If the remade Blue Jays and Josh Johnson don't turn things around soon, will he and his teammates become trade chips?
After a winter remodeling that led to praise being poured and support being showered upon their new team, the Toronto Blue Jays finished April at, um, 10-17.
That's last place in the AL East, 8.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox.
In other words, exactly the opposite of where general manager Alex Anthopoulos hoped his club would be after he went out and acquired stars like R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera, among others, to gear up for a run at what was widely considered a division ripe for the taking.
Now, some of this is due to bad luck, some is related to injuries, and while it's not very PC to simply blame Canada—so we won't—the situation north of the border is, indeed, getting dire. The Jays' slow start is also putting the franchise in quite the predicament, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently wrote. Here's the key takeaway from that piece:
...here’s the full list of teams from the last decade (2003-2012) that had a winning percentage below .400 on May 1st and were at least seven games behind their division leader at that point.
There are 32 teams in that sample. One of them — the 2006 Twins — made the playoffs. In fact, that’s the only team that rallied to win even 90 games. Only three of the 32 teams finished with winning records...
All of which raises two questions: At what point does Anthopoulos and his staff decide that the whole 2013-or-bust approach isn't going to work? And what might that mean for the futures of some of the stars the Jays brought in over the offseason?
The guess here is Toronto gives the club at least another month to jell and work out any kinks that typically come along with players adjusting to a new team, a new league, heck, even a new country.
But if the Jays aren't back at .500 at least by, say, mid-June, it may be time for Anthopoulos and Co. to figure out what can be done on the trade market to set the team up for next season and beyond.
If that happens, then, Toronto's front office would need to determine which players to hitch the wagon to as either franchise cornerstones or young players to build around, and who might be put on the block and could actually get the Jays some value in return?
Not Going Anywhere
Jose Bautista, RF: There would be no shortage of interest for Bautista's power bat, but considering he's coming off an injury-plagued 2012 and is off to a so-so start this year, Toronto would only be selling low. Plus, he's inked to an under-market deal that could keep him around at $14 million each season from now through 2016.
R.A. Dickey, RHP: The Jays won't deal Dickey for two reasons: One, they signed him to a reasonable two-year, $25 million extension right after obtaining him from the Mets; and two, it would be hard to get more for Dickey now than what Toronto gave up—top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud (currently injured, again) and right-hander Noah Syndergaard—to land him, and the two returns would automatically and immediately be compared to each other, which does the team no good.
Jose Reyes, SS: His injury history and the fact that he's once again on the DL with an injury to his lower half (a severe left ankle sprain) would make the shortstop almost impossible to move. Oh, and he's owed some $90 million over the next four-and-a-half years.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B: Signed in the middle of his breakout 2012 for $29 million through 2015 (with a $10 option for 2016), Encarnacion would bring back more than either Dickey or Reyes, given his age (30), production and contract, but he's simply too good and too cheap for the Jays to deal.
Brett Lawrie, 3B: This would be an intriguing chip, since Lawrie's still only 23 and has battled various injuries throughout his season-plus of action, but let's be real: He's under team control through 2017 and he's a native of Canada.
J.P. Arencibia, C: While Arencibia, 27, would draw lots of interest because of the dearth of quality offensive catchers who can actually play the position, fact is, the Jays traded away d'Arnaud and John Buck over the winter, so it's likely they'd stick with Arencibia as their catcher of the present and future.
Josh Johnson, RHP: In the final year of his contract at $13.75 million, Johnson would be a guaranteed trade candidate if things don't turn around in Toronto. Problem is, he's got his own history of arm and shoulder injuries, doesn't seem to be 100 percent at the moment either and, well, did we mention he's in the final year of his contract?
There are legitimate questions about how he'll hold up going forward, so any team that acquires him would probably see him more as a three-month rental rather than an investment for the future. In other words, he wouldn't bring back anything more than a second-tier prospect or two. Possible Fits: Giants, Rangers, Angels, Orioles, Dodgers, Royals, Brewers
Brandon Morrow, RHP: Possibly the trickiest call for Anthopoulos, the hard-throwing yet enigmatic Morrow is still young (28) and would cost Toronto only a little over $20 million if he stays through 2015. But he missed a large chunk of 2012 with a strained oblique, and he's yet to pitch even 180 innings in a season while averaging just 150 per in his three years as a full-time starter.
His 5.29 ERA and 1.58 WHIP to start 2013 don't look good, but if he can get hot, Morrow may be the club's biggest piece should it start selling, especially because his contract opens up a broader market. Possible Fits: Giants, Rangers, A's, Angels, Orioles, Dodgers, Royals, Brewers, Pirates, Cubs
Melky Cabrera, LF: While he's not exactly hitting like he did the past two years (.241/.291/.287) and there are concerns over last season's PED suspension, Cabrera is only 28 and is being paid the equivalent of a good middle reliever ($8 million for each of 2013 and '14), so any team in need of a starting corner outfielder who could add some depth to the lineup for this year and next would come calling.
Creating a market by playing these teams against each other would be the best bet for a quality return, assuming Cabrera gets going soon. Possible Fits: Red Sox, Tigers, Reds, Rangers, Yankees, Orioles, Rays, Pirates, Phillies, Mets, Cubs
That is going to severely limit any interested parties to big-market clubs who are 1) contending, 2) have money to burn and 3) in such desperate need of middle- or back-of-the-rotation help that they're willing to overpay for a soft-tossing 34-year-old—albeit one who's thrown 200-plus innings 12 straight years. The payoff, though, would be minimal. Possible Fits: Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Dodgers
Sergio Santos, RHP: The only appealing factors here are that Santos has closed before and costs about $5.5 million from now through 2014 (with club options at $6 and $8 million in 2015 and '16).
But the righty's injury problems—he's back on the DL after missing almost all of 2012—mean the Jays might not get offers that would make it worthwhile to trade Santos at his lowest value. Possible Fits: Giants, Tigers, Cardinals, Rays, Angels, Diamondbacks, Brewers
Colby Rasmus, CF: The sheen has finally come off Rasmus, right? As is, this 26-year-old with the first-round pedigree and loads of haven't-quite-seen-it-yet potential is barely surviving in the majors. In fact, it's fair to say he's gone backward the past few seasons, as his 6.6 percent walk rate and eee-gads-bad 41.8 strikeout rate are both career-worsts.
At this point, any inquiring team would basically be interested in Rasmus for his defense in center field and ability to occasionally hit one out—you know, when he makes contact. With prospect Anthony Gose waiting in the wings, the Jays would probably love to find a taker. Possible Fits: Reds, Rangers, Diamondbacks
As for the rest, it's not worth getting into what the likes of Ricky Romero, Adam Lind, Emilio Bonifacio, Rajai Davis and a few others could bring back via trade, although they'd certainly be available. The return wouldn't be much for any one player, and none of them is likely enough to pump up a package deal and entice a trade partner.
The bottom line is this: Even if the Jays don't fix what's ailing them over the next 30-45 games and magically morph into the team everyone expected them to be on paper, there's not a heck of a lot of non-core players for Anthopoulos to sell off that would bring back anything of real value.
Then again, it may be silly to doubt the ninja of MLB GMs, even when he's backed into a corner.