Yowza! The Jays are on fire with AA wheeling and dealing on December 3. Not only did he non-tender three players last night but today, he re-signed one of them (post coming tomorrow), signed a minor league outfielder and now, he’s traded for the man who will likely be the everyday left fielder in 2015, Canadian Michael Saunders.
Just one day after Alex Anthopoulos went on the air with Bob McCown on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 to say that the Blue Jays wouldn’t likely be trading any more of their pitching depth, he went and did what he said he wouldn’t do and traded fifth starter J.A. Happ to Seattle, getting Saunders in return.
First, let’s talk about Saunders, a B.C. boy who stands 6-foot-4 and has been up in the majors with varying degrees of success since 2009. At 27 years old in 2014, Saunders posted his best season (for rate stats) but only played 78 games thanks to a back injury but has also had shoulder and oblique problems. That said, the Blue Jays are getting a player who is just entering his prime, has put together some solid numbers when healthy and has some pop in his bat, hitting a career-high 19 home runs in 2012. Saunders provides a clear upgrade over what Dirks/Mayberry/Pillar would have given the Jays in 2015 and will probably come in at a fraction of what Melky Cabrera would have cost on the free agent market; Saunders stands to make about $3 million.
Happ, on the other hand, was going to make $6.7 million in 2014. In my mind, the Blue Jays didn’t necessarily “win” this deal because I think that Happ has quite a lot of value. He had a solid season, pitching almost 160 innings with a 4.22 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. His numbers were all solid, just what you want from a back-of-the-rotation pitcher that you can put in the #5 hole and just let him go. Not all of his starts were good. In fact, some were downright horrible (go look up his start on June 21) but, over the long haul, Happ actually showed flashes of being a pretty decent pitcher and even saw his average fastball velocity hit a new career high at 92.7 mph becoming his best pitch (at least according to the values assigned at Fangraphs).
The 32-year-old lefty looks like he’s approaching a career peak and the Blue Jays are definitely trading high on him. The other important win that the Blue Jays get out of this trade is that it allows them to move Aaron Sanchez into the starting rotation right from the beginning of the season (unless they make another trade to pick up a starter who would slot into the rotation ahead of him). Getting Sanchez into the rotation rather than putting him in the bullpen will allow the Blue Jays to get much more value out of him and get him stretched out to start, hopefully building on the 133 (or so) innings that Sanchez logged over three levels of the minor leagues in 2014.
All in all, the Blue Jays accomplished three things with this trade. First, they addressed the hole in left field with a player who isn’t “young” anymore but is likely approaching his peak value. Second, they clear another $3.5 million (or so) from their payroll in order to address other needs like the bullpen, second base and possibly another starter (or something completely different). Third, the Blue Jays get Aaron Sanchez into their starting rotation, at least unless a more reliable, established pitcher is brought in to keep that spot warm for him. It’s been an eventful day in Blue Jays land and adding a Canadian outfielder is just the tip of the iceberg.
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