By: Chris Larson
Looking back at last season, the Toronto Blue Jays finished with an underwhelming 73-89 record, good enough for 4th place in the American League East, something that likely underwhelmed fans and other experts around the industry alike. The Blue Jays struggles last year ultimately led to the team starting to sell off assets at the July 31st trade deadline, a disappointing end to the season, and a fanbase wondering what changes were in store to the team's personnel this winter.
Fast forward from the end of the season until now and we know who the new Blue Jays skipper will be - Charlie Montoyo, know who the complete coaching staff is, and have a general sense of what Toronto will look to accomplish this winter. A winter that is critical for the future success of the franchise and includes some complicated decisions on a few notable players.
It was just this past week during the Winter Meetings that rumblings started to come out that the Toronto Blue Jays were being contacted by a number of teams about their starting pitchers, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. That should come as, no surprise, as teams are constantly on the lookout for starting pitching to bolster their rotations during the offseason and provide them with even more depth and options come the regular season as well as the postseason.
While many of the rumors and rumblings regarding Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez weren't necessarily specific, one team that was mentioned heavily was the Cincinnati Reds, who have a significant amount of interest in Stroman. Furthermore, very little was communicated this past week about what the Toronto Blue Jays might be looking for back in return, but it's fair to assume one big area of need that they might have moving forward, when you start to survey the organization's farm system.
When you look at the Blue Jays farm system, it started to gain steam in the overall rankings, throughout the year this past season, thanks to headline names like: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio. In case you didn't realize, that's three headline names that are all sons of former MLB players - Vlad Guerrero, Dante Bichette, and Craig Biggio. The biggest piece of them all is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who many were pushing for the Blue Jays to call up towards the latter part of last season, but ended up remaining in the minors because Toronto elected to keep him there, for the additional year of team control.
With that being said, while the future core of the Blue Jays can, for the most part currently be found in their farm system, there is one significant area that the organization's farm system lacks in and that is in the pitching department. Presently, among the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects, three of them are pitchers, but as of right now, none of the three pitchers (RHP Nate Pearson, RHP Eric Pardinho, and RHP Sean Reid-Foley) rank to be top of the rotation guys moving forward. Of the three, Eric Pardinho likely has the best stuff, but some scouts express concern about how durable he can be over an entire season given his frame.
Knowing that, when listening to trade offers for, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and considering what the future of the Toronto Blue Jays should look like, Ross Atkins & Company need to carefully look for ways to improve in the pitching department moving forward. Toronto needs to continue to try and find that one guy, who can organically be drafted and grow up through the ranks of the organization, while being boasted as their next big arm. Now, since none of us actually know what some of the offers for Stroman or Sanchez have been, it's hard to say exactly what those two names could bring back to the organization, but it certainly could be something organizationally shifting.
Marcus Stroman, who will turn 28 in May, is right in the midst of his peak and entering his 6th MLB season, in which he owns a career 3.91 ERA over 665.0 innings of work. Stroman has long been viewed as the Blue Jays ace, but is coming off the worst season of his career, which could cause some concern for an acquiring team, unless they believe he could benefit from a change of scenery. However, among qualified starting pitchers over the last three seasons, Marcus Stroman owns the highest groundball percentage (61.3%), which helps explain why a team, such as the Cincinnati Reds, would be so interested in him.
As for Aaron Sanchez, who will turn 27 next July, the high upside continues to be there, but the bad luck regarding blisters on the throwing hand, is something that seems to continue to haunt Sanchez every year. If Sanchez could stay healthy over the course of an entire 162-game season, the team he pitches for would benefit tremendously and he likely would finish in the AL Cy Young Award conversation, like he did during the 2016 season, when he finished the year with a career best 3.00 ERA over 192.0 IP.
Ultimately, when talking about Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays might end up electing to hold onto both of them until the right return comes their way, which could end up being at the trade deadline next July. At that time, there might be more of a demand for starting pitching and one or both, Stroman and Sanchez, could bolster their value even more by staying healthy during the first half and pitching like they're capable of.
Beyond Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, two other names that have been mentioned to varying degrees thus far is catcher, Russell Martin, and centerfielder, Kevin Pillar. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, pointed out early this offseason that Russell Martin was drawing interest from a number of clubs in the market for a catcher, but both the trade market and free agent markets are flush with catching options at the moment. However, that doesn't mean that the Blue Jays couldn't find a suitor or someone to take on the remaining $20 million dollars that Martin has remaining on his contract, before he hits free agency after next season.
Turning the conversation over to Kevin Pillar now, Pillar was most recently connected to the San Francisco Giants, most notably because of his outstanding defensive skills and ability to cover a significant amount of ground, something that is a necessity at a ballpark with such a large outfield like AT&T Park. Pillar, or Superman as Blue Jays fans have coined him, has two years remaining on his contract and is coming off a season in which he hit: .252/.282/.426 over 542 plate appearances with 15 home runs and 59 RBI. Offensively, Pillar might not be the hottest option out there, but for what he lacks offensively, he makes up for it defensively. Just look no further than the 34 Defensive Runs Saved that Pillar has put up, dating back to the 2016 regular season, which puts him 7th among qualified outfielders.
While the Blue Jays have a handful of potential attractive trade chips, it ultimately hinges on how the team views themselves as an organization moving forward and the timing of when the next "core group" of Blue Jays hitters will come into the fold at the big league level. All three of the aforementioned prospects, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, project to have some sort of impact on the Blue Jays, as soon as this coming season. If all three are projected to have an impact on next year's team, then it might be worth the Blue Jays potentially looking at keeping one of Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez and attempting to move the other along with Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar.
However, if the Blue Jays feel as though they want a fresh start and want an entirely new philosophy as the transition is underway with a new skipper in tow, then it would be fair to assume that Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Russell Martin, and Kevin Pillar should all be made available at the right price. After all, the Blue Jays have to remember they have to compete against the two powerhouse teams in baseball, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, as well as the sneaky Tampa Bay Rays.
Either way, it's a guarantee that all four of the Blue Jays trade chips will continue to be mentioned in trade rumors and rumblings, but how far those talks advance and if each one of those four ends up getting traded, has yet to be seen. One thing is for sure though and that's the fact that both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez could bring back a significant haul in return - a return that could be organizationally shifting for Toronto especially from a pitching standpoint.