Hello, currently-unemployed future MLB GM. You’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays and for that, I’m deeply, deeply sorry. This has been a trying season for us and you’re ready to burn it all to the ground. I get that. Watching an old team stagger through an uninspired season is difficult. As we hit the season of trades and rumors and speculation and prospect hugging, allow me to provide some helpful principles to accept when constructing these trades that will return the Blue Jays to glory and some things you should avoid doing when refreshing MLB Trade Rumors for the twentieth time this hour.
QUANTITY ISN’T AS GOOD AS QUALITY
I love Out of The Park Baseball. Anyone who’s played the series is probably aware of how deep this simulation goes. One of my favorite things to do is take the Blue Jays and go through several seasons, tearing down and building the team in my image. The problem that OOTP (and every sports game with a GM mode) has is that you can usually keep adding smaller pieces onto trade offers until the other team likes it enough, using aggregate value to get to the player you want.
This is a problem in trade scenarios we can construct as well: We might look at a star player, hypothetically trade a lesser player at his position, add “prospects” and call it good. Looking for that left field upgrade? Maybe, say, Christian Yelich from the Marlins, who could hold the fort down while the youngsters grow and be good with them? We’ll trade Ezequiel Carrera, a cheap fill-in who can capably start on a team that doesn’t care about where it’s going. Let’s add a couple prospects. No, not Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., those guys are too valuable. Maybe a couple of B or C guys, lottery tickets. Three of them! That’s a lot of players. They’ll take that, right?
This hilariously strawman-ed scenario which I made up right now obviously isn’t feasible, but it’s the kind of thing we see in trade scenarios. The Marlins won’t take Zeke and some prospects. The conversation starts with Bo or Vlad – and they’ll probably want more. At this point, Atkins and Shapiro would probably hang up and neither team would be in the wrong. The Marlins should ask for a lot and the Jays should try and improve by adding a great player. But that trade doesn’t get done with a bunch of lower level prospects and whoever is playing left for the Jays today.
Quantity doesn’t always replace quality in a trade. You can fool video games, or think you’ve given up enough to get that player you’re eyeing, but most GMs are a little more savvy. The add-ons don’t usually make the trade. The big pieces do. This segues effortlessly into our next point.
YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP SOMETHING TO GET SOMETHING
This is the broader principle we were hinting at in our last section. One doesn’t generally acquire MVPs for pennies on the dollar. Sometimes, you give up a lot for a Cy Young Award winner to see him immediately turn into a back-end starter.
Take the recent Jose Quintana trade. The Cubs gave up Eloy Jimenez (the 8th best prospect in baseball per Baseball Prospectus), Dylan Cease (“comfortably top 101″ per BP) and a couple other lower prospects to get him. And this is during an off-year for Quintana, who had been reliably great for the Sox up until this season. The Cubs, whose starting rotation has been unreliable, wanted to get a great pitcher and paid to get him.
The Cubs were in a spot where buying made sense. They won the World Series last year and most of that team is intact. They, like the Jays, are under-performing. They, like the Jays, had to look at their team and decide whether it was worth the cost to try and make a run at the playoffs. They made the choice to use their best trade chip towards Quintana. It’s much too early to say whether that was the right decision or not. Perhaps it works out for them: the prospects burn out or Quintana returns to form as they repeat their championship run. Maybe it doesn’t: Quintana declines and Jimenez and Cease are huge parts of the next great White Sox team.
The Cubs gave up something to get something. If the Jays are looking to make those kinds of upgrades, they’ll need to decide whether their best prospects are worth holding onto.
FLIP IT AROUND
This is another useful exercise to those of us who like to play GM on Twitter or in video games. Not just constructing trade packages from what the Jays have, but considering the perspective as a team looking to acquire him.
Take J.A. Happ, as an example, someone who has moved around a few times at the deadline and is the kind of player other teams might look at. If we were the Jays and we were looking for someone like Happ to stabilize the rotation, what would we give up to get him from the Jays stable of prospects and players?
Though we as fans won’t have the dedication or knowledge of the inner workings of Toronto’s opponents, trying to see their side of it helps ground our perspective. As Jays fans, we look at J.A. Happ and see someone who’s been an excellent starter for the last couple years. When he has struggled, it’s been because he’s been injured or there’s some other completely plausible reason (to us) that he hasn’t been as good. For another team, they may look at Happ’s success as more uncertain and see him as a lesser player. The front office’s job in this hypothetical scenario is to get as much as they can for Happ, which may be less than fans want.
OUR FAVORITES ARE WORTH MORE TO US THAN ANYONE ELSE
This is a natural continuation of our prior point, but with some key differences. Happ is someone who’s been a Blue Jay for a couple seasons, but maybe not someone to whom fans have developed an emotional attachment. Those are the players who end up hurting the most – the one fans relate to, are familiar with, have seen for a long time, and/or enjoy on some other level.
Let’s talk about Jose Bautista. Bautista is indisputably one of the best Blue Jays of all-time. He was a franchise player on bad teams (something we can say about a few players since the 90s), and had the most important playoff moment for them in 20 seasons. Though he is a divisive figure among fans, there’s no denying his standing in the history of the team.
As a veteran on a short-term contract on a team that is not contending right now, Bautista is a potential trade piece. But his importance to the Jays and their fans is much, much higher than his usefulness to a great team right now – to say nothing of his ability to block trades as a 10-and-5 player.
We look at Jose Bautista and see that seventh inning home run. We see a fantastic story who made good with our team. We see a slugging linchpin in a lineup that failed him over and over again in the prime of his career. A contending team looking to acquire him will see a declining hitter who still has a good eye, someone who probably shouldn’t play the outfield every day, and maybe even see him as a part-time player for a team with designs on the World Series. This is blasphemy to Jays fans but something that a clear-eyed front office might well think about him.
All this may seem negative, but it’s not meant to be that. The idea behind these principles is to be realistic about not only who they Jays might potentially move, but what they would get in those machinations. Whether buying or selling, there’s a lot of things for the front office to consider when charting the course of the team. For us as fans, it’s worthwhile to think of some of these things as the Jays stagger towards the deadline, as it can help us understand how and why the teams does what they do.
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