Blue Jays shouldn't rule out moving J.A. Happ before trade deadline

·MLB Writer
MLB, J.A. Happ, Blue Jays
J.A. Happ is reportedly unlikely to be moved by the Toronto Blue Jays, but they should reconsider. (Kathy Willens/AP)

The closer the trade deadline gets the more apparent it is that the Toronto Blue Jays are in a very difficult spot.

They are probably not going to make the playoffs this year, but a late run isn’t impossible. Their players on expiring contracts are dealing with injuries and underperformance. They want to compete in 2018, meaning a teardown isn’t in the cards.

Adding someone on a multi-year deal could happen, but the club isn’t brimming with prospect capital – and moves of that nature are likely best left to the off-season. There’s no sense in paying the premium to add players for this team’s likely-futile second half.

Right now, the Blue Jays are a veteran win-now team that isn’t winning. Generally speaking, there’s no better profile for a seller than that, but two weeks away from the deadline they are looking more and more like they have little to offer contenders around the league.

One name of interest, however, is J.A. Happ. Unlike the starters on expiring deals – Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano – Happ is performing well and has a great deal of trade value. His last outing against the powerful Houston Astros was rough, but he had five quality starts prior to that and he possesses a shiny ERA of 3.54 and a palatable price tag of $13 million per season through 2018.

Because of all of this, other teams are reportedly starting to take notice.

Based on Rosenthal’s reports, this seems to be an open and shut case. The Blue Jays want to compete in 2018 and Happ is under contract through next season, so therefore they want to keep him. That seems like an oversimplification though, and if the Blue Jays are ruling out moving Happ they are making a mistake.

If the mandate for the team is to contend, it’s understandable they’d want to keep the southpaw. He’s a solid mid-rotation starter with an appealing price tag. However, he is not the kind of impact player that single-handedly impacts where a team resides in its competitive cycle. Josh Donaldson is that player. If the Blue Jays dealt Donaldson – a legitimate superstar – at the deadline, that raises a big white flag on the 2018 season. If they trade Happ, they can do so in a way that doesn’t seriously compromise their ambitions next year.

At this point, the 34-year-old simply has much more value to a contender than the Blue Jays. A playoff-bound club acquiring Happ gets him for a critical stretch run to October, then the playoffs, then next season, and possibly the 2018 playoffs, paying approximately $18 million. By contrast, the Blue Jays pay the same price and his only real value to them comes in 2018. For the rest of this year his contribution is exceedingly unlikely to matter in the scheme of things.

When an asset has more value to someone else than it has to you, the advisable course of action is to sell it. If the Blue Jays move Happ at the deadline they could bring in some badly-needed young talent and save money to re-invest in their 2018 rebuild. They may not be able to get a pitcher as good as Happ for $13 million, but combined with the money they’d save this year they’d be getting close – whether that replacement comes through an admittedly-thin free-agent class or the offseason trade market.

In a vacuum, the idea of shipping Happ off makes the Blue Jays worse in 2018, which is why it’s being branded as so unlikely right now. However, it’s not clear that having Happ next year is better than the return you’d get for him now, plus $13 million. Even if there’s a slight 2018 downgrade, as long as it’s not a massive drop-off it’s still worth exploring for the potential prospect payoff.

Happ isn’t enough of a difference maker that his absence would torpedo the Blue Jays chances in 2018. He is a good enough player that he’ll garner a strong return on the trade market. That makes a Happ trade an appealing middle ground between offloading a couple rentals for C prospects and trying to make a Donaldson blockbuster happen.

That doesn’t mean that the right deal is going to come along, but if it does the Blue Jays should certainly be ready to listen.

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