I confess that for me, the art and science of roster building is as much fun as the actual game on the field. Perhaps that’s because I’m hundreds of miles away from my favorite team (and, indeed, a six hour drive from the nearest MLB team) and so much of my baseball experience is “virtual.” I can remember the glory days of the late 80’s and early 90’s when, sans internet, I was hostage to whether or not American TV broadcasts deigned to carry a game involving the Blue Jays and otherwise being limited to newspaper box scores and the precious regular arrival of USAToday’s Baseball Weekly. Whether it is that history or some quirk of personality, I love the spectator sport of player movement and the pastime of speculating about potential moves in “If I were the GM I would…” mode.
As an exercise in this sport of virtual GM, I’ve been ruminating about potential outfield acquisitions on the trade market (as opposed to the inevitable perpetual “Jay Bruce? Or no?” discussion about free agent outfielders) and have narrowed down a list of potential partners for the Jays to be focusing on.
The factors that go into this consideration include being an at-least-average defender who brings an offensive upgrade, preferably with above average on-base skills and the speed and base-running ability to maximize that talent. On top of that, younger is better, and more years of team control (either due to youth or a team friendly contract) is a huge factor. On the other end of the transaction, there has to be a reason for the other team to participate. Let’s discuss.
Given what we expect out of this front office, the top four prospects are essentially off the table in any deal: Vladdy, Bo, Big Nate and Alford (please tell me you don’t need me to write out the full names). Also, as impressed as we may be with a short-season prospect, chances are you aren’t going to lead a proposal with a lower level guy unless he’s really special, such as a recent first round pick. That could make some of these players harder to get than others, but not necessarily impossible, and others would be much more affordable. If they can’t get a good outfielder through free agency, this might be the best way to go.
Christian Yelich / Marcell Ozuna – As of this writing, there’s a three hour old update on MLBTR which discusses the interest among half a dozen or more teams in Ozuna which also makes reference to the potential view the team has towards trading him as opposed to Yelich. There wasn’t any surprise there, but the dynamic here is worth discussing.
There’s little dispute that given a choice, any team is going to much prefer Yelich despite Ozuna’s break-out .924 OPS in 2016 because of his contract situation.. The left-hand hitting center fielder is under a team-friendly deal for four seasons and an option that tops out at only $15 million in 2022. While he regressed a bit in 2017 from his previous high, his production was still among the top five CF in the majors and would have been second only to Mike Trout if he’d been in the AL. Since breaking in at age 21, he hasn’t really had a true down year and he’s still only 25. He would be the ideal fit in Toronto as a base-stealing threat with an excellent OBP and a left-handed bat. Unfortunately, he’d likely cost more in prospects than Toronto would be willing to pay.
However, the speculation is likely true that the Marlins would rather deal Ozuna anyway. He’s a year older, has only two years of control left, and his projected 2018 arbitration-fueled salary is higher than Yelich’s contract salary. Also, they can presumably trade on recency bias and max out the asking price, which would still be less than Yelich. In case you were unaware, the RH hitting Ozuna had a .321 TAv figure in 2017, driven by his 37 homer outburst and .924 OPS. That would have put him third among AL outfielders behind Trout and Aaron Judge. To be sure, in two of his three previous seasons he was a quality hitter but not anything like a star-level player. Teams will have to analyze whether or not they believe his 2017 output was the new normal or a peak year. He lacks Yelich’s stolen base ability, but of course if you can count on him to threaten the 40 homer threshold the next few years you can live without it.
St. Louis Cardinals
Stephen Piscotty / Randal Grichuk /Dexter Fowler – Simply put, the Cardinals have a glut and have as much as admitted at least one OF, if not more, have to go. There most productive outfielder is Tommy Pham, but there’s no reason to assume he’s available. The next most productive full time player is Dexter Fowler, whom the Jays pursued last winter and offered pretty much exactly the deal that he now has left. But Fowler gave St. Louis what they bargained for and they knew about the players they had coming when they signed him, so why trade him now and why would the Jays want to give up assets for a free agent contract? Grichuk has defensive versatility and can contribute with the bat but ultimately is probably just Steve Pearce with some glove. He’s a good player to have but not the “impact player” the Jays covet.
That brings us to Stephen Piscotty. You’re looking at an upside play here. Piscotty looked quite good when he broke in and played 63 games in 2015, then his numbers, while still good, slid a bit in 2016 after which the Cardinals showed enough confidence in him to lock him into a contract for six years plus an option. So in terms of control you have a significant guy here. But he regressed badly in 2017. His BABiP dropped to .286 from the previous year’s .319 but that still wouldn’t account for a TAv that went from .291 all the way down to .252 (that rookie season was also fueled by .372 BABiP). If he returns to previous form, he’s a quality second tier player on most teams, but you’d still want the club to do better. The flip side is he won’t cost the prospects that the Marlins players would cost you.
Chicago White Sox
Avisail Garcia – With the White Sox in the middle of a rebuild, Garcia should be available. This is the player that will make your evaluators and number crunchers really earn their pay, though. Are you dealing for the guy who had the fifth best wRC+ among AL outfielders last year? Or the guy who came into the season with a career OPS of .695? One clue – his BABiP was an unsustainable .392 in 2017. Personally, I wouldn’t mind the Jays adding him but they would have to be getting him for a very modest return because right now I’m a skeptic.
Tampa Bay Rays
Corey Dickerson / Stephen Souza Jr. – The Rays don’t have the luxury that Toronto has of adjusting on the fly rather than rebuilding. Word is they are listening on Evan Longoria and even Chris Archer (whom I would LOVE to acquire but the price would be probably more than the management would stomach), so it’s completely conceivable that either or both of these guys would be available. You can’t really go wrong here. Heck, you’d be a lot better team if you added both, but there are differences in these two players who are less than a month apart in age. Souza, the RH hitter, was a well regarded prospect (#37 going into 2015) who dominated the upper minors before turning in a couple of mediocre seasons upon his arrival via trade in Tampa Bay after a trade. He dialed it up in 2017, hitting 30 homers, stealing 16 bases in 20 tries and walking 84 times for a .351 OBP even though he only hit .239 (for whatever one thinks AVG is worth), and his minor league track record suggest that figure should improve. His TAv was a very solid .287.
Dickerson is a lefty who raked in Colorado before being dealt for closer Jake McGee and has successfully passed the post-Coors test. His wRC+ was very similar (.286 last season), though while he gathered more hits than Souza, the BB/K ratio was significantly worse amounting to a lower OBP. Also, Souza has three seasons of control left while Dickerson has two. All things considered, despite the need for a LH hitter, Souza is the better fit for the Jays.
Andrew McCutchen – here’s the exception to the “young and controllable” goal. But in many other respects he’s the ideal play. The Pirates likely don’t expect to be such sure players in 2018 to forego the chance to cash in a guy on his last contract year for quality prospects. Because you’re just bargaining for one year, the price is more manageable. And while his very good TAv of .303 last year was a rebound from his inexplicably average 2016, it’s not crazy to imagine that he’ll find a way to replicate the star level performance of his prime years (TAvs ranging from .326 to .350 from 2012 to 2015).
Domingo Santana – I hesitate to write this up because I’m not sure I see a case for the Brewers being willing to deal this guy. MLBTR reports a few times are making a run, and since his name is out there it behooves me to pay attention. Acquired from Houston in the Carlos Gomez deal, Santana won’t be arbitration eligible until after 2018 which gives him four seasons of team control. He was a very good player in 2015 and 2016 (299 and 287 TAv, respectively), but was even better as a full-time player in 2017. His TAv jumped to .306, driven by an escalation of both home run power and OBP. His minor league track record also suggests these traits are legit, although the defensive numbers are not as rosey. Given that the Brewers consider themselves a pretty good team, I don’t really know where this speculation is coming from, and I’d have to assume the price would be beyond what the Jays would be comfortable with.
New York Yankees
Brett Gardner – and finally, here’s your wild card suggestion. The Yankees now have more guys than they can play, even with the DH. Stanton and Judge should man the corners, and Gardner, Elsbury and Hicks are all capable CF. The Yankees would desperately like to bribe someone to take at least half of Elsbury’s contract but absent that (he also apparently doesn’t want to waive his no-trade claus), Gardner would be the next most obvious move. Also, from a selfish point of view, Stanton’s added WARP is further offset if you deduct Gardner’s (3.8 last year). He’s a lefty, and while not young, still has speed and on-base skills that would play as your lead-off hitter, and is signed for two more seasons. The reason he is last is that it seems obvious that the Yankees would find a way to send him off to the Mets or someplace where he could do them little harm.
So there you have it. Seven teams the Jays could be talking to right now as you’re reading this.
Lead Photo © Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports