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Grading the upgrades: the big moves at the MLB trade deadline

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After a massive trade deadline in 2015, followed by several low key moves at the 2016, deadline it's time to make some grades.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 trade deadline was interesting in that the Blue Jays were able to make a string of small upgrades without sacrificing the future. It wasn't 2015 where the front office brought in a completely new core of talent--bringing in the likes of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki--but it's not like the Jays were acquiring players to be named later this year either.

Not including the other deals prior to the deadline where they acquired relievers Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit, the Jays picked up outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., along with pitchers Scott Feldman and Francisco Liriano. There wasn't an obvious sexy acquisition among the group--sure Liriano was good in the past but struggled this season--but that didn't matter. Unlike last year's team, the Jays were already competing amongst the top of the division. These moves were more symbolic of touching up the paint on the outside of the house rather than repairing a cracked foundation.

But that's not to say all three moves have worked out for the best or have really worked out at all. They haven't. Francisco Liriano has been excellent while Upton and Feldman have been below replacement level since joining the club, and are walking the fine line of trust with manager John Gibbons.

So let's assess their performance since joining the team and slap a letter grade on it. For the purposes of this, it's important to note that it's not the trade itself that's being evaluated but the individual player's contributions since joining the team. It's still too early to make definitive grades on the trades in question as there were a number of prospects exchanged in the deals who are years away from showing their true potential. Not only that, with the exception of Feldman, the other two both have a year left under contract to increase their value and make the trade seem more in the Blue Jays overall favour.

Melvin Upton Jr.

Much has been wrote about what the player B.J Melvin Upton has become. A player that was once a four win player in the prime of his career has gradually fallen off to fighting replacement level with the Blue Jays. Prior to coming to the Jays, Upton was hitting .256/.304/.439 with 16 home runs for the middling San Diego Padres producing 1.8 bWAR. While that's not exactly the pinnacle of his career, it was enough--combined with his above average defence--to posit the thought that he would push Jose Bautista from right field to the full-time DH role upon his arrival in the Six.

That hasn't really happened though. In 49 games with the Blue Jays, Upton has been below replacement level with the Blue Jays while struggling mightily at the plate. His .199/.266/.326 slash line seems to be hardly playable despite putting up four home runs and stealing six bases over that time frame. Since joining the Blue Jays, Upton has played a grand total of two games in right field, spending the bulk of his time in left field or centre when standing in for an injured Kevin Pillar. By Baseball Reference's numbers, Upton has been a perfectly average fielder in the corner positions while only being slightly below average up the middle.

That said, there's no way to sugar coat the way Upton has played so far. He's been bad and while the Jays don't need him to hit .300, being his usual .250 Upton-like self would be much appreciated down the stretch. Posting a 46 OPS+ while striking out in 30 per cent of your plate appearance isn't going to cut it.


Scott Feldman

If saying Upton has been abysmal since joining the Blue Jays, it's going to sound like a broken record explaining the story of Scott Feldman. The obvious difference with him is that this was a little bit more unexpected. Prior to leaving Houston, Feldman maintained a laudable 2.90 ERA over 62 innings with an ERA+ of 136. Sure, the FIP of 4.23 was somewhat alarming but Feldman seemed to be the type to out perform his peripherals in the past so it seemed to reason he would be able to maintain his numbers even with a potentially modest decline.

Nope. Sorry. Instead he's been used in just 14 games--pitching 15 innings--and has watched helplessly as his ERA inflated to 3.97 on the season and 8.40 with the Blue Jays. The problem with Feldman seems to be an issue of comfort as he just hasn't been able to find comfortability with the strike zone since arriving in Canada. While he's striking out more than two batters more per nine with Toronto his walk rate has nearly doubled causing his strikeout to walk ratio to fall from 3.23 to 2.33. In that time he has cost the Jays half a win by bWAR standards and has nearly lost the confidence of his manager John Gibbons completely.

Not since his August 31st appearance against the Baltimore Orioles has Feldman pitched on less than four full days rest. As a starter, that's something that's certainly tolerable but for a guy that's getting only an inning or two innings at best, that's a hard routine to get used to, never mind work through your struggles in. From Gibbons's standpoint, there just isn't an obvious role for Feldman in the Jays bullpen. With Roberto Osuna, Grilli and Benoit all essentially owning their own inning while Joe Biagini lurks closely in the background alongside a resurging Brett Cecil, there's little left for Feldman except a mop-up role. That's a difficult situation for Feldman to thrive in, not knowing when he's going to get his next work and being completely surprised when he is called upon.

Yes, Feldman hasn't been good since joining the Blue Jays. Not at all actually. But that's not totally on him. It's a tough situation that hasn't worked out for either side.


Francisco Liriano

Unlike the other two, this deal has paid massive dividends for the Blue Jays since his acquisition. In 43 innings pitched, seven starts and two relief appearances, Liriano has maintained a 3.35 ERA with a 130 ERA+. That's a massive turnout from his days in a Pirates uniform where his ERA was a gaudy 5.46 with a 75 ERA+. While Liriano isn't quite striking out as many as he did in his Bucs days, his walks have decreased nearly two batters per nine innings, which has forced hitters to swing at his deadly offerings.

While Liriano has been good as a starter in Toronto, he's also presented a form of versatility in the Jays' pen, relieving in two different games. Sure, he was no Mariano Rivera, but the fact that he could do it is still somewhat comforting.

With how effective he's been as of late, it presents a difficult question once--or if--the playoffs roll around. If the Jays are able to get there and make it past the wild card game, it will be interesting to see where Liriano is slotted in. With Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J. A Happ and Marcus Stroman completing a formidable 4-man rotation, it may be back to the bullpen for the new southpaw. That's probably just fine.