The Toronto Blue Jays looked like another team that could contend for a Wild Card spot in 2018. Entering the season, they looked like the third best team in the competitive AL East, but after some under-the-radar offseason additions in Jaime Garcia and Randal Grichuk, they were a sleeper pick for many.
Instead, they hit pretty much their worst case scenario. The rotation has been a tattered mess, star closer Roberto Osuna got hit with a suspension for domestic violence, and Josh Donaldson has only played 36 mediocre games. Nothing has gone well, and the team is a whopping 23.5 games back of the first place Boston Red Sox in the East and 14 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. Their season is pretty much over.
The team does have a handful of pieces to sell off this month, a few of which fit the A’s needs. Their ideal window of contention likely begins in 2020, with the rise of super prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and I expect the Blue Jays to target pieces that will be able to help them by then.
J.A. Happ, SP
J.A. Happ is one of the top rental starters available this summer, and MLB.com’s Jon Morosi suggests Happ as a fit for the A’s. Now 35, Happ’s career has been characterized by swings between mediocre back-end starter and viable mid-rotation mainstay. From 2009-2017, he finished the season with an ERA of 3.61 or lower five times and with an ERA of 4.22 or higher four times - nothing in between.
This year, Happ has easily the best strikeout rate of his career at 9.99 K/9 (26.5% K%). This, with his usual solid command, has led to a 3.75 xFIP and a 3.62 SIERA. However, he has had issues with the long ball. His 1.40 HR/9 is the highest of his career by far, as is his 14.5% HR/FB%. This has been the driving factor of his 4.29 ERA and 4.02 FIP. However, I am inclined to believe this home run rate is fluky. His hard hit rate and fly ball percentage, while a tad high compared to his last few seasons, are still well within his career norms. I think a move to Oakland (and just natural regression) will solve his home run problems, and he could be a really solid #2 pitcher down the stretch for the A’s.
Happ is a rental, but is very popular among other contenders such as the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, and, most recently, the Philadelphia Phillies. This could drive up his price a bit relative to other rentals. I could see Happ costing one prospect in the Logan Shore/Ramon Laureano/Sheldon Neuse range, and perhaps another fringe guy like Matt Milburn or Wyatt Marks.
Marco Estrada, SP
I could definitely see the A’s sneaking in and grabbing Marco Estrada while the big fish fight over Happ and ultimately being satisfied with their decision. Estrada, 35, is also a rental and will hit free agency after the season. When he is right, he’s a serviceable mid-rotation arm, maybe a notch below Happ’s ceiling but still pretty good. The issue is, he hasn’t been right for almost two seasons now.
Estrada’s 4.72 ERA (4.59 FIP) isn’t too pretty. He has never been much of a hard thrower, so there hasn’t been any significant dip in his velocity this year. Estrada doesn’t have the quasi-ace ceiling that Happ does, but he is a durable pitcher with solid control that could see more success at the Coliseum due to his fly-ball heavy approach. He also does have some strikeout upside, as his current K/9 of 7.03 is significantly lower than his rates over the past two seasons, both around 8.50. Estrada is currently on the disabled list with a glute strain but it doesn’t seem significant and he should be back soon.
Estrada would likely come much cheaper than Happ. The Blue Jays would likely be happy to get his salary off the books as he is owed about $5.4 million going forward. I doubt he would cost much more than a Milburn/Marks type or, at most, a Will Toffey or Tyler Ramirez. He isn’t sexy, but Estrada is a reliable veteran that takes the mound every fifth day. With Oakland’s injury issues this season, they’d be happy to add a guy like that.
Seung Hwan Oh, RP
If there’s been a bright spot for the Blue Jays this season, it’s been their bullpen. The team decided to add a handful of interesting veterans in the offseason and see what worked out, and so far, most of them have. While former Athletic relievers John Axford and Tyler Clippard have been solid for Toronto, I have no interest in a reunion with either and instead will focus on Oh.
Oh, 36, is having a nice rebound year after a rough second season with St. Louis in 2017. The righty has a 2.82 ERA (3.10 FIP) and his 23.6% K-BB% would lead all A’s relievers, minimum 10 IP (Blake Treinen currently leads the club with a 23.1% K-BB%). Oh doesn’t throw hard, and instead relies on deception and his offspeed pitches. This makes him a nice contrast to Treinen and Lou Trivino. Adding Oh would help lengthen the bullpen and allow the A’s to use Yusmeiro Petit as a more traditional long man if they desired.
Oh has an incredibly affordable $2.5 million team option for 2019 and will likely be fairly sought-after this deadline. I would start with a Ramirez or B.J. Boyd type and add a lottery ticket. Ideally, you could package Oh with either Happ or Estrada.
Ryan Tepera, RP
I don’t think it’s likely the Blue Jays move Ryan Tepera, but if they do, I like him as a controllable back-end reliever to slot behind Trivino and Treinen. While Tepera has quietly been pretty good the past few seasons, 2018 has been his breakout year. The 30 year-old has been used as Toronto’s closer and has posted a 2.90 ERA (3.61 FIP). Tepera averages 95 MPH on his fastball and utilizes a cutter as his main secondary pitch. He is striking out more than a batter per inning with good control.
Tepera will be arbitration eligible for the first time this upcoming offseason, meaning he comes with three years of control beyond 2018. This cheap team control makes him a more expensive asset to acquire, and I’d be shocked if he could be had for anything less than a package centered around a Shore/Neuse/Nick Allen type. I would probably prefer to target a rental reliever and spend the bigger name prospects on a controllable starting pitcher, but if the A’s find that market too expensive they could easily choose to flip the script.
Factoring in acquisition cost, which of these four Blue Jays targets do you like the most?
This poll is closed
Seung Hwan Oh
None of the above