Twice a year over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron publishes a list of who, in his opinion, are the fifty most valuable trade assets in baseball. Cameron’s most recent update was published over the All-Star break earlier this month. Rather than simply listing the best players, he has attempted to blend past performance and future projection with age, team control, and remaining salary. It’s why, for example, Clayton Kershaw falls outside of the top fifty despite being undeniably the best pitcher in baseball. Not only does he have a salary prohibitive to all but a small handful of clubs, but his contract has a clause that allows him to opt-out at the conclusion of any season in which he’s traded. Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. He’s nowhere near the most valuable to anyone but the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I don’t think Dave is the first to come up with the concept, but in terms of both execution and quality, it’s his that I look forward to most during the lulls of the baseball calendar. With that being said, it’s always a tad disappointing that we only get his insights and rankings of one, two, or maybe three Blue Jays players, if we’re lucky. This is why I’m going to tangent off Dave’s work, in an effort to offer you my perspective on the ten most valuable trade assets in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. If you have a differing view, please don’t be afraid to let me hear it.
With the trade deadline only a week away, there may be no more appropriate time for such an endeavour. Not only is the Blue Jays’ 2017 season at a crossroads, but both their short- and long-term outlooks are as well. Few would argue that standing pat and hoping for better luck with the same aging roster seems untenable. Does the front office throw good prospects and money after bad players and try to make one final push, or begin unloading some legitimately valuable assets in an effort to avoid a Phillies-esque unrewarding collapse to the bottom of the division for the next five years?
This isn’t meant to be the blueprint for a tear down or a shopping list for other teams; there are plenty of both floating around. The players that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are most likely to move aren’t going to shift the needle substantially either way. In fact, I’d be shocked if any of these ten get moved in the coming days. But just in case they do, here are, numerically, one man’s outlook of the Blue Jays’ ten most valuable trade chips. Ten to six will be published this morning, with five to one released tomorrow.
#10: RHP Joe Biagini
The tenth most valuable trade asset in the Toronto Blue Jays organization is right handed pitcher Joe Biagini. Since being claimed as a Rule 5 pick from San Francisco, the 27-year old has worked long relief, late innings, and even in the starting rotation. He certainly has the repertoire to stick in the rotation as his four-pitch mix has always graded exceptionally well by Mike Sonne’s “Stuff” metric. Biagini has produced modest strikeout rates, but offsets this with a remarkable proficiency for inducing groundballs. Belying his advanced age, Biagini has accumulated fewer than two years of service time and thus is under team control through 2021—including next season at league minimum. Biagini has the potential to build up significantly more trade value if he is able to settle into a role in the coming months and give teams a bit more certainty about what he is. The most recent rotation/bullpen swingman of similar quality with three-plus years of control to be traded was Drew Smyly, though he had affixed himself in the rotation by the time he was used as a piece in the first David Price trade back in 2014.
Biagini narrowly edged out catcher Russell Martin, who would have been the eleventh name on the list. Martin is still a top ten or fifteen catcher in baseball, but with the club owing him 40 million over the next two years, he’s paid like someone in the top three. Not only that, but he’ll be 35 years old in 2018 and nagging injuries have begun to take their toll on his game—particularly his arm behind the dish. Were the Blue Jays to pay his salary down, something that wasn’t considered in building the list, he could certainly net some interesting pieces. Look no further than the Astros acquisition of Brian McCann last winter, with the Yankees picking up 11 of the 34 million remaining on his deal in order to get a pair of intriguing prospects.
#9: 2B Devon Travis
Devon Travis is 26-years old. He’s under control through 2020 with his first of three trips through arbitration on the horizon this winter. He capably plays an up-the-middle position, and is a career .292/.331/.462 hitter. This is the résumé of a player who should be one of the most valuable assets in any organization. Of course, as always, the story with Travis isn’t his performance on the field, but how much time he spends off it. In his brief career the second baseman has already been placed on the disabled list four times, two of which included subsequent transfers to the 60-day disabled list.
If he doesn’t play another game with the Blue Jays in 2017, shoulder and knee injuries will have limited him to 213 of a potential 486 regular season games since he made the Opening Day roster in 2015. Put another way: by the end of the season he’ll have accumulated three years of service time despite playing in just 44 percent of the team’s games over that time. Jedd Gyorko and Dee Gordon are second baseman with similar service time to have been moved in recent years, with the former landing Jon Jay in San Diego and the latter Andrew Heaney with the Dodgers, though neither has the tantalizing all-around upside that Travis possesses. With this kind of asset, the obvious most is to hold. You’d be selling for pennies on the dollar today, and a healthy Devon Travis is a piece that any team would love to build around tomorrow.
#8: 1B Justin Smoak
Of all of the players to receive consideration for the top ten, Justin Smoak’s value was the hardest to nail down. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft and a highly touted prospect in the years that followed, but the first seven years of his major league career — across three organizations — were a complete nightmare. He hit .223/.308/.392 over nearly three thousand plate appearances, and entering 2017, most Blue Jays fans were hoping the front office could find a way to bury him for as little money as possible. Yet incredibly here on July 23rd, he’s sporting a .302/.377/.598 slash line and is tied for fourth in all of baseball with 27 home runs.
Better than most others, Blue Jays fans have seen something like this before. Jose Bautista transformed himself from a league average bat to an elite slugger, and while most were skeptical of that production lasting in the long run, he’s proved us and everybody else but Alex Anthopoulos wrong. On the flip side, we also saw Michael Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 in the first half just last season, followed by a .178/.282/.357 second half, a .205/.257/.360 line with the Phillies in 2017, and his eventual release once they grew tired of him.
Thankfully, that much-maligned contract extension he received last summer gives the Blue Jays—and other teams—extra time to view Smoak with a dubious but intrigued eye without having to pre-emptively commit serious coin in support of this breakout. He’s under control for 2018 at a modest salary of $4.1 million, with a club option for 2019 that starts at $6.0 million and contains playing time incentives that could push it to $8.0 million. Smoak is the eighth most valuable player in the Blue Jays organization as of this summer, but not unlike the two men behind him, could shoot up the list if he can continue to prove that the last four months are more relevant than the previous seven years. If the Athletics move Yonder Alonso in the coming days, that would set the absolute floor for a Justin Smoak trade if the Blue Jays were to push him to market with the sustainability questions still lurking.
#7: SS Bo Bichette
The Blue Jay with the seventh most trade value is the first of two prospects to make the list, shortstop Bo Bichette. Bichette has taken the prospect world by storm this season, hitting nearly .400 with Single-A Lansing as a 19-year old, and ascending from the back end of the organization’s top ten to inside the top fifty in all of baseball (#29 on the Baseball Prospectus mid-season update; #44 on Baseball America’s list).
Bichette is an exceptionally interesting prospect, as his ranking on both of those lists—and this one as well—is an attempt to find the balance between his immense upside and the legitimate concerns about how his swing will hold up against more advanced pitching. Some evaluators see him as a 6/6 bat and power guy, which at an up-the-middle position is an unbelievably valuable piece for any organization. There are others, however, who see his fielding necessitating a move to third base and his bat wrap causing issues when he reaches the upper minors. Still, there are plenty of teams who would gamble on the former, and it’s why despite being in just the Florida State League he could be the main—or only—trade chip used to acquire a legitimate big league talent.
Last summer the Cubs used Gleyber Torres (BP midseason #34) to land Aroldis Chapman, and Cleveland sent Clint Frazier (BP Midseason #26) to the Yankees to land Andrew Miller. More recently, Blake Rutherford (BA Midseason #36) was sent to the Chicago White Sox as the centerpiece for a package of David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier. Each of those three prospects falls in the neighbourhood of Bichette’s current ranking, and provides comparables for the type of return he could potentially net.
#6: LHP J.A. Happ
I went back-and-forth between Bichette and Happ on who should be six and who should be seven, and in reality, it probably is more of a 6A and 6B situation. Just last summer a pair of left handed starters with similar production and contract status were moved, with the Padres landing Anderson Espinosa for Drew Pomeranz and the Tampa Bay Rays receiving Lucius Fox (and Matt Duffy) for Matt Moore. Those returns aren’t dissimilar to the value most are placing on Bo Bichette today.
J.A. Happ will be 35-years old next season, but he’s yet to show any signs of age catching up to him. His average fastball velocity has remained steady at around 92 miles per hour for the last four seasons, and he ranks in the upper third among left handed starters by that metric. One potential drain on Happ’s value is that he’s only under contract for one more year after 2017, and while it’s certainly below market value given his performance the last three years, the 13 million he’s owed isn’t nothing to a team like Milwaukee or Pittsburgh trying to make a push.
Starting pitching is always in demand, but the type of that demand varies greatly between the summer and winter. Almost every team is looking to bolster their rotation in the offseason, but the market takes a bit of a shift at the trade deadline. The bubble teams may be salivating over someone like J.A. Happ, but the division leaders with plenty of heft at the front end of their rotation might be hesitant to give up a ton of value for someone who would be their fourth starter and might only make one start in the postseason. The Washington Nationals, for example, could see the Blue Jays lefty as a perfect plug for the fifth spot in their rotation over the next two months, but might barely use him come October behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez.
Click here for the rest of the list as we run from number five down to the most valuable player in the Blue Jays organization.
Lead Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports