2016 Canadian draft list
Letters of Intent
By Jay Blue
The Jays are on fire with Alex Anthopoulos wheeling and dealing on December 3. Not only did he non-tender three players but the next day, he re-signed one of them, 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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So the Blue Jays made their move to add outfield depth a day after non-tendering two of their outfielders. No, it wasn’t a big-league left fielder that they added but the club gave a minor league deal (with an invitation to big league spring training) to 27-year-old center fielder Ezequiel Carrera.
While Carrera doesn’t have much of a big league resume (176 games over four years with Cleveland, Philadelphia and Detroit), he does have quite a lot going for him including great defense and great speed. Carrera has 25 big league stolen bases and has been caught just seven times and he stole 50 bags last season combined between Toledo and Detroit.
Last season, Carrera had his best year in the minors, hitting .307/.387/.422 with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens. That .809 OPS (with 43 stolen bases marked career highs at that level and he also managed some decent extra-base pop with 15 doubles, five triples and six home runs (adding four doubles and a triple in 73 plate appearances with Detroit). Carrera’s great season last year helped him to mid- and post-season All-Star awards from the International Leagues as well as a Player of the Week award in July.
In many ways, Carrera reminds me of Eugenio Velez, a minor league free agent the Jays signed in 2013. Velez was a speedy, solid hitting minor leaguer with some pop who helped the Bisons tremendously. The Bisons are already excited about the signing of Carrera, tweeting a link to some video of him in action. and just generally filling up their Twitter feed with Carrera-related content.
In short, this is obviously a depth signing but one that has the potential to be a good one for the Jays if other options in the outfield fail to produce. The left-handed hitter is projected by Steamer (on Fangraphs) to produce a 90 wRC+ (although they only expect him to get one major league plate appearance) which is actually higher than the 86 wRC+ that they predict for Anthony Gose. Interestingly, Gose was traded to Detroit and by signing Carrera, they get a guy who could very well outproduce him (given enough of a chance) AND they got Devon Travis. Sounds like a win-win to me.