The Blue Jays are making waves like it’s 2012 and they’re getting the fan base fired up just like they did two years ago. First it was a couple of little moves like trading Anthony Gose for Devon Travis. Then the Jays jumped all over the free agent train and grabbed Canadian Russell Martin and gave him a five-year contract. Now the next phase of the makeover got under way with a trade of huge proportions: Brett Lawrie and prospects for Josh Donaldson.
Similar to the 2012 trades, the Blue Jays are sending prospects to get an established, all-star player but unlike 2012, the prospects aren’t completely gutting the Jays’ minor league system. Lawrie is going to Oakland with three prospects (and considering the number of former Blue Jays minor leaguers that Oakland has picked up over the past couple of years, I’d swear they have a scout with an apartment on Front St. or something) but only one of those prospects is considered a “Blue Chipper.” Joining Lawrie are pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin and 18-year-old phenom Franklin Barreto. The major thing to consider here is that the Blue Jays are dealing from positions of depth and that’s really what makes the trade possible from a Blue Jays perspective.
Franklin Barreto is the real lynchpin of the deal, prospect-wise. He’s been getting accolades from everywhere, including being named a Northwest League All-Star as an 18 year old. The Venezuelan has always been a tremendous hitter with a lot of savvy for his age. This year, he hit .311/.384/.481 with 23 doubles, four triples and six home runs (not to mention 29 stolen bases), against players who were, on average, about three years older than him. The biggest downside to Barreto is his defense, which, I’ve been told is a work in progress and he may not be able to stick at shortstop in the long term. That said, Barreto’s bat is going to get him to the major leagues and whichever club he’s with will find a position for him if he continues to hit the way he has in his first two years of professional ball.
Kendall Graveman had a breakthrough season in 2014, going from Class-A Lansing all the way to Toronto. Learning a cutter really helped him post some incredible numbers all the way up the ladder and, in the minors, Graveman compiled a 1.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 167 1/3 innings at four levels with 31 walks and 115 strikeouts. The Blue Jays really showed what they thought of the 23-year-old former ninth-round pick (who signed for just $5000 out of Mississippi State University) getting him into five big league games where he gave up two runs in 4 2/3 innings (for a 3.86 ERA) but, most importantly, Graveman didn’t walk anyone and struck out four. With an ability to get a lot of ground balls (in his small sample size, Graveman got 64.3% ground balls for the Jays), Graveman is going to really find a home in Oakland and could be a solid starter for them.
Sean Nolin has been waiting to break through for the Jays for a couple of years now and some minor injuries have held him back. That said, he’s a very solid lefty who should be able to log a lot of innings in a rotation or provide a good arm in a bullpen. The fact that he’s going to Oakland could really be beneficial to a guy who gives up more fly balls than ground balls (at least over his minor league career). Nolin wasn’t going to get that chance in Toronto with guys like Daniel Norris and Kendall Graveman moving ahead of him on the Jays’ depth chart.
As far as the major leaguer in the deal goes, Brett Lawrie is a guy that I’m not particularly sad to see go to another team. I’ve become concerned about Lawrie’s ability to stay healthy and the fact that he still needs to grow up on the field has always rubbed me the wrong way. Lawrie’s had three (plus) seasons with the Blue Jays in order to grow as a palyer and, statistically, has regressed since his debut in 2011. While his peripheral numbers aren’t horrible (5.7% BB rate and 17.4% K rate last year), they’re not nearly as impressive as what Donaldson is bringing to the table. While few third basemen in major league baseball can match Lawrie’s athleticism at third base, he needs to stay on the field and produce a little more than borderline league average numbers (a career 104 wRC+ that includes his outstanding ML debut in 2011).
In Josh Donaldson, the Jays are getting a player who has only been a major league regular for two seasons but has produced well-above average offensive numbers over that time. Mike Wilner has already tweeted that Donaldson has been far more productive on the road than at home in the pitchers’ ballpark that Oakland plays in. Over his career, Donaldson has a 63 point swing in OPS favouring away ballparks that includes 36 home runs (as opposed to 27 at home) and, playing half of his games in the homer dome can do nothing but help him out statistically. In Toronto, he’s hit .212/.333/.455 in 39 plate appearances. Obviously it’s a small sample size but the OBP and slugging percentages are really quite good if you disregard the low batting average.
Where do I stand on this trade? I think that the Jays gave up a lot but would have had to to get one of the best offensive players in the game. If everything goes Oakland’s way over the next few years, they’re getting a potential all-star at third, two potential back-end rotation starters who can log 200 innings and pitch to 3.50 to 4.00 ERAs over the course of several seasons and an all-star shortstop in 3 years when Franklin Barreto makes the majors. But best-case scenarios generally don’t happen. I think Brett Lawrie will continue to infuriate his fans by getting injured and not performing up to the level that he tantalized us with in 2011. I don’t think that both Graveman and Nolin end up as #3 major league starters and I don’t think that Barreto ends up at shortstop (but I do think that his bat will get him to the big leagues rather quickly).
Time will always tell when it comes to trades and, in this one, the Blue Jays were dealing from a position of depth. Neither Graveman nor Nolan was projected to be in the Blue Jays’ rotation next year (although one or both could have been in the bullpen) but, from what we’ve seen of Alex Anthopoulos’s activity this offseason, the Jays are looking to find players with proven track records who can slot into the lineup now. The depth of pitching that the Jays have right now is pretty amazing, considering that Aaron Sanchez may not even be able to win a spot in the starting rotation as it stands now and Daniel Norris is waiting in the wings. Trading Nolin and Graveman eats away that depth but does little to deplete the major league team on the mound. Trading Lawrie was a necessity to be able to get Donaldson and Barreto is playing a position that the Blue Jays have several young prospects who are moving up through the system like Dawel Lugo and Richard Urena. This type of move is exactly what Blue Jays were going to do with their pitching depth. The biggest question will be whether Donaldson can be enough of an improvement over Brett Lawrie to justify adding in those three prospects.
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