Jeff and I researched all 29 other major league clubs for potential trade fits with the D-backs, and several of the possibilities beyond the Cardinals and Cubs seem promising. As trade partners for Arizona go, there might be none better than the Blue Jays.
As noted in the Offseason Plan, for the D-backs to improve, they’ll probably have to add on the pitching side, rather than on the position player side. As possible trade assets, Arizona has arguably the best pitching prospect in the game in Archie Bradley. It also controls Tyler Skaggs, who was ranked highly as a prospect entering last season, but who developed some mechanical issues that resulted in a loss of velocity and possibly control. Several of the other top 30 D-backs prospects could be tempting for teams, as well.
On the major league side, we think Trevor Cahill or possibly Randall Delgado could get moved if the D-backs pick up another starter. The logjams at shortstop and center field also create trade possibilities — we concluded on Wednesday that Chris Owings might be a better (and preferred) trade asset than Didi Gregorius, and A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton could also be moved in the right trade.
Cahill, Delgado, Skaggs, Owings, Pollock and Eaton could all work for Toronto. If Arizona is motivated to move some of these players to upgrade its pitching staff or add some pop at a corner, Toronto could be a strong match.
Seeing a window of opportunity in the AL East with Boston sputtering and New York stagnating, Toronto made a huge effort to contend in 2013. Miami had made a similar push to contend after the 2011 season, and Toronto seized on that opportunity just over one year ago by trading seven players for Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson. Toronto turned around next month to trade touted prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for reigning NL Cy Young R.A. Dickey.
Toronto’s bid to contend in 2013 worked only as well as Miami’s had the year before, however, with the team finishing dead last in the AL East with a 74-88 record. The team’s failure was really a group effort, with all of Toronto’s pickups missing time to injury (incl. Reyes) or struggling to perform as they had in the past (incl. Johnson, Dickey). That’s left Toronto in something of a tough spot — Johnson recently left to join the Padres on a $8M, 1-year deal with an unconventional option, but the club still has most of the players they gave up so much to acquire. Barring a large strategic swerve, Toronto will probably look to retool, rather than looking to rebuild.
Nearly any team could upgrade their rotation with Trevor Cahill, but Toronto is not far removed from a complete and reliable rotation. The staff is headed by Dickey, Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow; J.A. Happ is also in the fold, and Kyle Drabek may be slated to start in the fifth slot. In the wings, Toronto has the promising Drew Hutchison returning from Tommy John, as well as prospect Sean Nolin and another option in Marcus Stroman.
While the team will count on Dickey and Buehrle for their durability, Morrow is no lock to provide as much as 150 innings. Normally a strikeout artist, Morrow had only a 6.96 K/9IP ratio in 2013 while throwing a mere 54.1 innings in 10 starts. Since the Blue Jays finished the conversion to the rotation in 2010 that the Mariners started in 2009, Morrow has pitched 146.1, 179.1, 124.2 and now 54.1 innings in his four years with the Jays. Morrow will be a part of Toronto’s planned rotation for 2014, but another season of declining results and injury troubles may lead the team to decline its option on him for 2015. It could be that a year from now, Morrow is marketed as a reliever.
Although Toronto is positioned to use Happ in the rotation, his salary ($5.2M in 2014) would not be totally out of place in the bullpen. Happ started 18 games in 2013, posting a 4.56 ERA in line with a weighted Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) of 4.82. Happ’s role could be changed for the right reasons.
Addition to that Morrow’s fragility, Drew Hutchison’s questionable availability, and Kyle Drabek’s mediocre and injury-riddled record with the Jays, and they might be easily persuaded to take on a Mark Buehrle clone. Quality is an issue, of course, but innings quantity might be a higher priority for Toronto than for other teams seeking starters. Cahill could be a fit, as few starters are better bets to provide 200+ innings next year and the year after.
As for position players, Toronto is set at DH, first, third, and catcher. Although the outfield always tends to be a little more fungible than the infield positions, Toronto has a starting outfield of Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and Jose Bautista, left to right. My guess is that they would not feel the need for another OF who could enter a time share, like Pollock; 23 year old Anthony Gose is capable of playing all outfield positions, with some offensive upside and the ability to steal bases. It could be the case a year from now that Toronto could be a match for Arizona outfielders, after Cabrera and Rasmus are no longer under contract; but there’s not a fit to be had in that regard now.
Middle infield is where it gets interesting. Early in the offseason a year ago, Toronto signed Maicer Izturis on the promise of better-than-backup playing time. The trade with Miami brought Bonifacio, however, and the two did split time, although Izturis got the lion’s share of plate appearances. In an unfortunate coincidence for Toronto, Izturis went down with a season-ending ankle injury on August 22, just days after Bonifacio was sold to Kansas City. Toronto responded by plugging in an anemic Munenori Kawasaki (wRC+ of 78 in 289 PAs) and trying a (failed) experiment of moving Brett Lawrie over from third base.
Toronto declined its $1M option on Kawasaki, and Steamer projects an 84 wRC+ for 84 for Izturis for 2014, meaning he looks likely to create runs at a well below average clip next season. GM Alex Anthopolous may need to clench his teeth if Izturis is installed again as the starter – last year, he was terrible offensively (63 wRC+) and defensively (-26.7 UZR/150 at second, only marginally better at short and third).
Ideally, Toronto could bring a player on board who could hold down second base all season. Given the long and storied injury history of Jose Reyes, it might be an added bonus if that player could slide over to shortstop for two or three stretches per season of approximately 15 days. Paging Chris Owings…
I think we can say with some confidence that both Trevor Cahill and Chris Owings would be valued by Toronto, probably more than most other teams might.
Toronto’s Available Assets
Assuming Toronto is not switching to rebuilding mode, it’s likely to keep its best major league hitters, including Jose Bautista. Even if they had any, Arizona also would not likely be interested in position player prospects. We’re really looking at pitching from Toronto, with some players on the cusp of performing in the bigs, and some relievers who could probably be pried away in the right move.
The prospects cupboard of the Blue Jays is nearly bare after the Marlins and Mets trades. The team’s best prospect is Aaron Sanchez, who is far from a sure thing, but who is one of a very few prospects in the game who has ace potential. By all accounts, Sanchez was deemed untouchable in last year’s trade discussions. The only thing that’s changed is that Sanchez did struggle mechanically toward the end of the year – probably deepening the divide between how Toronto might view Sanchez and how he might be viewed by Arizona and other clubs. In a vacuum, Sanchez might be a good value match for Owings, with some return spilling over into Cahill – but it seems like that’s a non-starter for Toronto.
Marcus Stroman is a different story. With a mid-90s fastball and command of three other pitches, Stroman has a starter’s repertoire; at 5’9” and 185 lbs, however, he might not have a starter’s physique. Stroman pitched to a 3.30 ERA in 20 AA starts last season, with an excellent strikeout rate (10.4/9) and an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.78). Because of the possible size limitation, I like Stroman as a trade target; like Carlos Martinez of St. Louis, Stroman has a relatively high ceiling, but also the relatively high floor of being a very good relief pitcher.
There are other pure relievers that would interest the Diamondbacks, including prospect John Stilson, who could join Jake Barrett, Andrew Chafin, and Jimmy Sherfy in a new-style youth bullpen in late 2014 or 2015. On the major league roster, Toronto has an affordable finesse pitcher as closer in Casey Janssen, a knockout righthander in Steve Delabar, and lefty Brett Cecil, who was several kinds of excellent in his first stint as a reliever.
SS/2B Chris Owings and C Michael Perez for LHP Brett Cecil and RHP John Stilson
With only Joe Thatcher in the fold as a southpaw in the pen, Arizona will be motivated this offseason to find another lefty. The roster is pretty full of RHP, so Delabar is probably not the best way to cash in assets. Janssen would be a very good fit, but for the presence of J.J. Putz – the team is probably better off making its bets on Putz for 2014. It’s Cecil that I think GM Kevin Towers might salivate over, in terms of major league relievers in Toronto. With Aaron Loup and minor league options in Luis Perez and Juan Perez, Toronto could be willing to move Cecil. I think six seasons of Owings is probably too much to pay for three arbitration years of Cecil straight up. It’s probably not a discrepancy as big as Stilson, hence a small return in value in the way of catcher Michael Perez, who could develop into Toronto’s best catching prospect, if he bounces back.
RHP Trevor Cahill for LHP Brett Cecil
This option is only likely if Towers is motivated to clear Cahill’s salary. Cecil will start to get expensive, but is only projected to make about $900k for 2014 by Matt Swartz.
RHP Trevor Cahill, SS/2B Chris Owings, and $4M for LHP Brett Cecil, RHP Marcus Stroman, and LHP Daniel Norris
This option really turns up the volume. I think the trade values of Cahill and Stroman are very close, quite honestly, although Toronto might be unlikely to make that move without addressing more than one need. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on the nooks and crannies of the Blue Jays system, but I think Norris is a promising lefty who has a lot of work left to do in the low minors. Norris is my attempt to add someone less valuable than Stilson, as I do not think Arizona can run the Cecil-Stroman-Stilson table with just Cahill and Owings. Adding cash to offset Cahill’s salary may be necessary to get a prospect return like this, although Cahill’s AAV would undoubtedly be higher if he was a free agent this offseason.
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