The Blue Jays, in case you missed it, find themselves sitting atop the AL East on May 27th, looking down on four teams with negative run differentials and a whole list of reasons why they can’t climb back up to the top. So, forgive the media for going all out this past week and declaring the Blue Jays the likely favourites to win what used to be baseball’s best division, because given the way they’re playing, and given the way the rest of the teams are struggling, there is a very good chance that the Blue Jays will be on national television in October.
If the Blue Jays keep this up(well, a little bit worse, they won’t be playing .750 ball for the rest of the season), they will surely be atop the division for the rest of 2014, and will need some reinforcements for October baseball. Those reinforcements start, and end, with the starting rotation. If the Blue Jays want to go far in October, a rotation of Mark Buehrle, R.A Dickey, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ won’t cut it. A team needs 4 starters to win in October, and relying on J.A. Happ is not a smart idea, no matter how well he is playing right now. And what about Brandon Morrow, who is scheduled to return from the 60-day DL sometime in July? Given his inconsistent past when he is healthy enough to play, he isn’t the ideal candidate either. So, the Blue Jays will need to trade for another pitcher if they plan on A) holding the division & B) going deep into October.
This all seemed like a nice and easy plan, until this past Saturday, when Peter Gammons posted a column on his website that talked about the Blue Jays and their future pursuit of pitching that is sure to come before the clock hits midnight on July 31st. The money quote from Anthopoulos is the following
We are pretty much maxed out in terms of payroll…but more important, we cannot keep trading our young pitchers (like Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris). We also have to be realistic about whom we can extend if we make a trade for him
In 10 words, Anthopoulos shut down the idea that Jeff Samardzija could don a Blue Jays jersey sometime this season. Then, the article continues and Gammons quotes Anthopolous again, saying that it is more likely they trade for a pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of this season, than a pitcher with multiple years of control left, because of how much it would cost in terms of prospects to get that extra year of service . Again, that crosses Samardzija off any potential list, as well as David Price, Yovani Gallardo and other 2016 MLB Free Agents.
So, what does the list of free agent pitchers look like at the end of the year? Well, the entire list can be found here, but a shorter one of realistic trade candidates looks likes this:
The problem with Beckett, De La Rosa, Liriano, and Masterson, is that their respective teams will likely still be within 10 games of the wild card come July, and because of that, they won’t be in a rush to sell off their players. That really only leaves Hammel and Lewis as options to analyze right now, as the Cubs are, well, the Cubs, and the Rangers have lost so many players to injury that it would be a miracle if they are still in the race come July.
Hammel is having the best season of his career, striking out 21.8% of the batters he has faced (compared to a 16.9 career K%), while walking only 6.1% (7.8 career BB%). Those numbers plus his low LD% and BABIP might suggest he is due for some regression in the coming weeks, and that is likely true (also, his velocity has declined for 3 straight seasons now), but you have to figure he’d still be better than the Jays’ current option, J.A. Happ. His price tag shouldn’t be too high if he comes back down to earth prior to being traded, but if he keeps the low 3.00 ERA for the next few months, as his FIP suggests he might do, the Jays could be looking at a prospect in the range of #3-#7 for his August-October services. The price will depend on the market, but it shouldn’t be too high.
With that said, Lewis is the guy I have my eye on. Aside from the obvious benefit of rostering another player named Colby, he could actually provide a ton of value for the Blue Jays. His ERA right now is a bloated 5.10, his BABIP a ridiculous .399, and batters are hitting 5% more line drives off of him than they usually do. Positive regression has never been so obvious! His contract is crazy cheap (there will be less than $1M left on his deal by the time the trade deadline rolls around), and his cost shouldn’t be too high. For what it’s worth, he is actually walking less batters than his career rate, and only striking out 0.8% less than normal. Everything about him says his numbers will be more in line with his 3.87 FIP than his 5.10 ERA, and the Blue Jays should take advantage of this. The Rangers will be selling, and the Blue Jays will be buying. It’s a match made in heaven.
The market will likely open up a lot more by the time the calendar hits July, but for now, the only two pitchers who meet AA’s criteria are Jason Hammel and Colby Lewis. Of the two, I prefer Lewis, but let’s just hope the Jays keep up this play, and actually are buyers at the trade deadline.