I rarely do this, but I’m going to return to the “scene of the crime” (my previous post on the Lawrie/Donaldson trade) and add some thoughts in a separate post. I haven’t really changed my mind about it but reading some other views, thinking about what the Blue Jays were giving up and where those players fit in the depth charts and talking to some people have helped me clarify my own thoughts on the matter. The fact that I had posted the original news story last night at close to 1:00 AM means that I probably didn’t think everything through as best I could.
First, I’d recommend that everyone go to Fangraphs and read the three takes that they published on the trade. Dave Cameron wrote from the Oakland perspective, Drew Fairservice wrote from the Toronto perspective and Kiley McDaniel wrote about the prospects going to Oakland.
Fairservice’s notion that this is all about winning this year for the Blue Jays is the whole reason this deal gets done. If the Blue Jays were in a “win and build” mode (or even a “build” mode), having two young, controllable pitchers who are both on the cusp of being regular major leaguers (whether they fit in to bullpen or starting roles is yet to be seen) and a potential stud at shortstop is far more important than getting the offensive upgrade at third base. Fairservice calls Donaldson a “two win upgrade on talent alone” meaning that Lawrie has the talent and potential to play at a level two wins below Donaldson. Fairservice believes that, since Lawrie hasn’t been able to put things together on the offensive side of the ball or stay healthy, that two-win gap opens up even further. Looking at projections for next year, Steamer has Lawrie at a 4.0 WAR and Donaldson at 5.6 (although I’m not sure if that takes into account playing half of his games in Toronto) but if history is to be believed, Lawrie is probably more likely to fall in the 2.5-3.0 WAR range, if healthy and productive.
If you’re a “win now” team, those three (or more) wins of difference can turn the Jays into a playoff team, particularly when you take into account that the Blue Jays have probably added two to three wins at the catcher position over last year. Dioner Navarro had a very good year with the bat in 2014 and still managed to put up 2.0 fWAR (WAR as calculated by Fangraphs) while Russell Martin had a 5.3 fWAR. For next year, the difference is projected by Steamer to be about the same, with Navarro getting a 0.6 fWAR rating and Martin predicted to be worth 3.9 fWAR. Add these two figures together and you get about 5.5 wins of difference, which takes the Blue Jays from an 83-win team to being an 88-win team and in the playoff hunt. (This assumes that WAR production remains the same across the rest of the team.)
None of the prospects that the Blue Jays gave up are expected to be significant contributors in 2015. The two closest, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, are both probably in the 14 to 16 range on my Blue Jays’ pitching depth chart, assuming they go with a 13-man staff. Both could contribute but I think the Blue Jays, in a “win-now” mode, are going to look for enough help in the bullpen that Nolin and Graveman won’t get much of a chance unless they prove to be dominant. Right now, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez and Chad Jenkins are all ahead of them in the bullpen and the Jays have a five-man rotation of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ penciled in.
In terms of starting pitching depth (a role that both Graveman and Nolin have filled in their minor league careers), the Blue Jays would probably have Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Liam Hendriks ahead of both Nolin and Graveman and have several other candidates including Kyle Drabek, Rob Rasmussen, Bo Schultz, Colt Hynes, Cory Burns and Ryan Tepera available for the ‘pen. What this means is that with Graveman and Nolin likely to spend 2015 (or large parts of it) in Triple-A, in a “win now” scenario, they were expendable.
The same goes for Franklin Barreto. Barreto is still two to three years away from the majors although McDaniel thinks that he could be a big league call up late in his Age-20 season (which would be 2016). That would be the absolute earliest that anyone thinks that Barreto could make his major league debut and the Blue Jays would be very likely to stretch that one more season, even if he did well.
For the Blue Jays, this is about upgrading now at the cost of trading players who wouldn’t be contributing very much this year and next. The Jays didn’t have to touch any of their premium pitching prospects like Sanchez, Norris or even Miguel Castro (it starts to get much thinner after that) and, with guys like Richard Urena and Dawel Lugo (and Yeltsin Gudino) moving through the system, there are definitely shortstops a-comin’. That said, Barreto was unanimously thought to be the best of the bunch and it shows that the Blue Jays needed to give up something very significant in order to acquire Donaldson.
What does this mean for the A’s? To me, it looks like the A’s are trying to not only build for the future but put pieces in place that can contribute in 2015 but who are still young enough that the window for winning is going to be open for a few years. Brett Lawrie‘s potential is what makes that possible for the A’s. Dave Cameron notes that a player peaks in his late 20s and the difference between Donaldson who, at 29, is probably starting his downward trajectory, and Lawrie who, at 25, hasn’t hit his peak yet, is very important to Billy Beane.
In addition, the A’s get two pitchers who could very well make solid contributions in 2015. Both Graveman and Nolin have the potential to be back of the rotation pitchers and, if they reach their potential, teams could do much worse than having these two guys shore up a rotation. If Lawrie reaches his potential (and depending on his contract), the A’s can get three-plus years of excellent value from a guy who can definitely be a tremendous player in all facets of the game. If you combine that with what Barreto is potentially capable of, then you get to All-Stars and two solid starting pitchers for a third baseman that you are selling at the height of his value.
If the Blue Jays make the playoffs in 2015, this deal is a win for them no matter what. If they win the world series then it’s even better. As Twitterer Rick (@RJBrasilcdn) wrote “if this deal gets the Jays a ring, and turns into [a] Jeff Kent situation, I’ll be fine.” That said, the A’s could, in retrospect, win the deal if the Jays don’t win, Lawrie lives up to his potential with the A’s and if the two pitchers and/or Barreto become major league regulars.
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