Just minutes before the trade deadline, the Blue Jays swung a significant deal, trading pitchers Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and outfield prospect Cal Stevenson to the Astros for outfielder Derek Fisher.
It comes as something of a surprise that Toronto opted to move Sanchez at a moment when his value is near its nadir. Among starters who’ve thrown 100 or more innings this year, Sanchez ranks dead last in ERA (6.07) and BB.9 (4.71).
The Astros likely see the 27-year-old as a relief option and believe he can get back on track by pitching in short stints. There is proof of concept for that notion considering Sanchez was outstanding out of the bullpen in 2014 and 2015 when he first broke into the league. Houston also has an extraordinary reputation for developing and improving pitchers, even at the major-league level. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole serve as examples of hurlers who’ve become significantly better after being traded to Houston.
Biagini was a success story for the team as a Rule 5 pick and has been a steady presence in their bullpen since 2016, despite dabbling as a starter. The big right-hander might be best known for his eccentric personality, but he’s a versatile pitcher able to provide multi-inning stints and pitch in high-leverage spots.
The 29-year-old is the midst of a strong season with a 3.78 ERA across 50 innings and sports a career-best 9.00 K/9. Those numbers, along with the fact his salary comes in under $1 million, clearly made him appealing to the Astros. Biagini is also under team control through 2022 — making him a long-term acquisition for Houston.
Derek Fisher is a 25-year-old outfielder with a strong power-speed combo who has struggled to stick at the major-league level thus far in his career. As a player who’s nearing his 26th birthday with 112 MLB games under his belt, Fisher isn’t really a prospect anymore. However, he is hitting .286/.401/.522 at Triple-A this season in 270 plate appearances, while making his fourth appearance at the level.
In the time he’s spent in the big leagues Fisher has hit just .201/.282/.367 in 312 plate appearances while grading out as an above-average corner outfielder. An inability to make contact has been arguably his biggest issue at the highest level as his 35.3 percent strikeout rate attests.
Stevenson, the least well-known component of the trade, is a 22-year-old outfielder plying his trade at High-A where he’s put up a solid .298/.388/.393 line in 390 trips to the plate. Stevenson is more of a line drive hitter who profiles as a fourth outfielder and ranks 25th among Blue Jays prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
Sanchez was one of the last notable players from the Blue Jays 2015-16 playoff runs. In the latter year he won the ERA title and stood out as a starter, while in the former he was a relief standout.
Over the last three seasons Sanchez has struggled with finger injuries and blisters causing him to miss extended time and produce at a below-average level when he’s been able to take the mound. Biagini meanwhile has been a steady presence in the bullpen, although he’s scuffled when he’s been asked to start.
While neither Sanchez or Biagini had enormous trade value, given the club traded approximately five years of that pair — plus a legitimate prospect in Stevenson — makes this a sizeable bet on Fisher’s upside.
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