MLB Trade Deadline: Best Middle Infield Options for the Toronto Blue Jays

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MLB Trade Deadline: Best Middle Infield Options for the Toronto Blue Jays
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Munenori Kawasaki has held down the fort at second base, but the Jays need someone better

The non-waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball is now under a week away, and the market is pretty much set with regards to which teams will be buyers and which clubs will sell off their assets (with the exception of the recently-red-hot Tampa Bay Rays).

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the organizations planted firmly in the buyers category.

The team's wishlist includes another infield bat and perhaps another starting pitcher.

With Brett Lawrie set to return from injury and take over at third base, it's likely that the front office will target a second baseman to bolster the lineup.

Luckily for Toronto, the market has a number of second basemen that could be moved.

 

Martin Prado, 2B/3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Norm Hall/Getty Images
Prado's known for getting better as the season goes on.

One intriguing option for the Jays to consider is Diamondbacks utility man Martin Prado.

At present, the versatile Venezuelan has a triple slash line of .279/.325/.382 (that adds up to an OPS just over .700).

The last two years, his average registered at .282 and .301.

That's the type of consistency at the plate the Jays could use from their everyday second baseman.

Those numbers don't tell the whole story, though.

Over the last two seasons, Prado has been known for his tendency to save his best baseball for the latter stages of the season.

As Zach Buchanan of AZcentral.com points out, in 2013, Prado ended up hitting .319 with an .856 OPS over the last three months of the season.

This season, the super-utility man is at it again. Since July 3, he's raised his average from .266 to .279. That makes it reasonable to believe that he could end up reaching the same types of numbers he posted in 2013.

Furthermore, Prado can play at either third base or second, and last season he played more than 10 games in the outfield, so that is an option as well if John Gibbons needed him to move out there. That allows the Jays to continue to experiment with Lawrie at second base if they wish, or move him to his preferred position of third and have Prado play the other.

The road blocks to a deal getting done for Prado would be his contract (he's owed $11 million a year through 2016) and Arizona's preference to deal second baseman Aaron Hill, rather than the 30-year-old South American—per Jon Heyman of cbssports.com.

 

Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies

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Utley's production, leadership and experience would all help the Jays.

Another team that should be selling assets in the next few days is Philadelphia.

With players like Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon all valuable on the trade market, one would expect GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to start dealing any time now.

Should that happen, the Jays should take their best shot at Utley.

Despite being 35 years old, the California native is still one of the most productive second basemen in baseball.

Utley's .291 average places him sixth among qualifying second basemen, while his .787 OPS ranks fourth. His 119 OPS+ (which measures a player's OPS with their league and ballpark taken into consideration) is also well above the standard of 100.

His defensive game doesn't place him among the league leaders, but he hasn't been a liability either, as his DWAR (defensive wins above replacement) is in the positive at 0.5.

He'd also give the Jays another clubhouse leader with plenty of playoff and World Series experience.

The obstacles for this deal? Once again, it would be a hard contract for the Jays to swallow, with Utley owed $10 million next year (with another $5 million coming his way if he stays off the disabled list with a knee injury—something that could be a concern on turf) and has vesting options for $15 million for the next three seasons that are guaranteed if he reaches 500 plate appearances in the year before (which he should accomplish easily in 2014). On the other hand, the Phillies are a team that can afford to eat some of his salary, if the Jays are willing to pony up a better prospect in the deal.

Another problem is that, according to Buster Olney of ESPN, Amaro Jr. isn't as keen on trading away his valuable pieces as most would think he should be:

If Amaro Jr. isn't willing to deal, an Utley isn't likely to move.

The other issue at play here is that Utley has the power to veto any trade thanks to his tenure in the league and has told the Associated Press that he would like to stay in Philly, where he's spent his entire career.

 

Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF

Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Zobrist's versatility and elite plate discipline makes him an intriguing option.

Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist is another name that has been thrown around (insider subscription required) for a few weeks as potential trade bait at this year's deadline.

His .268 batting average may not inspire as much confidence as the other options on the trade market, but his peripheral numbers are very impressive.

His .358 OBP ranks third among major league second basemen, and his .767 OPS is fifth best. He's also walked 51 times so far in 2014, while only striking out 52 times. That kind of elite discipline and plate control is extremely rare. His OPS+ of 118 puts him right up there with Utley as well.

Zobrist is another player who also comes with versatility.

This season the 33-year-old has played at least 10 games at second base, shortstop and in the outfield.

With Jose Reyes at short, it's not likely that Zobrist would see time there, but his ability to play the outfield could come in handy.

What's more, Zobrist's contract is much more manageable at $7 million this season and a team option for $7.5 million in 2015.

The potential stumbling blocks in this situation are the Rays' recent successthey've won nine of their past 10 to move to within 4.5 games of a wild card spot—making them less inclined to deal Zobrist.

Then there's the fact that the Jays are the team that the Rays are chasing and play in the same division, which complicates matters. They would have to commit to being sellers and be willing to deal within their division for this trade to happen.

 

Daniel Murphy, 2B, New York Mets

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Murphy is arguably the best second baseman on the trade market this season.

 Perhaps the best all-around choice for the Jays at second base is the Mets' Daniel Murphy.

At 29 years old, he's the youngest of the four players listed here. He's also coming off of his first ever All-Star selection and is incredibly consistent at the plate. Since he started his career in 2008, he's posted a batting average of .285 or better in every season but one.

This year his slash line reads .293/.340/.412, all of which are in the vicinity of his career averages.

He ranks in the top five among big league second basemen in at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, and batting average.

His contract is also reasonable at $5.7 million for 2014, and Murphy is controllable as he's arbitration eligible for 2015 and not eligible for free agency until 2016.

With the Mets seven games out of a wild card spot and needing to pass five clubs to reach the postseason, it's likely they will be sellers this week.

The only downside to Murphy is his defensive play. Very few second basemen have a lower fielding percentage than Murphy's mark of .975, and his DWAR of -0.6 implies that he is a liability in the field (though his overall WAR of 1.9 still points to this being a transaction that would provide an upgrade for the club).

In terms of what may hold this trade up, it seems as though the Jays are their own worst enemies.

CBSsports.com's Heyman tweeted last month that the Jays were looking to upgrade at Murphy's position, but weren't interested in the Floridian: 

Despite his defensive shortcomings, it would be a major mistake for Toronto to pass on Murphy. He has a contract that the team can afford and could be a long-term fixture up the middle of the diamond.

 

Conclusion

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Whatever direction the Blue Jays go over the course of the next few days, any of these moves would help the team in their quest for postseason action for the first time in two decades.

While Munenori Kawasaki has filled in admirably at second base since the injury to Lawrie, it's hard to fathom him maintaining his .283 batting average (buoyed by a .303 mark in July). Furthermore, his OPS of .656 and OPS+ of 82 are both disappointing and lower than the totals of all four players listed above.

All the potential trade targets may have their own downsides, but if the Jays hope to contend for a playoff position and in the postseason, they have to be willing to make a few sacrifices.

With either Prado, Utley, Murphy or Zobrist at second base and Lawrie coming back from injury at third—along with the eventual returns of Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion—Toronto's lineup would become the headache for pitchers that it was earlier this season.

 

All stats obtained from baseball-reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

Jon Reid is a contributor for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on twitter @JonReidCSM.

 

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