As you probably know already, the Blue Jays have traded a whole lot of minor league talent for Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe, and now Cliff Pennington. As you probably also know already, the Jays have more or less stopped losing since they made these trades: they’ve won eight in a row, and are now only a game and a half back of the division-leading Yankees, whom they have just swept in the Bronx.
As the Baseball Prospectus web site pointed out (this article may be behind a paywall), Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s strategy is to try to acquire top-level talent whenever possible, even if costs a lot of prospects to do so. During the last year, the Jays have acquired possibly the best third baseman, catcher, and shortstop in baseball, and have acquired one of the very best pitchers. They’ve lost a lot of farm system players, but does that matter? What will it cost them down the road?
My belief is that Anthopoulos learned from one of the first transactions he had to make in his career: the trade of Roy Halladay. The Doctor was one of the very best pitchers in the game at the time, and the Jays landed three prospects for him: catcher Travis d’Arnaud, pitcher Kyle Drabek, and outfielder Michael Taylor.
For Halladay, the Jays got a catcher who is still trying to establish himself in the majors after a series of injuries, a pitcher who washed out after enduring a second Tommy John surgery, and a player who is now out of baseball. (The Jays were clever enough to trade Taylor for Brett Wallace, Wallace for Anthony Gose, and Gose for Devon Travis, who looks to be a good player if he can stay healthy. But that’s a separate discussion.) It must have occurred to Alex Anthopoulos at that moment: prospects, even good ones, don’t always work out, whereas star ballplayers are known quantities.
So, the Jays have gone to work in the last few years. They picked up Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes from one of the endless stream of Miami fire sales, picked up R. A. Dickey for two prospects, traded for Josh Donaldson for Brett Lawrie and prospects, and traded for Troy Tulowitzki for Reyes and prospects. In a final flourish, they traded Dan “the man in the van” Norris and still more prospects for rental pitcher David Price. So their haul is three starting pitchers, one third baseman, and one shortstop.
The players they have given up have had mixed success:
- Noah Syndergaard is turning into a very good pitcher for the New York Mets. He looks like the one player that the Jays will definitely regret giving up.
- Travis d’Arnaud has been mentioned already: he’s still trying to establish himself as an everyday catcher after having been affected by injuries.
- Adeiny Hechavarria is a decent shortstop, but isn’t hitting that much.
- Henderson Alvarez had one very good year in 2014, but is now injured.
- Jake Marisnick is hitting .227 for the Houston Astros.
- No one else has had much success yet in the majors.
In the meantime, the Jays have had three years of Mark Buehrle and R. A. Dickey in their rotation, have the best left side of the infield in baseball, and now have a pitcher who can win a wild card game if it comes to that. By the time these players become too old, the Jays hope to have a new batch of prospects that they can use as trading chips.
The market advantage that the Jays seem to have discovered is that non-contending teams are often willing to trade star players if they have no chance of winning in the next couple of years. These players often have several expensive years remaining on their contracts, but taking on the remainder of a pricey contract is cheaper than signing the free agent to a pricey contract in the first place. The Jays get good players and cost certainty.
There is still a possibility that Paul Beeston’s replacement as club president, whoever he might be, might want to replace Anthopoulos with his own man, or even take over the GM role himself. Anthopoulos’s fate might well depend on how far the Jays go in the post-season this year. But you have to give him credit for giving it everything he has. And it’s been extremely enjoyable watching the Jays pummel the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees. Baseball hasn’t been this much fun in Toronto in over twenty years.