Trading for J.A. Happ: One Year Later

Jim McIsaac

It was just over 13 months ago that the Blue Jays and Astros completed a 10-player trade that brought J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, and David Carpenter to Toronto. With the two clubs having just finished their first series in Houston since 2005, I thought it’d be a good time to look back on the trade and see where the pieces that were sent to Houston are now.

The majority of Blue Jays fans rejoiced as struggling reliever Francisco Cordero was finally sent packing, and backup outfielder Ben Francisco made the trip as well. In addition to the spare parts that the Jays shipped south, a package of five prospects—catcher Carlos Perez and pitchers Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Joe Musgrove and Kevin Comer—was sent to Houston in a depth move for the Astros.

Carlos Perez

Signed by the Blue Jays as a 17-year-old in 2008, Perez was considered one of the Jays’ best prospects for a few years in a row. The Jays had catching depth to spare when they included him in the deal, as J.P Arencibia, Travis d’Arnaud, Yan Gomes and A.J. Jimenez were all ahead of him at the time of the trade. More hitter than catcher early in his career, Perez repeated class-A Lansing in 2012 and hit .275 with an .804 OPS in 71 games as a 21-year-old. It was that year with Lansing when Perez made significant improvements to his defensive game.

After the trade, the Astros promoted Perez to high-A Lancaster, where he hit .318 in 26 games. He opened the 2013 season at double-A Corpus Christi, but after just 16 games he was promoted once again and quickly found himself in triple-A. Through 71 games with triple-A Oklahoma City, Perez, still 22 years old, has hit .262 with a .661 OPS.

Asher Wojciechowski

Selected 41st overall by the Blue Jays in 2010, Wojciechowski was the most advanced pitching prospect in the package, having repeated high-A Dunedin and managed a 3.57 ERA/2.86 FIP in 18 starts prior to the trade. A big, 6-foot-4 right-hander at 235 pounds, Wojciechowski’s star seemed to fade quickly with the Blue Jays, after repeated attempts to modify his delivery. A dip in fastball velocity and the lack of a usable third pitch implied a reliever ceiling.

Like Perez, Wojciechowski was moved up a level once he joined the Astros and boosted his prospect stock by continuing to perform at double-A into this season, before getting promoted to triple-A after a 2.07 ERA in 69.3 double-A innings. Ranked among the Astros’ top 15 prospects, Wojciechowski has improved his changeup and is currently sporting a 3.48 ERA/3.66 FIP through 129.1 Triple-A innings.

David Rollins

Overshadowed by Lansing’s "big three" of Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino last season, Rollins quietly managed a 2.78 ERA in 18 starts as part of the Lugnuts’ 2012 rotation. I saw Rollins a few times in Lansing, and he was a quick worker on the mound and used a mix of fastball, changeup and slider to rack up 75 strikeouts in 77.2 innings.

After remaining in A-ball following the trade and closing out the year there, Rollins opened the 2013 season up a level in high-A, where a spike in his strikeout rate and a decrease in walk rate helped him move further up the ladder. After tossing six scoreless innings in a triple-A spot start, Rollins has allowed just six earned runs in four double-A starts so far.

Joseph Musgrove

Drafted 46th overall by the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove went much higher than anticipated. Another big-bodied right-hander at 6’5" and 230 pounds, Musgrove was on the radar of a few AL East teams because of the movement and sink to his mid-90s fastball as well as his durable frame. Throwing a two-seamer as well, Musgrove completes his arsenal with a hammer curveball and a circle changeup.

He made it as high as Bluefield while in Toronto’s system, and remained in the Appalachian League with Houston following the trade. Musgrove’s found himself back down in the Gulf Coast League in 2013, where he’s allowed 15 earned runs on 39 hits in 26.2 innings.

Kevin Comer

Included as the player to be named later of the group, Comer was another supplemental pick by the Blue Jays at 57th overall in 2011. Because he signed late, he had to make his big league debut the following year in 2012, and had to be in the minors for a year before he could be traded, hence the PTBNL.

Committed to Vanderbilt but eventually signed by the Jays for an over-slot deal of $1.65 million, Comer had a fastball-sinker combo and a feel for a changeup and curveball, which he hadn’t been throwing for too long. Comer’s name blew up in a Keith Law tweet that said his fastball velocity dipped to the high 80s, and speculation crept in that that part could have been a reason the Blue Jays soured on him so quickly.

Dealt after throwing only 43.1 innings in the Blue Jays organization, Comer stayed in the rookie-level Appalachian League after the trade before moving his way up to the New York Penn League this season. In 12 games (six starts) with the Tri-City ValleyCats, Comer has managed a 4.70 ERA and seen increases to both his strikeout and walk rates.

* * *

While it was puzzling that high draft picks Wojciechowski, Comer and Musgrove appeared to have been given up on so fast, the deal made sense for both parties as the Astros were looking to re-stock their farm system with as many players as possible and the Blue Jays were in desperate need of pitching help.

What were your thoughts on the deal?

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