Happ and Oh Dealt for Minor League Depth – The Rebuild is On

I guess Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro do have a way with trades, as J.A. Happ and Seung Hwan Oh have been dealt for two prospects each. Both pitchers have had excellent seasons for the Blue Jays and were likely to move. The return of prospects highlights Shapiro and Atkins’ area of expertise: minor league development and asset management.

Happ had moved into #1 trade bait territory for the Jays since Donaldson’s injury plagued year had set him up on the DL for most of the first half of the season. With the Mariners, Brewers, Cubs, and Yankees interested the price would have seemingly rose with such immense competition for the leftie ace. But on the contrary, Happ struggled in his last few starts and the price had to drop for the rental player. The Yankees ended up winning the race but still gave up a nice return for the Jays ace.

Originally it was believed OF Clint Frazier or LHP Justus Sheffield would have to be involved in a deal for Happ, but instead the Jays pick up INF 3B Brandon Drury, and OF Billy McKinney. The haul is still impressive for the Blue Jays on this deal.

Drury was picked up in the off season from Arizona by the Yankees as a depth option at third base. With the emergence of Miguel Andujar at third base and Gleyber Torres at second base Drury simply didn’t have room on the Yankees roster anymore and was moved. Think of Randall Grichuk from St. Louis – outfield depth pushed him out of the organization and they needed to capitalize on his value in a trade. Drury is just 25 years old and comes with three years of contract control. He has had a down year offensively, hitting below .200 but has all the ability to straighten things out and get back in form for his new team.

Drury’s acquisition is interesting seeing as there is a theoretical logjam at third base for the Jays. Solarte, Donaldson, Gurriel Jr. and Vlad – all are lining up for the spot. Until Donaldson gets traded or resigns on a likely one year deal we can only hypothesize about his future with the Jays, but the pick up of Drury does make Solarte’s future a little less clear.

Billy McKinney adds more competition to the outfield job in Blue Jay land. The 20th ranked prospect in the Yankees system has the ability to play in all outfield positions and has spent time at first base as well. His versatility in the field is undoubtedly attractive as a plug-and-play player is always more useful to a manager. According to pinstripedprospects.com McKinney’s bat is above average. Hitting from the left side of the plate McKinney has a smooth stroke and level swing. Since promotion to AAA he has sacrificed some of his plate discipline in a more power-hitting approach. Overall, there is a good chance that McKinney will be an everyday outfielder in the majors.

So Happ returns a developed prospect for third base, and a developing player in the outfield – not bad!

Seung Hwan Oh was moved to the Colorado rockies for two prospects as well. The Jays pick up first baseman Chad Spanberger, OF Forrest Wall, and a player to be named later or cash.

Oh had been Toronto’s most reliable bullpen arm this season putting up a 2.68 ERA over 47 innings of play. The Final Boss (a nickname he earned in St. Louis) can close, set up, or be a middle relief pitcher and brings a veteran presence to the bullpen with him. Colorado are gearing up for a playoff run and have added an interesting and versatile piece to their pitching ranks.

For Toronto they add another prospect to challenge Rowdy Tellez to the future of the Blue Jays first base in Chad Spanberger. Spanberger was the Rockies’ 24th overall prospect and is impressing in A-ball this season. Currently sitting at a .315 average, Spanberger has 22 home runs to his name, 75 RBIs, and an OBP of .363. Through 92 games this season he has improved on his 2017 numbers and should be pressing for a AA promotion to New Hampshire.

Forrest Wall the newest member of the Jays outfield prospect pool settles in at #23 on the Jays prospect rankings. He has suffered some injuries which have stunted his prospect development, however he is healthy and looking to get his numbers back on track. Currently hitting .206 in AA with 6 home runs and 12 RBIs, Wall needs to regain his plate discipline. He is a leftie hitter which always adds value to prospects, and has the ability to hit the deep ball or spread the ball to all fields. More of a project than cant-miss prospect, Wall will need patience in order to regain his form in the Blue Jays system. The competitive AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats team could help reignite him and get him back on track.

So it’s officially begun. The Jays are moving out rental type players who have value to playoff contenders. What is next for Jays management is the search for pitching prospects to support and replace the likes of Borucki and Sean-Reid Foley in the minors. Perhaps Solarte, Granderson, and even Donaldson could be next in the clear out and rebuild of the Jays roster.

All stats from milb.com

Steve Pearce is crushing it for the Red Sox, and that’s a good thing for the Jays

Former Blue Jay and current pinch hitting DYNAMO for the Boston Red Sox, Steve Pearce is ripping it up for his new team. Need some proof? Here he is launching a one handed missile over the Green Monster last night:

Since joining the Red Sox Pearce has gone 10/21 giving him a .476 batting average, with 1 home run, 4 doubles, and 5 RBIs. Pearce is usually appearing as a pinch hitter, slotting in behind J.D. Martinez in the line up. For the Sox he offers adequate defense with versatility as he can seemingly play LF, RF, 1B, 2B, 3B, but having a veteran bat who has seen a lot of AL pitchers is probably his biggest asset.

Safe to say Red Sox fans are liking the signing too…

Despite Boston having success with Pearce, Toronto could also reap some benefits from their stand out, veteran players getting moved like Pearce was. Granderson, Morales, Happ, Solarte – with the exception of KenMo these players have brought excitement and offense to an otherwise under-performing roster. And despite their importance to the Blue Jays game in the long run it is worth it to move on from these veteran players and bring in more farm system players.

It’s an uncomfortable truth for a lot of Jays fans to accept – trading your best players, but in pro sports if you aren’t contending then you need to be building. Unfortunately for the Jays, they aren’t contending. Holding onto veteran players on one year expiring deals makes no sense and hamstrings the teams rebuild for the sake of mild entertainment.

Pearce thriving on a contending team is nothing but good news for the Blue Jays. His performance so far is basically acting as one of those surprisingly athletic sign flippers standing out front of a liquidation sale or Little Caesar’s Pizza shouting out their availability for business based on their skills. And just like Little Caesar’s there is a lot more for sale than just one Steve Pearce sized pizza.

Sure, it’s going to suck but if the Jays move out some vets it allows us Jay’s fans to see more minor league players get a shot. Gurriel to 3B? Why not if Donaldson is traded/injured! Dwight Smith Jr. to platoon in the outfield with Hernandez and maybe Clint Frazier? I’d like to see it! The Jays should use the assets they have to create a strong foundation of prospects building for a competitive team in the (near) future, not hold on to them so we have a few more RBIs in a meaningless August.

Should The Jays Target Yankee’s Clint Frazier In Happ Trade?

As the end of July creeps closer Toronto Blue Jays fans anxiously await the inevitable trades that should shift the struggling Blue Jays into a franchise full of solid prospects. What the focus for the Blue Jays should be is “cusp” players and high level prospects that are close to stepping into the major leagues in the near future, not project players.

For Toronto Blue Jays fans one of the biggest bright spots this season has the been the terrific play of leftie ace J.A. Happ. Subsequently, one of the hardest pills to swallow will be him moving away from the team soon. Even worse, it looks like it’s the yankee’s who’ll be scooping him up, however the silver lining could be the return the Jays could get for their southpaw.

In a team chocked full of high quality prospects, Clint Frazier has been heralded as the next MLB ready outfield prospect to emerge from the New York Yankee farm system. Without the major acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton in the off season it was likely Frazier would have been a regular on the big league club, however for the Yankee’s the Stanton deal was a typical signing – big name, big bat, big money – and couldn’t be passed up.

For Frazier his entire career is ahead of him; at 23 years old and some big league at bats in 2017 and 2018 under his belt he is ready to make the transition to the majors. He is currently hitting second in the line up and playing right field for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders. His minors numbers make him an attractive piece to target in any deal with the team;

Scranton Wilkes-Barre (AAA):

  • 44 games, 203 plate appearances, .305 batting average
  • 24 extra base hits, 8 home runs, 17 RBIs
  • 21 walks, .379 on base percentage

The Jays would be giving up a top notch player this season who fills a desirable need for many teams – elite level leftie starting pitching. Happs 2018 stats prove he is worth a rich return, too: 10-4 records, (inflated) 4.08 ERA, 110 strikeouts, 1.110 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 9.2 SO/9.

So, would Frazier be a good fit on the Blue Jays? Any 23 year old, 6’1″ 195lb, elite level prospect on the cusp of making starting their MLB career would be welcomed to most teams in the league including the Blue Jays. As it stands now the outfield has not been the largest concern for the Jays, but more competition for play should be welcomed.

The Jays current outfield is led by Kevin Pillar, the Jay’s everyday centre fielder who offers unparalleled defence with average batting. Next is breakout hitter Teoscar Hernandez (LF) who stepped up with his opportunity to be an every day player this season and is now cemented in left field. Hernandez brings major pop to the lineup with average/below average defending. And finally Randal Grichuk (RF), who appeared to be the weak link in the outfield but has returned to form after a horror start to the season. Grichuk is hitting .294 in June with 8 homeruns and 20 RBIs, while offering above average defence.

Acquiring Frazier could mean the Blue Jays would roll with a young platoon in the outfield, using a mix of their everyday outfield players to maximize their potential and also temper the likes of Frazier into the league.

A move for the top outfield prospect could also signal that a few more moves are on their way – namely Curtis Granderson and Kendrys Morales. With young players itching to play, moving out a player like Morales who can legitimately only play DH (not good enough at 1B) you can keep a bat like Hernandez in the lineup, while offering better team defence with Frazier in LF.

Despite the hate they get on a regular basis, GM Ross Atkins and President Mark Shapiro know how to build a team through drafting, developing, and prospect analysis. Atkins is responsible for flipping leftie Francisco Liriano last season for Nori Aoki and an “outfield prospect” who turned out to be Teoscar Hernandez. Much like the Astros, the Yankees are deep in the outfield and Frazier could be the piece targeted in a deadline deal for Happ.

Embrace the rebuild, Jays fans. It’s about to get started!

 

Jays Beat Nats, Nats Beat Yanks = Jays Best Team in AL East?

I’m just asking for a friend, but I think that the Jays may be the best team in the American League based off of the transitive property – don’t blame me, blame science! But seriously, what is going on with the Blue Jays? It’s a small sample size but the Jays have gone 7-3 in their last ten, sweeping the Orioles and Nats, while getting swept by the Rays in Tampa (obviously).

A few reasons that the Jays have had a recent turn in form are: Devon Travis, Randal Grichuk, Yangervis Solarte, and Marco Estrada.

Devon Travis, a career bandaid player, was recalled from a minor league rehabbing stint on may 22nd. A man possessed since returning, Travis has been hitting .538 avg. in his last seven games, including two home runs and five RBIs in that stretch. This brings his season average to .238 and home runs to four with 11 RBIs, emphasizing the impact his most recent 13 at bats have had on his season total 122 at bats.

Yangervis Solarte has just been more of the exciting, electric player he has been since coming to the Jays. His average is sitting at .258 with a .310 on base percentage, virtually mirrored in his last seven days at .286 avg and .286 obp (all evens out, right?). He is handling the job of team slugger, with three home runs, even if they are coming with no one on base, four RBIs. He seems to be the pulse of the team and has now officially surpassed Ace as team mascot – just watch the dug out when anyone hits a bomb, their hands up dancing just like Solarte was doing in April! He may be an important piece for more than just his on field performance as any contending team could use his switch hitting bat, and infield utility defence.

Randal Grichuk, MY GUY. Since coming off of the DL on June 1st he has been more than advertised when he was brought in to the Blue Jays fold this off season. In June, fresh off the DL, Grichuk has been hitting .326 avg. with 3 home runs and 5, yes 5, home runs. He has been lights out and seems mentally refreshed since coming off his injury rehab. Is it sustainable, well I previously say no, but I guess we’ll see, won’t we! Grichuk is up to .196 .avg on the season, and 7 home runs. He has turned his game around and as long as he can keep it close to this form for the rest of the season, Toronto and the fans are the real benefactors of his improved and exciting play.

Marco Estrada has been a real mixed bag as a pitcher this season, and it has been a mix of “what type of bad is Estrada going to be?”, not “will he be good or bad?”. However, the former pitching ace has seemingly turned his form in June, posting a 1.45 era and going 2-0 in 3 starts. It’s hard to say what has been effecting Estrada’s game last season and leaking into 2018, however whether it is mental clarity or mechanical reworking that has settled him down in June, Estrada is finally pitching like he can and is actually helping his team get closer to winning.

A few shoutouts for great play are J.A. Happ and Teoscar Hernandez. Happ has been great as he has been all season, locating his fastball and mixing pitches like the vet he is. Teoscar on the other hand, always seems to have a homer run or timely hit loaded in his bat for Jays fans to get excited about. Outside of these two, and another plus to the Blue Jays is the long coming return of Marcus Stroman. It will likely see Sam Gaviglio sent back to the minors, but that may be for the best as he has struggled in his last two starts.

Any way you cut it, the Blue Jays are playing some exciting ball right now and giving the fans something to stick around for. I’ll gladly take a team that can sweep elite and terrible opponents while mystically being befuddled in the league’s shittiest stadium for no apparent reason. As long as they win some game and crank some dingers, that all we want for this season now!

After an AL beat down streak, Blue Jays smack back at Twins

With the series finale slated for a matinee affair on May 2nd, the Toronto Blue Jays have seemingly bounced back after getting taught some tough lessons against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, against the Minnesota Twins.

Resilience will need to be a a key factor in the Blue Jay’s character this season if they want to hang around in the playoff race. But, as it stands the Blue Jays are doing what playoff contenders do – beat the mediocre teams and hang with the good ones.

The once thought to be strength of the Jays, the pitching rotation has shown a few chinks in the armor so far. Marco Estrada and the long ball, a tale as old as time, has been an issue this season.As well, Jaime Garcia looking for consistency in his pitching, especially against players who will make you pay. But both are nothing in comparison to the often outspoken and now under performing Marcus Stroman.

He just doesn’t have it this year – yet. Five games started, three loses, and no wins to show for it this season, Stroman is sporting a pretty damn bad ERA: 8:88. Maybe an Eric Lindros fan but more likely just an under performing pitcher, Stroman brings the heat on himself in this situation constantly talking about himself on social media. I’m not condemning the use of social media for athletes, I actually love it, but there is an expectation when you’re on it constantly talking yourself up – walk the walk, now Stroman.

I do think he’ll get it figured out, he’s simply too good not to, but the longer he takes to get his head on straight, the longer the Jays will have to wait to take another step forward.

For positives, the Blue Jays have a legit Cy Young contender on the team (so far this season, obviously). J.A. Happ, maybe the quietest player on the Jay’s roster has, quietly (how apropos) strung together ELITE numbers this year. 4-1 in 6 games started, 3.50 ERA, 12.5 strike outs/nine innings, 1.028 WHIP, and a total of 50 strike outs. Happ is pulling his weight in the rotation and setting a terrific example of veteran talent making an impact.

To go along with team resiliency, the Blue Jays have plugged players in for injured or under performing starters and had really positive results. Donaldson on the DL, Grichuk on the DL, Travis demoted to the minors, Gift Ngope not earning his spot on the bench, all have been mitigated by squad players stepping up and producing.

The infield is comfortably being patrolled by Smoak a stalwart and everyday first baseman, 2nd base covered by rookie call up Lourdes Gurriel jr. who is comfortably settling in the big leagues, Aledmys Diaz playing almost everyday at SS, Yangervis Solarte being a productive and serviceable 3rd baseman, while Teoscar Hernandez, another young call, up has cemented himself on the big league club.

They Jay’s aren’t bad – a point I will continue to stress as long as they keep proving me right. I never thought they would be, but I did think that they would have had to rely on three players to have big season: Travis to reestablish himself after injury layoff, Donaldson to prove himself in a contract year, and Grichuk to prove the Cardinals wrong for moving on from him. All three have been bad, or injured… or both, and yet, the Jays keep producing.

Until they stop acting like they’ve been here before, the Blue Jays are ready to continue shocking the league – the most recent lesson they have learned is the importance of resilience, and at the poor old expense of the Twins, too!

 

Don’t Look Now, But The Blue Jays Aren’t Terrible

Early in the season? Yes. Small sample size? Mhmm. Probably going to jinx it? You bet. Doesn’t matter though, these Blue Jays are pretty damn good! With four series now gone, the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to lose a series this season and possess an unlikely 8-5 record.

What makes this more impressive is the competition they’ve played against – two divisional rivals in the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, another rival in the Texas Rangers, and the Chicago White Sox. So how have the Jays been winning games?

Starting Pitching 

Always believed to be the Jays strength, their starting rotation has been pretty impressive. Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Jaime Garcia have been next level, with Stroman and Estrada looking just okay.

Sanches: 19.2 IP, 13 SO, ERA 3.66, Games Started: 3, Wins: 1, WHIP 1.424
Happ: 16 IP, 23 SO, ERA 3.94, Games Started: 3, Wins: 2, WHIP 1.313
Garcia: 11.1 IP, 12 SO, ERA 3.18, Games Started: 2, Wins: 1, WHIP 1.147

These three have been stellar, all with double digit strike outs and registered wins. Their ability to go deep in games allows for micromanaging of the bullpen as well, limiting the overuse of the reg-tag relievers the Jays have assembled.

In game two of the Baltimore series Aaron Sanchez carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning. His control was on display, and ability to mix speeds to keep hitters guessing multiple times through the order was exciting to see. Hopefully the blister issues are behind him now (knock on wood) and the Sanchize can return to form.

For Happ and Garcia it is just business as usual for two veteran guys. Locate pitches well, use that lefty starter advantage, and when hit keep the ball on the ground of popped high to get outs.

Unlikely Offensive Production

The Jays have also benefitted from getting offence from all over their order. Only one player, Gift Ngoepe, has yet to register an RBI, while ever rostered played has a hit.

Home Runs, an area thought to be dominated by Smoak and Donaldson does feature the two offensive giants at the top, however they have some unlikely company. Donaldson is tied for the team lead with three home runs with Steve Pearce and Aledmys Diaz. Yes you read that correctly. Pearce, who went back-to-back-to-back games with home runs has given himself a chance at capitalizing on the revolving door in left field. When not relied upon (see 2017 Blue Jays) he is a great bench player with utility defence and pop in his bat.

Diaz, who is likely to be the Blue Jays starting shortstop for the majority of the season, has been a solid surprise this season. With his latest home run coming in the last game against Baltimore, he has spread out his long balls this season. He is only hitting .206, but did see some time off due to an injury knock. The Jays don’t need him to be a .300 hitter if their big guns keep up their production, which does take pressure off of him to perform.

Another offensive surprise has been Luke Maile. The backup catcher has strung together some nice offensive numbers this season in limited at bats (15). With six hits he sports a .400 batting average, with three doubles and four RBI’s. This eases the pressure on Martin to play every game, as Maile has shown early that he can be relied more so than last season.

 

Despite the early season success there are a few areas that may become bigger issues for the club.

Randal Grichuk

Brought in via trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for two pitchers, Grichuk has struggled MIGHTILY at the plate so far this season. Like, he’s been really really bad. In 39 at bats he has three hits, a .077 BA, and a .140 On Base Percentage. He was never brought in to be a bog production guy, but rather a solid defensive right fielder. He has been fine defensively, but with numbers this bad he has become a liability in the line up.

Baltimore pitchers originally targeted his inability to hit the high fastball, this quickly devolved into ‘just throw the ball down the middle and see if he can hit it.’ He could not. He was given a game off to mentally rest. This resulted in a long double to centre field, but he has gone cold again since then. The Jays need to get their right fielder’s bat sorted soon, or he will not be able to recuperate his numbers this season.

Josh Donaldson

This one is two-pronged. The all-star third baseman has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the field. Offensively his is on a great pace for the season – three home runs, eleven hits, nine RBI’s, and a .352 OBP. But, defensively his is a shell of his former self. He blew Aaron Sanchez’s no hitter with a ground ball that bounced through his legs, and on top of that, cant seem to throw to first base.

The “dead arm” incident is also still ongoing. Post Baltimore series, which saw Donaldson sit the last game, Donaldson said there has been no improvement in his arm despite still playing third base. He was initially transitioned to DH as it didn’t effect his swing, but after returning to 3B it was assumed it was better. Wrong-o.

Donaldson is going to be a problem for the Jays this season. He knows they aren’t going to sign him, but that doesn’t mean they are going to trade him either. It is a worst case scenario, really, but it seems likely if the team keeps playing as well as they are. If they Jay’s remain a fringe playoff team fighting for a wildcard spot then they can’t trade away one of their offensive leaders. But, if the Jays struggle it will likely be on the back of Donaldson not being able to produce. If that is the case he won’t get any sort of return to help the Jays rebuild quickly.

What a conundrum.

Despite the weariness of two key players who feature for the team regularly, the team is still doing really well. And that is really the most important part when trying to understand the success the Jays have had this season so far – its a team effort. Not Bautista’s team, or Edwin’s team, but just a team effort. Yangervis Solarte and Kevin Pillar supporting the likes of Smoak and Donaldson offensively. While Granderson improves the clubhouse filled with youth players, and produces on the field as well.

If the Jays are destined to be a successful team this year it will be on all of their backs, not individual players. They have shown resiliency this season so far, scoring the most runs from the 7th inning on in the MLB, not quitting when behind and closing out winning games.

It should be interesting to see how it plays out, but one thing is for sure, this team is a lot better than the 2017 Blue Jays.