The MLB non-waiver trade deadline arrives on Thursday, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the Toronto Blue Jays are in playoff contention.
Normally at this time of year, teams in playoff contention are considered buyers. But the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays are not a normal team. There are strange circumstances surrounding the Jays this year, painting all decisions with a grey brush instead of in black and white.
– Will Rogers allow the team to spend money to add payroll?
– Are they willing to trade top prospects so soon after gutting the farm system in late 2012?
– Can they even compete for top players with teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, and A’s?
– Will the impending returns of Lawrie, Morrow, Encarnacion, and Lind be enough? Will those be seen by fans as akin to mid-season acquisitions?
Believe it or not, this is Alex Anthopoulos’ fifth (!!!) trade deadline as the GM of the club, and this one brings by far the most pressure. The team is winning and is geting oh-so-close to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993. If there ever is a time to go for it, it has to be now, no? At least that is what most fans are thinking. If he stands pat and the team falters late to miss the playoffs, people will call for his head.
So what should he do? More importantly, what will he do?
Before we can answer those questions, it might be worthwhile to take a look back at what he has done in the past.
AA has made nine trades in July since he took over as Blue Jays GM. Though none would be considered blockbusters, I would consider seven to be fairly impactful and I’d have a hard time saying that he lost any of them (the two minor deals included picking up Mike Jacobs for a PTBNL in 2010 and dealing Juan Rivera to LA for futures in 2011):
2010 – Acquired Jo-Jo Reyes and Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky; acquired Anthony Gose for Brett Wallace
2011 – two trades that eventually netted Colby Rasmus from St. Louis, mainly for Edwin Jackson (acquired for Jason Frasor) and Marc Rzepczynski
2012 – 10-player deal with Houston to acquire J.A. Happ; Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider; Steve Delabar for Eric Thames
Escobar was a very useful SS for a few seasons, and Rasmus and Happ remain on the major league roster. Delabar made the All-Star team last year and is currently in Buffalo working himself out. Lincoln didn’t do much, but he later became Erik Kratz who then became Danny Valencia. The key is that the Jays didn’t give up anybody of consequence. Only Pastornicky and Snider remain with the teams that acquired them, and both have been disappointing.
So what does that tell us? To me it says two things:
1 – Anthopoulos is not in the business of making in-season blockbusters.
2 – He will only acquire a player if he sees long-term benefit from that player. In other words – no rentals.
If you think about it, the biggest trades Anthopolous has made have all come in the winter. Think of the Roy Halladay, Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie, Vernon Wells, John Farrell, Jose Reyes, and R.A. Dickey trades. Wheeling and dealing outside of the pressures of a pennant race seems to be where AA is most comfortable.
So what Anthopoulos will or should do, and what fans want him to do are likely two very different things.
Fans want a blockbuster. They want Price or Lester or Zobrist or Tulowitzki. They want a marquee player that will push Toronto over the top and into the playoffs.
But what should he do? I realize that the Toronto Blue Jays have not reached the postseason for a long, long time. Getting back to the playoffs is a priority, especially now that they are seemingly within reach. But different sets of players present different sets of circumstances. For example, while any fan would love Jon Lester or David Price to anchor their rotation, is it worth giving up elite prospects (say two or three of Hutchison, Stroman, Sanchez, Norris, etc) for 2-3 months of starts? For a player like Tulowitzki, maybe. In that case, the prospect haul would be leaving the division and the league. But for Lester or Price, that means having to play against those guys for the next 5+ seasons, and having to beat them in order to make the playoffs. No thanks. Especially because Lester and Price won’t be sticking around.
And there’s the rub. If Jon Lester was acquired and agreed to a 5-year extension, then suddenly circumstances are different. But for a multitude of reasons (bad recent history, different country, increasingly stingy ownership, artificial turf) Toronto is no longer a free agent destination. If David Price arrives and leads the Jays to the ALCS, no matter how much love the fans shower upon him, he will still end up signing with the Yankees or the Mets or the Dodgers or the Braves or the Nationals or the…..
So what should Anthopoulos do? If it were up to me, nothing. In the next few weeks the Jays will be acquiring three key players from the injured list – Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind. They might be getting a hard-throwing reliever in September (Brandon Morrow). That right there might be enough to reach the promised land.
But what will he do? I don’t know. There is a very real possibility that it is playoffs or bust for Anthopoulos. If a man is fighting for his job he is more inclined to strive for short-term gain over long-term benefit. For that reason I can see him sacrificing some of his top young pitchers for Lester, putting all his eggs in the 2014 basket and hoping for the best.
I just hope his final decision is the right one.