In their final trade before the 2019 MLB trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays sent struggling starter Aaron Sanchez, reliever-turned strugling starter-turned reliever Joe Biagini and outfield prospect Cal Stevenson to the Houston Astros for “toolsy” outfielder Derek Fisher.
Twitter was afire yesterday after the trades broke, praying for a glimmer of hope that there was more coming back to the Blue Jays in this trade but, alas, there wasn’t. Notably, in a conference call after the deadline, GM Ross Atkins trumpeted that they had “turned 14 years of control into 42 years of control,” assuming that the players that they got back in deals at the deadline would be under team control for a combined 42 years.
Even Baseball America called the trade “puzzling” in their headline, writing that even though Stevenson is further away from the major leagues than Fisher is, he “might end up being the better player in the long term.”
So who is Derek Fisher? He’s an almost-26-year-old lefthanded hitting outfielder who was a first-round pick (37th overall) by the Houston Astros in 2014 out of the University of Virginia. He first showed his face in the major leagues in 2017, playing 53 games and has bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues since then, getting in 112 major league games with an uninspiring .201/.282/.367 slash line with eight doubles, four triples and 10 home runs and also 110 strikeouts in 312 plate appearances (so he’s struck out over a third of the time). This year, at least, while he’s got a .226 average in 17 games with Houston, he has a respectable .317 OBP but just a .358 SLG with just two doubles, a triple and a home run. In Triple-A, he’s killing it in the homer-happy Pacific Coast League, hitting .286/.401/.522 with 14 home runs but, again, we need to take that with a grain of salt.
Baseball America notes that his “plus raw power,” calling it his best tool which goes along with “swing-and-miss tendencies (especially against soft stuff) that have eaten away at his production when he has faced major league pitching.” I’ve seen him referred to as an older, more athletic version of Billy McKinney although, looking over his stats, Fisher has increased his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate this year. But if he can’t hit big league pitching (which he still hasn’t shown he’s able to do), he’s just going to be another McKinney or Socrates Brito, or even Teoscar Hernandez (who can take a walk): the type of player whom the Jays already have in spades.
Going the other way, of course is Aaron Sanchez, the oft-injured starter, and Joe Biagini, who is as entertaining off the field as he is slow frustrating on it. The player whose departure hurts me the most is 22-year-old Cal Stevenson who is was playing in Advanced-A Dunedin this year after jumping from Advanced-Rookie Bluefield last year.
Stevenson was an on-base machine last year, hitting .359/.494/.518 with Bluefield last year but some folks wondered whether his big leap, skipping over both Vancouver and Lansing, would hinder his development. Stevenson started slowly, hitting just .192/.286/.301 in April but he’s put together a stellar season since, posting a .327/.416/.418 slash line. While he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter than a power hitter, he has more walks than strikeouts since May 1 and even with his rough month of April, his strikeout rate sits at 13.3% while his walk rate is gaining (at 12.8%).
So this brings the questions of “why”? Personally, I have no idea what possessed the Blue Jays to make this deal. I did read a reference that the Jays are really high on Fisher (obviously) and that he had been a target for a while. Andrew Stoeten also noted that the presence of the Jays’ bench coach Dave Hudgens (former Astros hitting coach) may also give the Jays a bit more insight into what makes Fisher tick.
What do you think? Are the Jays positioned for the future better after the deadline deals?
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