The Toronto Blue Jays have struggled, pretty mightily, to begin the 2017 season. There’s really no way to paint the picture any better. Now with a 2-11 record, they are last in not just the American League East, but in all of the majors. Toronto fans shouldn’t be too thrilled with their club right now.
With Josh Donaldson and Aaron Sanchez, the team’s best hitter and starting pitcher, now out with a right calf strain and finger injury, the Jays will need to see turnarounds in their slumping bats and inconsistent pitching. The team’s cumulative batting average is .220, tied for fourth worst in the AL. Devon Travis is off to a 4-45 start, with Jose Bautista batting .128, Russell Martin hitting .114 and Steve Pearce owning an abysmal .205 OBP in 10 games.
Their pitching isn’t doing much better, and in fact it might be worse than all but a few AL pitching staffs. They have the third worst ERA and WHIP, and second worst ERA+ among American League clubs. A few bright spots, like veteran starter Marco Estrada and relievers Joe Biagini and Aaron Loup, have kept them from the very bottom of most AL pitching rankings.
If their struggles continue, who could be possible trade pieces for the Blue Jays? This team should not be 2-11, and I even picked them to win a Wild Card spot before the regular season began. So, it wouldn’t surprise me for them to somehow come together and go on a magical run and sneak into the playoffs. However, let’s say that doesn’t happen.
The problem with the Jays, should they find themselves sellers at the trade deadline, is that the players who have struggled the most for them have virtually no chance of going anywhere. No other team wanted Bautista before the year began, and they certainly don’t want him now. Outside of the now-injured Josh Donaldson, who really shouldn’t be traded, as he is not set to become a free agent until 2019, Kevin Pillar has been their best hitter. Pillar is only 28, and under club control until 2021. The Jays could easily be a contender once again next year, or at least by the 2020s. Martin is 34, and owed $20 million in 2018 and 2019. Even Troy Tulowitzki will be 33 at the end of the year, and has at least $58 million coming to him until 2021.
So, which players should Toronto give up? First is Darwin Barney. Primarily an infielder, Barney is still only 31, and will become a free agent at the end of the year. He is hitting .400, abet in just eight games, but has proven to be a legit MLB player. A valuable piece for a playoff contender, Barney could fill a need for a variety of clubs.
Infielder Jason Leblebijian, 26, has been with the organization since being drafted in 2012. This year with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, he has broken out for a .344 average and .447 OBP. With the ability to play all spots in the infield, Leblebijian could replace Barney in the last few months of the year, earning a MLB callup for the first time.
First baseman Justin Smoak could also be on the move. Still with the potential to hit between 15-20 homers a year, Smoak could be traded to a club in need of a switch-hitting bat. Steve Pearce, now mostly playing left field, is signed for $6.25 million next season, and could return to his natural position at first for Toronto should Smoak be shipped away.
The Blue Jays should hold on to young rotation arms Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. Marco Estrada, however, will turn 34 on July 5, and more importantly, he will be a free agent after the year. He has a respectful 3.50 ERA so far, the lowest among Jays’ starters. A big plus for Estrada is the success he’s had in the postseason. In 10 games, Estrada owns a 2.64 ERA in 47.2 playoff innings. With experience in late-season runs of both the Milwaukee Brewers and the Blue Jays, any team would be lucky to have Estrada on their club down the stretch.
Multiple arms could be called up from the Bisons to replace Estrada, or any other starter who is dealt. Mat Latos, Brett Oberholtzer, Casey Lawrence and T.J. House all have MLB experience, and they could eat innings for Toronto if they continue the pace they’ve set early this April.
Will any of these pieces be traded? Possibly. However, with a historically bad start to the year, perhaps even more names will be shipped out of Canada’s only team.
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