Monday was one of the busiest days of the offseason. News of a likely reunion between Jose Bautista and the Jays started to filter out; as a reaction to the Bautista news, Michael Saunders was rumored to be signing with the Phillies. Monday also brought about one of the sexier rumors of the offseason via Rum Bunter – that the Jays and Pirates talked mega deal. The rumor suggested Toronto discussed a multiplayer trade with the Pirates at some point this offseason that sought to bring Andrew McCutchen and reliever Tony Watson to Toronto in exchange for five players, including three of the Blue Jays’ top ten prospects.
While the Jays and Pirates were not able to settle on a deal, the trade reminds us that our favorite teams are often only a phone call or single-A prospect away from looking very different than they are currently constructed – both this year and down the line (the Jays would have likely had to say goodbye to teen dream, Vlad Jr. to get Cutch and Watson).
With Jose Bautista back in Toronto and the hot stove beginning to cool down (unless you’re ready to get excited about backup catchers), now is a good time to look at other transactions that almost happened, and would have drastically altered Blue Jays’ history had they been completed.
Jose Cruz Jr. to the Mets for David Wright
In the summer of 2002, the Blue Jays almost made a trade that would have gone down as one of the best in team history. The most quotable general manager in that team history, J.P. Ricciardi, declined to accept the New York Mets’ offer of David Wright for Jose Cruz Jr. Wright was a prospect playing in A-ball at the time while Jose Cruz Jr. was having a good, but not spectacular year for the Blue Jays on his way to posting a slash line of .245/.317/.438 and a WARP of 2.7 during his final season in Toronto.
What makes the non-trade for Wright perplexing from a Blue Jays point of view is that Cruz Jr. left as a free agent that winter when Toronto declined to offer him arbitration. The team was also 18.5 games out of first place by mid July, which makes Ricciardi’s insistence on holding onto Cruz Jr. even more confusing.
Wright, meanwhile, turned into one of the better players in baseball for the next decade – posting seven seasons with a WARP over 5.5 between 2005 and 2013 at third base for the Mets. But to quote J.P. Ricciardi at the time:
“I’m not trading a major league player for some guy in the Sally League.”
Toronto Misses Out in Bidding for Yu Darvish
In the winter of 2011 the Blue Jays, then run by Alex Anthopoulos, began their quest to take advantage of the competitive window afforded to them by way of Jose Bautista’s prime and the Beasts of the East relinquishing their stranglehold on the American League East.
2011 was also the year that Yu Darvish decided to make the transition from Japanese baseball to the Major Leagues. Amidst much speculation that the Blue Jays would emerge the high bidder for the Japanese-Iranian ace, they were outbid by the Texas Rangers and unable to secure the top of the rotation arm they desired.
Since signing with the Rangers, Darvish has pitched like an ace, posting elite strikeout numbers and a career ERA of 3.29 in four seasons (he missed 2015 due to Tommy John surgery). It’s easy to dream on a Blue Jays team that featured Darvish at the top of their rotation – the team may not have needed to surrender any number of the young players traded in their quest for front of the rotation pitching in the years that followed. It’s hard not to ponder an alternate reality where Yu Darvish, Noah Syndergaard, and Aaron Sanchez all pitch in the same rotation for the Blue Jays.
But before Blue Jays fans feel too badly about missing out on the shuuto-baller, just remember that Darvish’s implosion in last year’s playoffs is partially responsible for the Blue Jays’ 3-game sweep of the Rangers in the 2016 ALDS.
Jose Bautista to the Philadelphia Phillies for Domonic Brown
Had this trade ever been consummated, it would have usurped the R.A. Dickey/Noah Syndergaard trade as the most complained about in recent Blue Jays’ history.
Even at the time the short-lived rumor emerged (the 2013 Winter Meetings), this was clearly a very bad trade for the Blue Jays. Jose Bautista was one of the best offensive players in baseball on a team-friendly contract and Domonic Brown was a former top prospect coming off an apparent breakout season. Nary a soul in Blue Jays world – and that includes Blue Jays’ Twitter, and you know how people on Twitter feel about agreement – thought this trade would have been a good idea.
Admittedly, the rumor came from a less than Rosenthal-esque source (Philadelphia radio personality, Howard Eskin), but it had enough legs to make a few waves throughout the baseball world. Bautista would go on to produce two more stellar seasons in Toronto before an injury-plagued 2016 limited his production. Meanwhile, Brown, who was coming off his (somewhat fluky) best season to date, struggled to stay in the Majors in 2014-15.
The Blue Jays ultimately got their man when they signed Brown to a minor league deal after the 2015 season. He played 126 games at Triple-A Buffalo in 2016 where he slashed .239/303./.336. Definitely not the kind of production you want to give up Jose Bautista for.
Alex Rios to the San Francisco Giants for Tim Lincecum
During the 2007 Winter Meetings, Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi reportedly presented the San Francisco Giants with a one-for-one challenge trade, offering Alex Rios for Tim Lincecum. Rios was coming off of a strong 2007 that saw the then 26-year-old outfielder slash .297/.354/.498 while putting up 5.0 WARP. Lincecum, meanwhile, was coming off of his rookie season in which he threw 146.1 innings with an ERA of 4.00 and a whole mess of strikeouts.
While the Giants were in need of offensive production to replace Barry Bonds, who was forced into early retirement, the trade was less intuitive for the Blue Jays, who already had a rotation led by Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett.
Neither Rios or Lincecum were able to maintain long peaks of elite production in the Major Leagues. Lincecum’s dominant seasons (2008-2011) top Rios’ – the latter of whom was more productive than it felt given his injuries, inconsistencies, and his less appreciated contributions on the bases and in the outfield. Interestingly enough, the players career WARPs are fairly similar, too, with Lincecum edging Rios 32.9 to 26.
The Rios/Lincecum trade would also have meant avoiding the potentially burdensome 7-year, $69.8 million dollar contract that the Blue Jays signed Alex Rios to the following season. Luckily for Toronto, the Chicago White Sox claimed him off waivers in 2009.
What would a trade of Alex Rios for Tim Lincecum have done to alter the Blue Jays in the years to come: Would the Blue Jays become one of the great pitching dynasties of the late 2000s? Would Roy Halladay never re-sign with the team? How much money would Alex Rios end up making in his career? For better or worse, we will have to play Scoresheet baseball to find out.
Rumors like the Jays/Pirates’ mega deal are an important reminder that building a major league roster involves constant attempts to negotiate trades and signings that never come to fruition. While it may drive you crazy to think that the Blue Jays could have had young David Wright for half a season of Jose Cruz Jr., remember they could have just as easily traded away Jose Bautista for Triple-A depth and go easy on your favorite team’s executives. Even J.P Ricciardi.
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