If there’s one thing the Toronto Blue Jays front office has taken the most flak for lately — and there are many worthy candidates for that honour — it’s an inability to get value for their players in trades.
The industry consensus seems to be that the return they got for Marcus Stroman was awfully light, and their decision to move Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and outfield prospect Cal Stevenson for Derek Fisher was puzzling. Going back to last year’s trade deadline, they also got an exceedingly unproductive package of Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney for top trade chip J.A. Happ.
On Sunday, however, the spotlight shone on another trade the Blue Jays made where they offloaded a popular veteran for pieces that could help them down the line. When the team released utility man Alen Hanson it brought into focus the likelihood the Kevin Pillar trade probably isn’t going to look great for the Blue Jays in hindsight either.
To be fair, Hanson was never going to be the prize of the package Toronto got for Pillar. His ceiling as a utility player was already established and there was only so much he was going to offer. However, he performed worse than the Blue Jays possibly could have expected, posting a .163/.229/.163 line in the major leagues, good for -0.5 Wins Above Replacement. He then went on to hit .187/.232/.271 at Triple-A, confirming there’d be no second act in Toronto.
When the Blue Jays rebuild is all said and done — if this particular rebuild does result in a winning club — there’s a pretty good chance Hanson’s time on the team, alongside the remarkably ineffectual Socrates Brito, will represent its rock bottom.
Now that Hanson’s gone, though, it’s worth re-examining the deal as a whole, which was as follows:
Blue Jays get: Derek Law, Alen Hanson, Juan De Paula
Giants get: Kevin Pillar
Knowing that Hanson was worth less than nothing to the club, the deal being a success rests on the two pitchers, Law and De Paula.
Law has been a mainstay in the Blue Jays bullpen of late, but that says more about the club’s available alternatives than his production. The right-hander throws hard and misses bats, but thanks in large part to a serious control problem (5.31 BB/9) he’s put up an ERA of 5.54 with a 5.40 FIP to match. He’s also been prone to giving up the long ball (1.85 HR/9) and has allowed some of the hardest contact in baseball according to Statcast.
That whole package has been worth -0.2 Wins Above Replacement. There is an argument to made that Law makes the league minimum and is under team control through 2023, but that only matters if he’s good enough to hold down a spot on an MLB roster.
If the Blue Jays were making a meaningful effort to construct a good bullpen, Law would be one of the first guys to go. While there’s potential for him to contribute down the line, it’s hard to bet on a soon-to-be 29-year-old who hasn’t posted a WAR above zero since 2016 to make huge strides.
The last man in the deal, Juan De Paula, was meant to be the most intriguing. The 21-year-old Dominican was a bit of a lottery ticket, the type of guy they should be getting more of in theory, with major upside. However, his 2019 season has been miserable so far.
De Paula has posted a 8.69 ERA in 48.2 innings at Single-A Lansing with as many walks (31) as strikeouts (31). You can’t give up on a guy with a good arm based on just under 50 innings, but De Paula’s stock has undoubtedly taken a pronounced plunge.
That means the Blue Jays traded Pillar for a utility guy who couldn’t cut it as a utility guy, a replacement-level reliever, and a longshot who’s only become more of a longshot since the team acquired him.
It’s important to remember that at the age of 30 with only two years of control, Pillar wasn’t an enormous prize on the trade market. His bat hadn’t progressed in years, and his trademark defence was on the decline. The Blue Jays weren’t going to get a haul of blue-chip prospects for their longtime centre fielder, who was overrated in many fans’ eyes. He was a guy coming off four consecutive seasons with a WAR of 2.0 or better, though. That’s not a guy you should get a bag of baseballs for.
It’s looking more and more like what they did get will amount to nothing, or even worse than nothing if you want to count negative WAR. That’s not a certainty at this point, but it is the way the wind is blowing.
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