This is part two of the Blue Jays deadline 2017 top-ten trade value series. The introduction, as well as the tenth through sixth most valuable, went up at BP Toronto yesterday. As a brief recap before, your tenth to sixth most valuable Blue Jays trade assets:
#10: RHP Joe Biagini
#9: 2B Devon Travis
#8: 1B Justin Smoak
#7: SS Bo Bichette
#6: LHP J.A. Happ
And now into the top five most valuable Blue Jays.
This was an appropriate spot for a break because when I was first getting started on this exercise, identifying the five most valuable trade chips in the organization was easy. While it may not appear that way on a numerical list, you could run the St. Lawrence River through the gulf between Happ and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Guerrero is one of the most highly regarded prospects in all of baseball, placing 13th on the mid-season list at Baseball Prospectus and an astounding second overall at Baseball America. These types of prospects simply don’t get moved very often, and when they do—see Yoan Moncada for Chris Sale and Eloy Jimenez for Jose Quintana—it’s for a cost controlled elite major league talent. In fact, Guerrero has a strong case for being number four on the list. If he shows even a glimmer against Florida State League pitching over the final six weeks of the minor league season, that leap will be a much easier call on the offseason iteration of the Blue Jays trade value series here at BP Toronto.
It can sometimes be challenging trying to compare minor leaguers to major leaguers using the same scale, as it feels a bit awkward trying to assign value to someone so far from the show. Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli of The Point of Pittsburgh have developed and tweaked a model over the years to help make that comparison a bit easier to digest. The whole article is worth your time, but in short, they have divided historical top 100 prospects into hitters and pitchers, and then further subdivided them into buckets based upon specific ranges of rankings. For each of these ten buckets, they provide the average WAR and surplus value over the six years of team control, as well as some bust metrics (less than 3 WAR; 0 or less WAR).
Using Baseball Prospectus’ rankings, the average prospect in Guerrero’s bucket has produced 13.0 WAR and 62 million in surplus value over the six team-controlled years. Buying into Baseball America’s #2 overall ranking, those numbers jump to 15.3 WAR and nearly 74 million in surplus value. Only 7 of the 96 from those two buckets produced 0 or less WAR, so historically, someone like Guerrero has more than a 90 percent chance of becoming something. Comparatively, hitters in Bo Bichette’s bucket averaged 8.1 WAR and 38 million in surplus value. In other words, despite being ranked as the top two prospect in the minor league system and only two spots apart on this list, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Guerrero has twice the value as a trade asset. Hence the gulf.
Josh Donaldson has garnered the most attention as the poster boy for a potential rebuild in Toronto, but in reality, despite having a Most Valuable Player trophy with his name on it, a .291/.387/.559 slash line, and 19.8 WARP over his last three full seasons, he may actually be only the fourth most valuable trade asset the Blue Jays have.
This ranking isn’t a slight against Josh, as even with his struggles since returning from the disabled list he’s clearly still the best player in the organization. Unfortunately, Donaldson has two key factors working against his value. First, he’ll be a free agent following the 2018 season—a year in which he’ll be paid in the neighbourhood of 25 million for his fourth trip through arbitration. Any interested team would have to be both willing and capable of stomaching that short term salary and the long term cost of elite young talent in order to have Josh Donaldson play upwards of 200 regular season games and participate in potentially two postseason runs in their uniform. The second is that, while a great story, Donaldson’s epiphany and renaissance as a hitter led to his service clock starting much later than it does for most players. After 2018, he’ll be entering free agency looking ahead to his age-33 season, meaning that Donaldson isn’t necessarily the type of guy that a team pays an exorbitant cost to acquire so that they can throw a lengthy extension on him, too.
As far as I can tell, recent comparables for a trade of an MVP-caliber hitter with 1.5 years of control remaining don’t exist. These days, players like this simply don’t get traded. Pitchers live in a completely different market; there are 150 rotation spots and even more bullpen jobs across baseball, but there are only thirty spots at each position and only a handful of teams that would match up on both need and the ability to pay. With such a narrow pool of suitors for elite position players on the verge of free agency, opposing teams are likely wary of bidding against themselves, leading to lesser offers. Consequently, rather than enraging their fan base and dealing their star for a pittance—like J.D. Martinez, as one example—front offices choose to hold out hope that an extension with their star will eventually be reached. In a vacuum he may be the fourth most valuable trade asset, but history suggests that Donaldson and the Blue Jays are likely to ride things out for the at least the next two years regardless.
With the chronic blister and fingernail issues that Aaron Sanchez has battled this season, Roberto Osuna could make a legitimate case as the second most valuable trade asset in the organization. What kept him behind Sanchez, at least in my book, was that you could throw Sanchez in the bullpen tomorrow, tell him to exclusively throw 98 to 99 mile per hour two-seam fastballs, and he’d probably be 80 or 90 percent of the reliever Osuna is. Even with the optimism from the fan base about moving Osuna to the rotation, I’m not sure he could do an equally similar impersonation of Sanchez’ 2016 season if the roles were reversed. But Osuna doesn’t need to throw 200 innings a year to be an extraordinarily valuable trade asset. The 22-year old has settled in as one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game today, and is on pace for a career-high 2.2 WARP this season.
Relievers are the most commonly moved asset, but few have the combination of dominance, team control and experience that can Osuna boast. He’s controllable through 2020 with three arbitration years forthcoming, and while they’ll be at less than market value due to the nature of the process itself, the salaries won’t be inconsequential with his ever increasing save totals. And while most of us have moved past this primitive line of thought, some may still see value in Osuna being a “proven playoff closer”. To wit, the Blue Jays pushed into the American League Championship Series in Osuna’s rookie and sophomore campaigns, and he has answered the bell with a career 1.04 ERA/2.22 FIP across 14 career postseason games. Those were the highest of high leverage situations, and Osuna showed no qualms with being deployed in any type of situation by manager John Gibbons.
Just last year both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller got moved for massive prospect packages, but Chapman had just a couple of months remaining on his deal and Miller was owed about 20 million over two and a half years on his. Osuna has achieved their level of performance on the field, but offers far more team control with the added bonus of going year-to-year as protection against injury. Looking back another seven months prior for a third comparable, the Phillies moved Ken Giles to the Houston Astros in another blockbuster. Giles had the dominance and team control, but not the ninth inning experience. Still, he landed Mark Appel (when he was still well regarded) and Vince Velasquez in Philadelphia, as well as a handful of other lesser pieces. For Shapiro and Atkins to seriously consider moving Osuna, any package would have to dwarf what those arms got. Incredibly, it’s not a stretch to think someone might just do it.
Prior to the 2017 season I don’t think there’s any question that Aaron Sanchez was the most valuable pitcher in the Blue Jays organization, and he’d have had a strong argument as the most valuable overall. We’ve evolved beyond ERA and win-loss record as tools for evaluating pitchers, but there’s still a certain degree of coolness in leading the league in the former and running a glorious 15-2 mark in the latter, which is exactly what Aaron Sanchez did in 2016 while fighting off questions about being shut down or moved to the bullpen. As a 24-year old he produced 3.7, 3.9, and 4.9 wins above replacement by Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and Baseball Reference respectively, and Sanchez’ star was burning as bright as a summer day at the ballpark.
Then came the blisters. Sanchez has been placed on the disabled list four times already this season—April 15th, May 1st, May 20th, and July 22nd—for middle finger issues, and unfortunately, they’re not the same as those that surrounded Mr. Met earlier this year. But what seems to have been long forgotten is that these issues first popped up last year. Sanchez was removed from a start on September 11, 2016 with blister issues, and in speaking to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi afterwards, the right hander revealed he’d been dealing with blister issues since spring training of that year. Whatever solution he and the training staff used to quietly manage the problem last year clearly hasn’t translated into 2017. Sanchez dealt with blister issues this spring as well, which led to his delayed start to his year and likely contributed to his trip to the disabled list in April.
With this much uncertainty surrounding his finger, it’s hard to peg down exactly what kind of value Sanchez has at this point in time. Blisters are supposed to be a bit of a nuisance, not something that will cost a pitcher three quarters of the season when it’s all said and done. If he had just 36 innings under his belt in late July due to arm-related issues, he’d be much lower on this list — were he to make the top ten at all. Yet I feel comfortable that if Aaron Sanchez’ name were floated on the trade market, opposing general managers would be tripping over themselves trying to get the Blue Jays on the line as they barked at their interns to provide them with an exhaustive list of each and every blister fix known to man.
If you take the stance that Sanchez will get over this issue in the coming months, the trade that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona provides something of a parallel comparison. In the 2015/2016 offseason, Miller was entering his first year of arbitration coming off a 5.1 WARP season in Atlanta. In exchange, the Braves received prospects Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair (who immediately slotted as Atlanta’s #1 and 4 prospects, according to Chris Crawford), as well as criminally underrated outfielder Ender Inciarte who was coming off a 4.1 WARP season of his own. Of course, the Diamondbacks were brutalized in the public domain for the package they surrendered, and general manager Dave Stewart was fired less than a year after making the trade. Sanchez wouldn’t net that strong of a return, but needless to say, cheap, young, dominant right handed starting pitching is more valuable than gold.
The most valuable trade asset in the Toronto Blue Jays organization is right handed starter Marcus Stroman. Still only 26-years old, Stroman has already built the reputation as an unbelievably hard worker and a fearless big-game pitcher, and his performance on the field has more than backed up all of the narratives. Never shy to tinker or evolve his repertoire over the course of a game or season if dictated by results or opponents , Stroman has pitched like a top of the rotation starter pretty much from the moment he made his major league debut. As a rookie he produced 3.3 WARP over 20 starts in 2014, added 0.3 WARP over 4 starts in September 2015 after miraculously returning from a torn ACL, produced 3.5 WARP over 32 starts in 2016, and is currently on pace for a career best 5.1 WARP this season. According to Baseball Reference, he’s on track to eclipse 7 WAR. But it takes more than just great numbers to truly be heralded as an ace.
Stroman is reliable. Stroman is the easiest guy in the world to root for. In aggregate, this July has seen the most embarrassing pitching I’ve experienced in Blue Jays history. Starters have seemingly failed to complete four innings more often than not, forcing manager John Gibbons to churn through the relief arms in both Toronto and Buffalo like a butter mill. His one saving grace has been his ace, Marcus Stroman. Over his four starts in July, Stroman has faced nothing but terrific offense deployed by the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, and Indians—all of whom currently sit in playoff spots— and responded with 5.0, 7.0, 6.2, and 7.2 innings pitched. He developed a blister in the first inning against Cleveland on Saturday, but still battled through 117 pitches because he knew his manager and his teammates needed him.
Marcus Stroman has never been on the disabled list with an arm injury and is under control through 2020. He took the Blue Jays to arbitration and won last winter, meaning his second, third, and fourth trips through the process are likely to cost in the neighbourhood of 30 to 40 million total, depending upon the number of Cy Young votes he earns over the next couple of seasons. That’s not unlike what Chris Sale had left on his contract when the Boston Red Sox swung a deal for him last offseason. As you’ll of course remember, they forfeited Yoan Moncada, the number one prospect in all of baseball, as well as elite right handed pitcher Michael Kopech and a pair of other intriguing prospects for the privilege of paying him that money.
Now, Marcus Stroman isn’t Chris Sale, and the Blue Jays window to buy out a few of his free agent years with a long term extension has likely come and gone (if it existed at all in the first place). His trade value likely falls somewhere between that of Sale and Sale’s former teammate, Jose Quintana. In a word: enormous. Already at the top of this list, if the Blue Jays were serious about moving him—which I’m skeptical of as his 3.5 years of control provide ample opportunity to trade him later if the team can’t turn things around in the short term—he would immediately soar to the top of everyone else’s list, too.
Lead Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports