Why Minor Moves for Toronto Blue Jays Could Make a Big Impact in 2013

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Why Minor Moves for Toronto Blue Jays Could Make a Big Impact in 2013
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Will Brad Lincoln realize his potential in Toronto?

In the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline, all eyes were on the big teams. Everyone wanted to know what clubs like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and especially the Philadelphia Phillies were going to do.

But the busiest team in baseball before the deadline? That may have been the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Jays made three trades before the deadline. One was a 10-player deal with the Houston Astros that restocked Toronto's pitching staff. The next was a swap that sent Eric Thames to the Seattle Mariners for righty reliever Steve Delabar, and the last was a swap that saw the Jays send Travis Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates for fellow 2006 first-rounder Brad Lincoln. 

And that was that. There were rumors linking the Jays to big-name players like Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, Justin Morneau and others, but nothing big ever materialized. The wealth of rumors and lack of action could be a result of Alex Anthopoulos' tendency to leave no stone unturned. He does a lot of window shopping, but he's not always looking to buy.

Full disclosure, I've already written that Toronto's deadline dealings weren't all that impressive. It was in their interest to deal for a controllable starting pitcher given the amount of long-term injuries that have afflicted their pitching staff, and they didn't get one.

But was deadline season a complete failure for the Blue Jays?

Not at all. They made minor moves in the grand scheme of things, and these minor moves could pay off in a significant way in 2013.

Here's why.

 

Steve Delabar is Underrated

Before this season, Steve Delabar was a nobody. He was basically a career minor leaguer with only six major league appearances to his name.

He's not a star by any stretch of the imagination, but it's safe to say that Delabar is somebody now after the season he's had.

Delabar posted a modest 4.17 ERA in 34 appearances before coming over to Toronto, but he had a WHIP well under 1.00 and an impressive K/9 of 11.3.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Delabar's ERA has dropped to 3.70 since he joined the Jays.

He's been even better in limited action for the Jays, striking out eight in 4.2 innings without allowing a run. John Farrell has shown enough faith in him to use him for late-inning duty recently.

And why not? Delabar can run his fastball up to the plate in the mid-90s, and he also has a good splitter that allows him to get swings and misses. Per FanGraphs, his swinging-strike percentage is at 14.8 percent for the season.

That's actually good for eighth among qualified major league relievers. Delabar is getting swings and misses as frequently as guys like Huston Street and Luke Gregerson.

The Jays bullpen needed a quality arm, and it got one in Delabar. He'll come in handy the rest of this season and well beyond this season. He's not even arbitration eligible until after the 2014 season. 

 

J.A. Happ: At Best a Solid Lefty Starter, At Worst a Quality Lefty Reliever

There was a time when J.A. Happ was a promising young lefty starter. He went 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 23 starts for the Phillies in 2009, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Happ's promise as a starter has long since evaporated. He had an ERA near 5.00 for the Astros in 18 starts before coming over to the Jays, and the one start he's made for the Jays didn't go so well.

There are good reasons for Happ's struggles, chief among them being his inability to master right-handed hitters. They're slugging .497 with an .847 OPS against him.

J. Meric/Getty Images
The bright side: Happ struck out five and walked just one in his first and only start for the Jays.

Still, the amount of pitching injuries the Jays have suffered leaves them with little choice but to keep going to Happ down the stretch this season. And they better get used to him, because he's under club control through the 2014 season.

With Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek all dealing with long-term injuries, the Jays are going to need as many starting pitchers as they can get their hands on when spring training rolls around in 2013. Happ will be in the mix to earn a spot in Toronto's rotation.

If that doesn't pan out, the Jays can always move Happ to their bullpen as a long man or as a situational lefty. He's been used sparingly as a reliever in the last few years, but he proved in 2009 that he can be an effective pitcher out of the bullpen. He posted a 2.49 ERA in 12 appearances with an opponents' batting average under .200.

Lefty relievers who can put up numbers like that are welcome in any bullpen.

 

Brad Lincoln: Relief Stud with Lots of Unrealized Potential

The Lincoln-for-Snider trade was intriguing because everyone immediately recognized the fact that Lincoln and Snider were chosen just 10 picks apart from one another in 2006.

Both the Jays and the Pirates are hoping that a change of scenery will lead to better things for the players involved. In Lincoln's case, the question is whether he still has the ability to start or if he's destined to be a setup man from here on out.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Lincoln's average fastball velocity is up over 93 miles per hour this season.

He's definitely proven himself as a quality reliever this season, posting a 0.44 ERA in 26 total relief appearances between Pittsburgh and Toronto. His K/9 as a reliever is 9.6, as opposed to 7.6 as a starter (five starts).

It makes sense that Lincoln would be such an effective reliever. As ESPN's Keith Law pointed out after the trade was made, relief work is a better fit for Lincoln's fastball-curveball combination. The numbers back up this notion, as PITCHf/x figures on FanGraphs show that Lincoln's heater and curve have been more effective this season than ever before.

It's a good bet that Lincoln will finish this season coming out of the bullpen, as Farrell has been using him in the same capacity he was being used in Pittsburgh. But in spring training, Lincoln could very well find himself in the same boat as Happ trying to earn a spot in Toronto's starting rotation.

John Farrell and Bruce Walton got Brandon Morrow to realize his potential as a starting pitcher. Perhaps they'll be able to do the same with Lincoln.

 

Depth to Deal

When the 2013 season rolls around, the Jays are not going to be blessed with one of the league's top starting rotations. Morrow and Ricky Romero will be locks, but the rest of Toronto's 2013 rotation probably won't come together until spring training and will still be a work in progress well into the season.

So it remains to be seen if Toronto's starting pitching staff will have quality. But eventually, one thing it will have in abundance is depth.

Brad White/Getty Images
Morrow has ace potential if he can stay healthy.

Among the starting pitchers the Jays have locked up for the 2013 season are Morrow, Romero, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez. If Happ and Lincoln are factored into the discussion as well, that's a total of eight starters the Jays are going to have at their disposal next season. If Carlos Villanueva re-ups with the Jays, that will make nine.

Granted, Drabek and Hutchison won't be ready right away. Drabek underwent Tommy John surgery in June and Hutchison is also undergoing Tommy John surgery this week. They'll both need a year to recover. 

But if all goes well, Litsch and McGowan will both be ready for the start of the season, and Drabek will return when ready in June or July. 

So by the time the 2013 trade deadline rolls around, Anthopoulos could have an excess of something that's always in demand around July 31 every year: pitching. And with the exception of Travis d'Arnaud and Anthony Gose, Anthopoulos should still have plenty of quality prospects to deal seeing as how he didn't deal any of the club's top youngsters away this season.

Rest assured, he'll be wheeling and dealing again. Ideally, he'll be looking to strengthen a contending team.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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