Devon Travis is a perfect player for the Blue Jays. He’s young enough to lock into his position for several years, on a team that’s generally long in the tooth. In addition to being young, he’s also very good. He’s a finished product as a player, someone they don’t need to wait on to develop, not a few years away like many of their offensive prospects. He’s not someone who relies heavily on speed or athleticism, which is another point in his favor long-term.
Devon Travis is also a problem for the Blue Jays. His youth is offset by the fact that he’s gotten hurt a lot. He’s played 216 out of a possible 427 regular and post-season games in his young career. A contending team has had to replace his production an awful lot (the team’s failure to backfill with competent depth is another issue). To put this on Travis may not be fair, but fairness is rarely a good measurable for a baseball team. Going forward, the Jays need to determine if Travis is a piece they can build around, and the injuries need to play into that calculation.
As we mentioned, Travis has few flaws as a player. While he’s not an all-star, he’s shone even in a star studded lineup. He has a career .793 OPS, and is good enough defensively that they don’t need to spot him in the late innings. While not exceptional in any one area, he ranges for solid to very good across the board. He hits for average, has some power, and doesn’t strike out a lot, nice attributes for a team with a lot of older power-hitting types. His strengths offset their weaknesses. And his lack of weaknesses is itself a strength.
But the injuries have been a continual problem for the Blue Jays, so it’s easy to see why they might look at what they can get for him. We don’t have the information the Blue Jays do, so we can’t assume the injuries are systemic, or flukes. But regardless of whether or not they’re indicative of some flaw in Travis, they have happened, and have forced the Jays to improvise three times in three seasons to fill his position over a longer term. Hot stretches from backups Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney have been mostly mirages from players who are, well, backups. Those guys are fine if they’re playing once a week. As part of a platoon, they get exposed very quickly. As a result, it’s getting to the point where you have to make a decision one way or the other. You either trade Devon Travis or accept that he’ll be an oft-injured star and hedge your bets with a very good backup middle infielder.
Moving him creates another hole to fill on a team that’s going to have other questions already. His being young AND great is uniquely valuable to this team, more so than most others in the league. What would they get for someone who has a reputation as fragile? Who else helps bridge the gap offensively to the next great Blue Jays team? Teams looking to acquire him would likely try to get him at a discount, banking on the injuries being flukes, attempting to get the Jays to sell low on a solid piece. The front office needs to get good value if they move him, and probably wouldn’t sell after another long-term injury.
An argument for keeping Travis works no matter what approach the Jays take in the off-season. Let’s first assume the Jays retool, keeping most of the current veteran core, and gearing up for another run. They have two outfield spots to fill (assuming Bautista isn’t brought back), and need better production from the second base position. So maybe they sign someone. As of yet, the free-agent class at 2B has slim pickings. You’re looking at older guys, like Neil Walker or Danny Espinosa, or whatever Brandon Phillips has left. They could have Brett Lawrie on the team now, and haven’t even with the yawning offensive chasm at second base, which speaks volumes. It’s hard to imagine any of those guys being better than Travis is now. So you look to trade Travis for a second baseman, or take from somewhere else to improve the position. It’s hard to see the math making sense on that.
The other side of the coin has the Jays blowing it up: trading whatever they can get value for, restocking the minor league system, maybe timing things up so the team is good again once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ready to destroy some baseballs at the Rogers Centre. Travis’ youth works for him here, as he’s someone who could help bridge the gap from Bautista to Bichette. He still has several good years in front of him, and the Jays still need to run out a major league squad even in a full rebuild. There’s the chance that they try and keep Travis until the next guys make it, and that he’s still a contributor at that point. With his injuries depressing his trade value, it again makes more sense for the Jays to bank on him being healthy than to try and use him as a bargaining chip.
It’s interesting trying to project Travis, as someone who was never really a huge prospect, and someone who’s yet to complete a full, healthy season in the majors. BP has Josh Harrison, Jason Kipnis and Neil Walker (soon to be a free agent, if you’ll recall) as comparable players, which is something the Jays would undoubtedly take, given the pittance they acquired him for. The health is the kicker, something those comparable players have had that Travis hasn’t. We do only have three seasons to work with, but the Jays may not have the patience to wait for a longer sample size.
Devon Travis is awesome. He’s young, he’s great, and stands out even in a star-studded lineup. But a future without Travis is something that the team should consider, given his injury history. Three years, and three times the Jays have had to work around not having him in the lineup for long stretches, which has been a real problem for a contending team. When he’s healthy, he’s great, but it’s that “when” which is the kicker, the one fly in the ointment. Travis’ injuries are also an argument for keeping him, as a team with a lot of lineup questions probably doesn’t want to create another one by trading him for a lesser player. But if the Jays are continually looking for replacements for an injured Travis, they might decide that’s a question anyway. Travis is a fantastic player, but his injuries have made him a problem for the Jays, and a progressive front office would do well to consider all the possibilities.
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