It’s not exactly news that the Jays and the Angels could very potentially line up when it comes to trades this off-season, but in his piece this morning at ESPN.com (Insider Olney), Buster Olney certainly hammered the point home. Though he didn’t mention the Jays by name, he highlighted reasons why there could be a fit quite clearly:
The Los Angeles Angels finished 22nd in starters’ ERA last season, and are said to be casting a wide net as they look for ways to upgrade their rotation through trades. There are still starting pitchers available through free agency, but agents report that Arte Moreno’s executives are not engaging much in that market, which speaks to the budget crunch the Angels face.
. . .
Unless Moreno is willing to flirt with the luxury-tax cap and increase his payroll, then the Angels’ only real hope of landing some pitching is to trade assets on the major league roster, because their farm system is thin. This is why they began reaching out to other teams in early October to let them know they’d be willing to talk about Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Chris Iannetta and Howie Kendrick, among others.
That said, this is still not an easy fix. The Angels are said by rival executives to be targeting young starters early in their careers — i.e., cheap and controllable. But a lot of rival executives are lukewarm about what the Angels have to offer.
The second baseman, Kendrick, and the catcher, Iannetta, are the targets that Alex Anthopoulos would have some obvious interest in, and if you’re the Jays, there is actually a lot to like about the scenario Olney presents.
The fact that executives may be lukewarm would seem to be a plus, because what that says to me is that the price may not be terribly high, even though these two players are clearly upgrades on what the Jays have at those positions. Iannetta’s defensive work isn’t great, but he played in 115 games in 2013, walked in 17% of his at-bats, and was worth +2.1 WAR– a rate at which he’d have been nearly a three-win improvement on J.P. Arencibia. Kendrick, meanwhile, is a low-walk, high-contact, high-BABIP guy, with solid defense (5.4 UZR/150 for his career), who has been worth +11.4 WAR total in the last three seasons, though half of that value came in 2011 alone.
If healthy, the Jays could be looking at something on the order of six wins from those players, at a total salary commitment for 2014 of $14.325-million– which… um… kinda puts the whole Josh Johnson qualifying offer debate into perspective, huh?– and just about the same amount on the books again for the following year.
Best of all, if Olney is right and the Angels are motivated in part by the idea of shedding some salary– and, it should be noted, they do have cheaper, in-house replacements in catcher Hank Conger and middle infielders Grant Green and Taylor Lindsey– the price could be low enough for the Jays to potentially pry them loose with non-roster players. The trouble is, which ones?
Or… actually, the first bit of trouble is, just how early in their careers would the starters the Angels are looking for have to be?
The Jays certainly have a surplus of controllable arms of varying types. There are high-end ones who might not be ready to contribute just yet (Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman); ones coming off injury with limited big league track records of success (Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek); true back-end or long relief guys who showed in 2013 they might deserve an opportunity (Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond); and completely untested guys who may or may not be great (Sean Nolin, Deck McGuire).
They also have J.A. Happ– who is too expensive to be a long-man for the Jays, and maybe not under team control long enough for the Angels (one year plus an option)– and Ricky Romero, who… um… is from Southern California? And might be worth taking a flier on for Anaheim, as long as the Jays are paying all of the freight?
So, the possibilities are plentiful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that making the pieces fit will be easy. I’d wager the Jays could get a deal done pretty quickly if they were willing to offer a Stroman or a Sanchez in a package, but let’s fucking hope that’s not on the table– at least not from AA’s end.
Beyond those two, though, I think I’d move just about any two of those other guys in order to make a deal like this happen. Hell, throw in a mid-relief arm too, if you must! But I think that still leaves you with some lingering concerns (apart from whatever ones that Anaheim would have): first, payroll, and second, remaining trade chips.
Adding $14-million in payroll would, when considering arbitration raises that are still coming, take the Jays almost exactly to the $150-million figure that most of us believe is the point where Rogers would prefer to stop spending. That could be mitigated, though, by sending J.P. Arencibia ($2.8-million arbitration projection) the other way– Conger needs a backup!– or finding a way to involve Happ ($5.2-million salary for 2014) or getting the Angels to take on at least some of what’s still owed Romero.
In other words, maybe the Jays could find a way to offset some of the difference. But that still doesn’t leave a whole of payroll space to fix the club’s actual top need, another front-end rotation arm.
It also would very possibly leave the Jays looking at either the free agent market for that solution, or at making a rather unpalatable deal, as guys like Nolin, Hutchison, Drabek, etc., represent the club’s best mid-range trade chips. Moving too much of that capital would leave players like Sanchez, Stroman, Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus as the club’s best options to move in order to get the top pitcher they covet, and would further deplete what is currently a wealth of rotation depth.
Now, if you could add Kendrick and Iannetta, then convince Rogers to give you enough wiggle room to add another $15- to $20-million for an Ubaldo Jimenez, while knocking down enough payroll by jettisoning Arencibia and Happ, giving away Romero to whoever will give the most salary relief, and maybe even– if you really have to, just for the sake of savings– moving Casey Janssen for minor league pieces or those making the minimum, uh… that could actually be a hell of a thing, no?
It’s fanciful as fuck, yes, but just go with me on this for a second…
Say the additions I’m suggesting take them to somewhere in the $165-million area, assuming no salary going the other way to Anaheim, and a $15-million first year on whichever free agent pitcher you sign. Janssen, Arencibia, and Happ alone represent $12-million in salary. Huh? Huh? Huh?
I know these sorts of suggestions are always ridiculous– believe me, I’m rolling my eyes at myself right now, even– but maybe it’s ridiculous enough to work! Could Rogers stomach going a few million north of $150 on the club’s final payroll figure? Is there enough rotation depth left if you’re moving guys like Drabek, Hutchison, Nolin, and Happ? Would Ubaldo or Ervin Santana actually come here and take something like $15-million for the first year of a possibly-backloaded deal? Would the Angels actually bank on back end rotation guys that we won’t, not get better offers, and be willing to move as much big league talent as I’m suggesting for those kinds of question marks?
Those last two questions are the big ones, and the last one in particular is almost certainly where this whole scheme falls apart.
If you can find a way to make the answer to all of those questions “yes,” though… uh… off-season solved???
Sure. Off-season solved. Why the fuck not?
Or say it doesn’t work. What if you do include Stroman?