lost in these upgrades, were a series of intangible improvements that often go unnoticed – beard depth is just as important as pitching depth. It might not be exciting but it was productive. If you still don’t think the Blue Jays did enough at the deadline, you can always count Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins playing the outfield as new additions too…right???
Lead Photo: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports