Let's start by saying that the notion of trading Roberto Osuna is facially absurd. The Blue Jays are in the thick of the division race, and the pole position for a wild card, while the bullpen has been their Achilles Heel with Osuna the only consistently dominant pitcher at the backend of games.
And yet, he has still only pitched 45.1 innings, a metaphorical drop in the water of the 923 team innings pitched, with perhaps 20 of those being truly high leverage, important innings. By my count, of his 45 appearances, 15 have been high leverage, 22 below average, and 8 medium leverage. And down the stretch, he'll likely only pitch another 25 innings, maybe 30 if the Jays lean hard on Osuna in a close race.
The simple reality is that one inning closers can only have so much impact, especially when they're managed to the save and frequently come into game to get 2 and 3 run saves (and aren't called on for critical situations earlier). Even if one values each of their innings at double the average inning, they're not as valuable as a league average starting pitcher who throws 180+ innings. Yes, the Royals leveraged a fantastic bullpen into two amazing playoff runs, but that doesn't change the underlying fundamental reality.
I thought we had reached peak closer this winter, when the Boston Red Sox paid a king's ransom for three years of Craig Kimbrel and Houston paid a hefty price to acquire five years of Ken Giles. As dominant as these relievers had been, the cost being paid for them simply seems disproportionate to value they can bring and the impact they can have.
Then we got to this summer, and last week. The Yankees exchanged 2 months of Aroldis Chapman for a bounty from the Cubs for a top-25ish prospect in Gleyber Torres, a top-100 prospect in Billy McKinney, and other pieces. And yes, the Cubs got to negotiate an extension, but they paid at least very close to market value. It was frankly a stunning return, especially compared to what they paid in the offseason.
And now they're marketing another ace reliever in Andrew Miller, who is under contract through 2018. The Nationals are interested, and are apparently willing to offer the moon to solidify their pen:
Sources who have spoken with #Nats believe they would trade Lucas Giolito to #Yankees for Andrew Miller, straight up.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 29, 2016
Giolito is one of the best prospects in baseball, rated #1 on Keith Law's midseason top 50 and #4 on MLB.com just released midseason top 100. He's got a massive fastball, hammer curveball, and the ceiling of a true ace and he's MLB ready. And yet, Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees are inclined to look their gifthorse in the mouth:
word is, yanks would need 3 times as much as they got for chapman to trade miller (that means quality, not 12 prospects!)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 29, 2016
This seems absurd, not just to me but others:
If the Yankees can get Giolito for Miller they should do it and send the Nats a giant floral arrangement shaped like Nationals Park.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) July 29, 2016
It's true that prospects - even top prospects - fail, and there's no guarantee that Giolito works out. But you're looking at a potential franchise starting pitcher with Giolito, and the chance of that is easily worth a couple years of a reliever (especially one who uses so many sliders).
Which brings us to Osuna. The Blue Jays don't have Andrew Miller, but in Osuna, they actually have something better, perhaps significantly better. He's
at least nearly as effective as Miller, and he comes with four years of control, at a cheaper salary to boot. If Miller can bring back Giolito, Osuna should bring back Giolito and then some. If the Nats want an ace reliever that badly, and the market values them so highly, the Blue Jays can generate some supply, and should probably think they hard about it.
We hope that Osuna will be moved to the rotation, as early as next year, since he has the repertoire. However, he's expressed at least mixed feelings about that, and there's no guarantee that his stuff will hold up going 100 pitches (he should be a viable starting pitcher, but as a prospect he was not projected as a frontline starting pitcher). Not to mention that if the Jays make the playoffs, it virtually guarantees John Gibbons will be back, and it's clear where he'll want Osuna.
The more immediate concern is the whole it would open up in the bullpen on a contending team. What to do about that? I can't believe I'm saying this, but one answer would be to move Aaron Sanchez to the closer spot for the remainder of the year, which was seemingly the plan earlier in the year. His spot in the rotation would be backfilled with Giolito, which would likely be a downgrade for 2016, but shouldn't be crippling. Or maybe Giolito becomes a high leverage reliever for the rest of this year: the stuff should definitely work. Maybe part of that Giolito+ is Reynaldo Lopez, who Keith Law projects as a great backend option (but the Nationals are apparently not satisfied slotting him in). Or in the Anthopoulos style, try Sean Reid-Foley. He's tearing things up the last couple months, has a huge fastball and potential secondary weapons, and it's not like Osuna himself had more experience 16 months ago.
In the nauseatingly flattering
infomerical documentary that Sportsnet aired about Mark Shapiro at the beginning of the season, there was a ton of emphasis on the Bartolo Colon trade and how it represented a great feat of leadership because it was a hard decision, but the right thing for the long term interest of the franchise. I thought it was way overdone, considering it was a pretty obvious thing to do, and the return was a heist. But moving Osuna in the heat of a playoff race in order to acquire a significant future piece? That would truly be making a hard decision.