Can Blue Jays Match Red Sox Upgrades?
OAKLAND — While the Blue Jays, and most other teams, sit back and wait for the trade deadline market to identify itself, the Boston Red Sox have struck quickly.
Last week, with closer Craig Kimbrel headed to the disabled list, they swooped in and traded for reliever Brad Ziegler. This came after they picked up veteran infielder Aaron Hill from Milwaukee and utility man Michael Martinez from Cleveland.
Thursday, they made a very bold move, trading away a young arm believed by many to be their best pitching prospect in Anderson Espinoza, to get journeyman left-hander Drew Pomeranz from San Diego.
Pomeranz and Oakland’s Rich Hill represented the cream of the crop of pitchers available at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline. Which is another way of saying that the market is incredibly thin.
“In a case in which the demand exceeds the supply, which definitely is the case in this situation, I’m not sure that you don’t take a greater risk in waiting,” said Red Sox GM David Dombrowski.
“There were only a couple of pitchers that we thought had a chance to be available that we thought would substantially upgrade us in our rotation.”
To his credit, Pomeranz is having a good season, having incorporated a cutter that is keeping right-handed hitters honest into his repertoire. Still, nobody is going to mistake him for David Price.
Espinoza, just 18, and still pitching at low-A ball, has a chance to be something special. His fastball already sits 94-96 with gusts up to 99. He already has a plus curve and changeup to go with the heater. He was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League and was averaging better than a strikeout per inning. Aside from the fact he’s still at least two years away from the majors, there is nothing not to like about this deal from San Diego’s standpoint.
This trade will certainly give other teams, like the Blue Jays, pause as they try to strategize before the deadline. If the BoSox had to give up that level of superior prospect for a moderate talent like Pomeranz, then the price tags are guaranteed to be steep for similarly mid-level talents.
“What that move does is change the market,” GM Ross Atkins told Sportsnet Radio Friday. “It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more pressure but it does potentially increase the price.”
Rich Hill, having a career year in Oakland, is still available and will almost certainly be dealt by the Athletics in the next two weeks, perhaps sooner than later as teams start to panic about the lack of pitching talent available. Beyond Hill, there is Philadelphia’s Jeremy Hellickson, and perhaps, for the right price, Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi, Andrew Cashner from San Diego, Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies. Oakland’s Sonny Gray could move as well, but it will take something special to make that happen.
For the Blue Jays’ front office, it’s important to have a strategy that dovetails with their belief in this team’s ability to contend beyond this season. They have every reason to believe that this team can not only make the playoffs this year but contend for a pennant and a World Series title, as long as the proper deadline additions to the rotation and bullpen are made. That’s a given. Given the rare opportunity this season poses, is there anything else that matters beyond the present?
“What we’re seeing,” Atkins told the radio audience, “is that the Toornto Blue Jays are hard to make better in this market. When you look at the alternatives and what is out there, when you look for clear upgrades, there aren’t a lot of them. We have a really good team and that team has taken even better shape over the last few weeks.”
How to make those upgrades while still trying to keep the window of contention open for another year or two, is a tricky proposition. The club certainly has the financial resources, given the massive revenue streams this season has afforded them, to spend the necessary money to keep both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. But is that the right thing to do? Long, expensive contracts for 30-something players seldom pan out in the long view.
Ideally, given that the next free agent class is not very appetizing, any starter the Jays might acquire will come with a year, or two, or more, of control. That will be a more expensive acquisition but makes more sense over the long term.
With a core group that includes Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar, Roberto Osuna, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, there is a foundation that can be built upon still to contend for another year or two, with the right acquisitions. The chances improve even more if they can re-sign one of Encarnacion or Bautista to reasonable deals.
Those are problems that won’t resolve themselves until the off-season but they will most certainly colour the team’s approach to this trade deadline. Look for them to add at least one relief pitcher and maybe two, preferably but not necessarily, including a lefthander.
It is certainly possible that Atkins could get creative and pry loose a quality starter with some years of control still left if he’s willing to part with a big-league ready position player as well as a top prospect, but it’s not likely.
And, don’t forget. There is plenty of life still left in the trade market after the non-waiver deadline. Many August trades have significantly impacted the races down the stretch over the years. Hall of Famer John Smoltz was dealt to the Atlanta Braves in August 1987 for Doyle Alexander. In 1990, Jeff Bagwell, a prominent HOF candidate, was dealt to Houston by the Red Sox for reliever Larry Andersen.
The Red Sox have broken away from the peloton by loading up before most teams have even gotten to the starting line, but there are plenty of moves still left to unfold as the 2016 deadline approaches.