I’ve spoken a lot in recent weeks about the need for the Jays to actually spend some money this winter, and not spread their precious assets thinner and thinner by trading prospects they should keep and players they can use to fill holes elsewhere. However, there actually are some parts of their roster where they have enough depth to justify looking at a trade as a positive, rather than a lateral move.

The desperate nonsense we hear about moving Jose Bautista certainly isn’t that, but the club does have some young outfielders who are probably better trade assets than they are big pieces of the club’s future. They also have some back-end starter types, some with upside, who could surely fetch something, but given injury and inexperience, are not exactly at the zenith of their value.

Where the club does have players who will never be more valuable, and yet can be relatively easily replaced, is in the bullpen. Relievers being the most fungible of roster members, however, makes the task difficult, but we can look to a number of recent examples to see that it’s not impossible to pull the kind of trick that Alex Anthopoulos will be attempting this winter. In fact, he’s already pulled some of them himself– or had them pulled on him, as it were.

Trading a reliever in the winter isn’t quite the same as doing in July, so while there have been a few deals from around the time of the trade deadline in recent years that might give us hope for this winter’s possibilities– Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos, Koji Uehara for Chris Davis, or Jason Frasor (and Zach Stewart) for Edwin Jackson– I think the difference in circumstances require us to look elsewhere.

That being the case, I think there are five deals that have happened during the Anthopoulos era that can make fans feel a bit more hopeful than maybe they currently are about the possibility of the club actually finding a viable piece from out of their bullpen surplus.

They are: Brandon League for Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco for Mike Napoli, Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie, Sean Marshall for Travis Wood, and Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes.

The fact that the relief market is perhaps flooded more now than in most years may reduce the parallels, but at least, looking at that list, on the positive side, Anthopoulos clearly knows a thing or two about those sorts of trades.

On the negative side, it’s been a loooong time since he wasn’t the one vastly overvaluing a relief pitcher and underestimating the worth of the players he was giving up. I mean… if only he could find a sucker willing to give up Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers, he’d be set!

Of course, the deals were far more complicated than just that. Contracts, service time, options left, and roster issues are just a few of the components to any MLB deal, and these were no different. Let’s look at them a little closer, and try to see where we might be able to find some parallels with current Jays players, and some of the club’s potential trading partners.

Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez for Brandon Morrow (Dec. 2009)

The Seattle Mariners could never decide whether they thought Morrow was a starter or reliever, but when the time came to trade him they clearly felt his future was in the bullpen, flipping him for a similarly hard-throwing but unsteady right-hander in Brandon League, sending him to a Jays team that immediately decided to move him to the rotation– where, when healthy, he’s been quite good. Morrow had been doubly frustrating for the Mariners because he carried with him the baggage of having been drafted ahead of local boy Tim Lincecum, who in 2009 had won his second straight NL Cy Young award for the Giants. This was a bit of a weird one, so finding a parallel may not be the easiest. Is there a team out there right now who’d want to add a slightly more reliable reliever, with some team control, for a starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter who has even more years left before free agency? Would you want to bank on that guy if there was? I mean, the Diamondbacks seem to like Josh Collmenter as a long guy, but… I don’t know, maybe?

Frank Francisco and cash for Mike Napoli (Jan. 2011)

Another one that isn’t particularly instructive for us, as the Jays’ acquisition of Frank Francisco for Mike Napoli was all about the draft pick Francisco turned into– which the Jays used to select Matthew Smoral in June 2012. Nobody knew what Napoli was about to turn into (though many, it must be noted,  saw more value in him than Anthopoulos did), but the Jays were still in “asset accumulation” mode, coveted the pick, and possibly saw Napoli as a not-great two-year impediment to their ability to get a read on J.P. Arencibia and Travis d’Arnaud (who at the time of the deal was ready to graduate to Double-A). Obviously it turned out to be an awful move, mitigated slightly by the fact that Napoli was free money after Anthopoulos actually managed to find a taker for Vernon Wells. And with the new CBA all but eliminating compensation picks for middle relievers, the Jays will have to look elsewhere to find a template to build a deal on this winter.

Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland (Dec. 2011)

Here’s an interesting one: in December of 2011 the Astros gave up a very good reliever in the North Shore Strangler, who still had a tonne of service time left– more than Steve Delabar currently does– to Boston for an actual potential middle infield starter. Not only that, a potential starter with three years of team control left– albeit one who’d had limited success over four partial seasons. Jed Lowrie, at the time, had never played more than 88 big league games in a single season, and while he had posted a .321 wOBA over 920 plate appearances, he got to that number after some wildly divergent stretches– for example, in the 341 PA he’d managed in 2011 he’d posted a wOBA of just .298. He has gone on to have two very successful years since, posting a combined 6.2 WAR for the Astros in 2012 and then the A’s this past year, and so maybe this kind of a deal can give Jays fans hope that something similar is out there. Of course, the Astros were in a position to take a bit of a risk on Lowrie at the time that maybe the Jays currently aren’t– especially given the state of the relief market, and the fact that a guy like Mark Ellis is available as a free agent, with other second basemen, like Howie Kendrick or Brandon Phillips, possibly available in trades that will certainly need to be expanded beyond what we’re talking about.

Sean Marshall for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes (Dec. 2011)

This one maybe isn’t quite as strange as it seems on the surface– the fact that it was an inter-division trade between the Cubs and Reds not withstanding– as the rebuilding Cubs deal away a reliever they didn’t really need, who was coming off a fantastic season, to the Reds for a starter they didn’t really need, who was coming off a down year. Sean Marshall was worth 2.6 wins for the Cubs, per FanGraphs, in 2011, after appearing in 78 games and posting a 2.26 ERA with a 1.86 FIP. Meanwhile, Travis Wood was coming off a down year, following a nice 2010, and the Reds– having just acquired Mat Latos to join a rotation already set with Cueto, Bailey, Arroyo and Leake– needed some bullpen help, especially since they’d just “lost” *COUGH* Francisco Cordero. Wood’s walk and strikeout rates had taken a step backwards, but he’d been durable– making over 25 minor league starts in 2008 and 2009, and 30-plus in 2010 and 2011– and was under team control for five more seasons. Wood put it together this year, having nearly a three win season for the Cubs, but waiting for him to do so was a risk the Cubs could better afford than the Reds.

Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes (Nov. 2012)

This one we know a thing or two about, as Alex Anthopoulos continued his disturbing pattern of undervaluing a catcher in order to get himself one of the commodities most easily available in the game: a reliever (which you can probably include J.A. Happ as, if you want to). Not that Esmil Rogers was bad, or that Mike Aviles is any great shakes– his awful .252/.282/.368 line in 2013 contributed to a season of just 0.3 WAR in 124 games for Cleveland– but how fucking much easier would the life of Alex Anthopoulos be right now if he could have a do-over on this one? At the time, of course, Gomes was way down the Jays’ catching depth chart, but their criminal undervaluing of him is hardly an excuse. But hey, at least the deal shows that finding a starting catcher for a relief pitcher can be done, right???

In conclusion…

What all– or at least the majority– of these deals seem to show is that, unfortunately, an excellent reliever is not enough to net the kind of sure thing that the Jays will be looking for this winter. They’re not the only possible examples, of course, but the deals all have a more-than-healthy element of risk to them. That is naturally the case for just about any transaction, but it seems obvious from these few examples that an excellent reliever will usually only get you pieces that are untested or uncertain to make good on their high promise. That makes sense, given the volatility of, and limited use teams have for relief pitching, and it certainly doesn’t mean that these sorts of deals are ones that Alex Anthopoulos should avoid, it’s just that it’s hard to envision him landing a player in one that doesn’t come with giant question marks attached– which… uh… actually is precisely the thing he probably ought to be looking to avoid.

Yes, questions are unavoidable to a degree– as I’ve noted before, even the Boston Red Sox were not nearly as conservatively built as the myth suggests– but the guys dealt for with the relief pitchers in these examples are so dicey that you almost wonder if the Jays, given their fleeting status as possible contenders, would be better to be on the other side of the League or Marshall equation, giving up a high-potential, less reliable guy like Kyle Drabek to a team that knows it isn’t ready to compete, and can maybe afford to shed a quality-ish piece– though not a reliever, obviously– for that kind of lottery ticket.

Either way, taking either of these routes to improve the team won’t be without risk, but it can seemingly be done. And they’re probably a whole lot more plausible than what a lot of people have been dreaming on this winter. Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t have to “win” the off-season again, and doesn’t necessarily have to win back disaffected fans either. What happens on the field in 2014 is all that matters, and given that it can’t be that difficult to improve on the gigantic black holes the 2013 Jays had behind the plate and at second base, he’s maybe not even in quite as unenviable a position as a lot of people think.

Comments (70)

  1. great interview with Neil Wagner on Fangraphs today:

    Wagner sounds like a really smart guy.

  2. so one of santos/janssen should be traded, no?

    • I’d say Janssen/Delabar, personally, but I’m way in the tank for Santos. I think the one year on Janssen’s deal may limit his value, as will the health issues for Santos. So… Delabar then? I suspect that he’s the one everyone would probably most like to keep (maybe?), but that’s why he has the most potential value on the market, too.

      • I like Delabar a lot but I think Neil Wagner would be a ready-made replacement for him, and even McGowan is a similar pitcher, so you could probably stand to part with him and get the most value back for him in particular, so wouldn’t be a bad move at all.

        • I’d rather have Delabar coming into a close game in the 8th inning than Wagner or McGowan. Or in a situation with runners on, and we need a K. McGowan walks way too many hitters, and Wagner doesn’t have a crazy strikeout rate like Steve does

        • Dude’s got ice in his veins

      • erf?

        to be fair: Santos makes more money, & Janssen is a pending F.A.

        I also think Cecil could have a lot of trade value (given we have Loup for many years & Perez coming off of Tommy John who looked great before & after surgery)…

        But yeah, depends on what other teams are targeting/what AA can pull off

        we have a glut of BP arms (without options!) I have an idea of using our 2 BP arms with options (Delabar & Loup) as just 1 roster spot, by interchanging them up & down between the bigs & the minors… whaddyou guys think of that?

    • Put em all up “on the block” and see what people offer.

  3. With Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Brian Wilson, Joaquin Benoit, Chris Perez, Edward Mujica, Kevin Gregg, Joel Hanrahan, Jose Veras on the FA market as varying levels of “established closers”, as well as a handful of other “good” relievers available (Joe Smith, Eric O’Flaherty, Jesse Crain, Francisco Rodriguez, Frank Francisco, LaTroy Hawkins…), I see the Jays being very hard-pressed to get much via trade for back-end of bullpen guys. Hopefully AA can swindle somebody, but I’m not optimistic.

    • Agree. That makes it especially difficult with Janssen. Delabar, because he’s so much cheaper and has four years still until free agency, could still be coveted.

      • Then, why did you write this….

        • killing time until the trades start?

        • I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you saw it before I edited to add the last two sentences.

          • It probably doesn’t help that the teams know the Jays HAVE to trade some of these relievers due to the sheer number of them and the lack of options.
            Off the top of my head the Jays have:
            Janssen, Cecil, Delabar, Santos, Luis Perez, Rogers, McGowan, Jeffress, and Lincoln.

            That’s 9 relievers with only Delabar and Wagner having options, and Delabar ain’t going down. Jeffress I assume is someone they would waive, but that doesn’t even include guys like Happ (can’t be sent down anymore), Drabek , Hutch, Redmond and Jenkins (all with options) who they may want to have in the big league pen, depending on what they get for the rotation.

  4. Probably best to sit on the sidelines for a while, let a few of the top guys get snatched up. There’s a shit load of scrubs on JDR’s list and most of them are in the twilight of their careers.

    • Agreed. It’ll be much easier to sell a team with a bullpen opening on Janssen etc. when the alternatives are Chris Perez and Kevin Gregg. Hopefully, somehow, by the time all the credible names on that list are scooped up, there’s still a big fish or two looking for a feed.

  5. I think a more realistic target would be something like the Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider deal – a reliever at the peek of his value for a one-time prospect with declining value. Obviously that deal turned out to be a wash for both parties, but both players had potential.

    • It’s true, definitely. Especially thinking about guys who are going to be out of options next year and not necessarily locks to make their respective clubs.

      • Doesn’t exactly seem like the type of the player the Jays should be targeting though, unless it’s at 2B. Don’t need marginal 25-man roster players.

        • Agreed – the Jays definitely don’t need a Travis Snider, but maybe we’ll see a reliever for Gordon Beckham?

          • Former top prospect Dustin Ackley would be another who might be available in such a deal.
            M’s have the youngsters Franklin at 2B and Miller at SS.

            M’s have another former top prospect in Montero, who both the Yankees
            and M’s gave up on as a catcher. Not sue if he would be of any use or not.

            A top prospect who has not worked out, a guy who has yet to prove himself,
            a guy who makes too much and/or is in decline: that is about what a reliever
            will fetch.

    • Darwin Barney is a non-tender candidate according to MLBTR. Maybe the Cubs would swap him for some of our lesser bullpen depth? I know we’ve got plenty of other uninspiring options at 2B but the guy has added serious value with the glove. Taking a flier can’t hurt, even if it’s just for ST competition.

  6. Could we turn Hutchinson and Delabar into Howie Kendrick? Would that be an overpay or steal?

    • Fair price, as one of hutchinson/stroman as a #4/5 starter in the angels rotation and an 8th inning reliever for a all star level second baseman, I believe it is

    • I would consider it an overpay, young controllable starter with potential + all star reliever for a 2nd baseman who’s beginning to enter his decline years and is already showing signs of decline.

      • My own preference would be to turn Happ and 1 of the relievers into a servicible 2nd baseman.

        BTW Apparently Stephen Drew is going to reject Boston’s QO. He is going to be sitting on the market a long time.

  7. Travis D’Arnaud is available apparently…

    • What????

      • “With the Mets hoping to add a bat by working out a deal, but unwilling to ship out top young arms like Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News wonders whether GM Sandy Alderson might instead be willing to part with catcher Travis D’Arnaud. Though he notes that there are plenty of reasons why that may not be a wise strategy, Martino adds that many in the organization think highly of prospect Kevin Plawecki.”

      • I’m not really sure what sort of bat AA would be willing to give up to reacquire this guy… but maybe they could work out some sort of larger deal that would include one of the Met’s veteran pitchers? (Jonathon Niese) Although they’d have to give up something very substantial to make something like this actually happen (Joey Bats). I don’t know if I could swallow that price in order to reacquire someone we had a year ago.

  8. I would keep Santos & Janseen. It could be like Ward & Heinke 2.0

    I am weary f Santos being the closer based on injury history.

    In a playoff race I trust Casey Janssen

  9. Based on Klaws comments on 2 time TJ guys, Drabek might fit into the RP for asset trade category. I like the trade match up’s with the A’s (Jaso), Brewers (Lucroy) and Padres (Grandal).

    A’s may need RP and they have catching redundancies
    Padres and Brewers need SP and Drabek and Happ can be passed of for SP in the present but ultimately end up in the pen. Happ + Serria for Grandal (with his injury, and Padres strong C depth might be an option.
    Drabek + Wagner + Arencibia for Lucroy (JPA won’t miss a start, gets along well with pitchers and hits 20 hrs a year, an NL team would take that I think). However a power hitting lefty in Lind might be necessary to remove Lucroy from the brewers.

    • lucroy for happ + drabek would make sense

      • Ya, I would do that in a second! which probably means its not enough…

      • Would it???

        Lucroy is coming off back-to-back 3.6 win seasons, will only be 28 next year, is under contract cheap for three more years with an option for a fourth, and plays at a position that is filled with absolute garbage. Why would the Brewers want to take our shit for an asset like that?

        • I think it of was changed to Hutch/Stroman + Rogers/Redmond/Happ + JPA the Brewers might talk. Jaso or Grandal are more likely trade targets for me

          • *if it was…

          • I still highly doubt it.

            • Its a dream of mine for the Jays to have a + defensive C and + Offensive C who is cost controlled for 3 more years…. now that I have typed this there is now way the Brewers are trading Lucroy.

            • Brewers had the 3rd lowest team pitching WAR at 6.6 if they can acquire cost controlled pitchers like hutchinson or stroman for Lucroy I think they at least consider. Even Happs 1.2 WAR over 92IP would be promising to a struggling Brewers pitching staff

              • I don’t see any chance for the Jays to get Lucroy without trading Aaron Sanchez, and then some. Even then, if the Jays would entertain that idea, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brewers decided that they’d want prospects who are closer to being MLB-ready.

  10. sooo…
    how does everyone feel about dfa candidate t-snide? am i the only one that is all over bringing him back? not exactly an area of need, but he’s still only 25!

    • defensive replacement/lefty of the bench maybe. but as a starter, fuck no.

    • Pass. He doesn’t provide anything the Jays need.

    • Pass, would be more likely if he was a right hander to be a 4th outfielder/platoon for Lind. But holy fuck he put up a -11 wrc+ vs lefties last year and only 78 vs righties, maybe we can use him in Buffalo but that’s about it.

  11. After reading a bit of the Davidi and Lotts book, I can’t stop thinking about how AA could acquire seager and Iwakuma from the Mariners. And the only way that happens with involving Bautista in my eyes. together Seager and Iwakuma produced 7.6 WAR this season which could be higher if seager was playing 2b based on his UZR from 2012.

    I don’t think we’ll see 7.7 WAR Bautista anymore, more like 5 WAR and declining to the end of his contract. I would hate to see Bautista but I think trading him for this return would go a long way to help the Jays win in 2014.

    Bautista, Rogers, Goins for Iwakuma, Seager, Capps

    Could expand it to include Lind and Smoak (who hit RHP quite well in 2013)

    • You’re going to have to expand it a whole lot more in terms of players we’d be giving up.

      • Its easy to conjure up trade ideas with the main chips in mind, however adding the complementary players to even out the trade is the most difficult aspect of fan trade proposals. I would be willing to trade Bautista, Lind, Nolin, Goins, Rogers for Iwakuma, Seager, Smoak (only vs RHP) + RP or a depth INF

  12. Ok I have another one for you. Trade structure similar to the Rasmus trade

    To White sox: Dean, Norris, Stilton, Crawford to Jays for Ramirez + N.Jones
    To Cards: Ramirez + Gose + Cecil
    To Jays: Miller, Kelly,

  13. No talk of the Rangers here yet? Surprising.

    Rangers are listening on Kinsler/Profar/Andrus according to MLBTR. Profar would be costly, but Kinsler is probably not too pricey with that contract.

    Lind has always mashed in Texas and Rangers would love an upgrade on Moreland.
    Rasmus could help fill Murphy and Cruz’s holes in the OF. Nathan left for free agency so a bullpen arm could help.

    Profar probably needs a Bautista/EE coming the other way. Kinsler wouldn’t.

    Too many potential fits here to ignore this one.

  14. Damnit.

    Can we please just sign a damn player for one of our holes instead of using free agency purely for depth?

    Isn’t there a Cuban catcher becoming available soon? Or give Ruiz a year longer than anyone else will?

    God. Anything would help here.

  15. [...] at Drunk Jays Fans, Andrew Stoeten takes a look at the Blue Jays bullpen depth and what we can expect Alex Anthopoulos [...]

  16. We basically have enough guys to give another team an entire bullpen, and a good one. Doesn’t that have value? I realize no one does “quantity for quality” trades, but seriously, a deep pen is a huge strength, especially with longmen like Rogers or Redmond.

    After the FA scene settles down, teams will figure out how much SP depth they still need. Maybe Happ will start looking better to someone like LAA. I wonder if they’d bite on Nolin and Happ with some of our relievers without options (Jeffress, L.Perez, Redmond etc) for Kendrick.

  17. Ryan Hanigan is available from the Reds. He is coming off a down year offensively but his 2012 was fantastic and he is supposedly a plus defensive catcher. Could likely be had for a relief arm. Thoughts?

    • A good defensive catcher that walks more than he strikes out with a 350 obp? I could deal with that

      • Ignore his 9 IBB, batting 8th in the NL results in a lot of free passes.

        • Mlbtr actually covered that point and his walk percentage was higher batting 7th than 8th. Not saying he is a saviour or anything but Cincy would definitely be interested in some of our spare bullpen pieces. More so if they move Chapman to the rotation

  18. Hmmmmm….

    This might make sense actually. BABIP of .216 last year even though LD rate improved?

    Still had an OBP 50 points higher than JPA last year and good defensively?

    • At minimum he’s not an automatic rally killer. I can live with that but maybe I don’t have my head as high in the clouds as some

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