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Trade deadline preview: breaking down the 40-man

Who goes, who stays?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

With less than a week to the July 31st trade deadline, transactions should start ramping up imminently. Indeed, it was on this exact day last year that the Blue Jays consummated the J.A. Happ and Swung-hwan Oh deals. Those were done in the context of a market with much supply and much less demand, perhaps motivating a desire to get out in front of the market. Happily, the dynamics this year appear to be far more favourable, with more plausible contenders/buys and fewer motivated sellers.

In advance of that, I thought it would be a useful exercise to go through the entire 40-man roster, categorizing it not only in terms of the trade deadline but also the broader context beyond it. It’s an exercise I did last year, albeit it a little earlier, and I’ve refined things a little bit by adding an extra grouping. That said, it’s still the case that players don’t always fit cleanly into buckets, whom I’ve denoted with asterisks and will discuss in further detail below. There are currently 45 players, five of whom are on the 60-day IL and don’t count towards the limit (but will have to after the season):

Longer Term Assets (9)

These are players with at least two years of control beyond 2019, who are either established MLB players or at least have done enough to likely project as such. Additionally, where under long-term contract, the player’s value is expected to materially exceed what they will be paid and thus are assets for the organization going forward.

The common thread is that consequentially, none of these players needs to be moved by the trade deadline, and individually, none of them should be likelier to be moved than not. But within the group, there’s significant gradations. The pre-arb projected regulars are essentially untouchable (unless another team wanted them so badly they made the proverbial offer you can’t refuse).

By contrast, relievers like Joe Biagini and Ryan Tepera are already in their arbitration years and could nonetheless be available or moved for the right return (if healthy). It’s probably something that would be more likely in the winter rather than the deadline when contenders are looking to focus their assets on current year upgrades. Even a pre-arb reliever like Tim Mayza could fit in that based on potential even though he hasn’t fulfilled his potential.

Other guaranteed contracts (1)

These are players with contracts that are either underwater (where the amount owed exceeds the value of expected future production), or where it’s possible. The Jays are running off the obligations to the three players here last year, but the 2019 collapse in production from Randal Grichuk lands him and his extension through 2023 in this category.

Shorter Term Assets (4)

These are established Major Leaguers who are not free agents after 2019, but with less than two years control. For a rebuilding team, that makes them prime trade candidates. But the critical factor is that they do not absolutely have to be traded — the contractual control beyond 2019 means there are multiple opportunities to realize value. If they not at the deadline this year, they could be moved in the offseason, or even next year’s deadline. Essentially, that’s the source of the team’s leverage in any negotiations.

The two obvious names are Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles. In neither case is much elaboration required here, though of course some would advocate for keeping/extended either or both rather than trading them. Regardless, these are the prime trade assets, and the focus must be quality rather than quantity — it is imperative to get premium prospects back in any trade.

Given his very unfortunate season-ending injury, Matt Shoemaker is obviously not being moved at the deadline, though it’s possible he could in the winter. More likely, the Jays will see if he can deliver a strong and healthy first half of 2020 and realize value then. That leaves Aaron Sanchez, whose situation is a total wild card given his first half struggles. It’s hard to see a contender giving up substantial value as a largely speculative play. Though perhaps a team like the Astros or Cubs think they could fix/improve quickly him as they have other pitchers and make a decent bid accordingly. Otherwise, the Jays should probably hang on for now but need a real plan moving forward.

Expiring contracts A: trade assets/candidates (5)

These are players who contracts run out at the end of the season, with production that should make them attractive to contenders as a rental for the stretch run.

Freddy Galvis and David Phelps both have reasonable 2020 team options, and thus arguably belong above in the shorter term asset bucket. In the case of Galvis though, there’s of course the small matter of Bo Bichette’s looming arrival, so at a minimum it’s not clear they’d even pick up the option. Phelps has done nicely since returning from Tommy John, and would make sense to keep around absent a compelling offer.

Realistically, it’s unlikely anyone in this group brings back a substantial return. Eric Sogard is having a breaking season, but deeper metrics are more skeptical he’s likely to replicate it to where a contender who seem him as a big upgrade that would merit paying up for. Daniel Hudson is the classic veteran-having-a-good-year-with-decent-stuff that will be in demand, but who brings back a C-prospect. At the end of the day, his peripherals are mediocre. Galvis is having a solid year too, but again, I don’t see thing a contender sees him as more than nice veteran depth.

Then there’s Justin Smoak. His production is down at 106 wRC+ albeit with a very low-BABIP, and bat-only players limited to 1B/DH haven’t been valued in recent years. One school of thought would be that anything is better than nothing, but personally I’d prefer the Jays kept him, perhaps with a view to a short extension, over getting back a marginal prospect.

Expiring contracts B: not necessarily trade candidates (2)

These players have expiring contracts, but are unlikely to generate any interest. I guess if any team for whatever reason wanted either Clay Buchholz or Clayton Richard the Jays would be happy just to dump the salary.

Prospects (13)

Not all of these players have formally prospects with rookie status anymore, so in some sense this grouping is actually two sub-buckets. In any event, they are not established big leaguers nor clearly project as MLB players in the long run to rank in the long-term asset bucket, but neither are so marginal to clearly belong in the next bucket with tenuous futures.

Of course, that’s a pretty fine line and it’s arguable where to put Billy McKinney and Thomas Pannone. The former needs to tap into more power, and this time next year will be in the next bucket without further progress (if still on the 40-man), but it’s only 300 PA. Despite the marginal stuff and attendant long ball issues, Pannone might be able stick as a depth starter/swingman type.

The next year will be important for Anthony Alford, first in terms of staying healthy but also being out-of-options next year. He’s in no danger of imminently losing his roster spot given the raw ability, but at some point he’ll need to produce. Finally, Sean-Reid Foley continues to alternate good-and-bad seasons. Again, the raw ability gives him a long runway, but he too will need to carve out a role at some point.

Ambiguous future (8)

These are players whose MLB future or future role are very much up in the air, and in some cases the rest of 2019 is a critical opportunity to make some evaluations. Sam Gaviglio and Luke Maile are holdovers in this category from last year, and if anything both are in more tenuous position. Maile is great behind the plate, but again not hitting at all, and after a great start in the bullpen Gaviglio continues to be plagued by the long ball.

Teoscar Hernandez now has 1,000 MLB PA in which he’s been average overall despite striking out 30% of the time. That would be a enough if he can be a competent CF rather than poor corner OF, but the metrics aren’t sold on that. Otherwise, it’s a marginal profile at best. Brandon Drury hasn’t been productive for several years and sub-replacement this year, but the front office likes him so I’d expect he sticks around through 2020.

Justin Shafer was outrighted last year, and still hasn’t translated his minor league success. Likewise, Jonathan Davis profiles as an extra guy and hasn’t hit (in a limited sample). RIchard Urena will be out-of-options next year, and hasn’t hit in the upper levels. Finally, Rowdy Tellez has another option year in 2020, but the question is if he profiles as an above average MLB hitter.

Other (3)

It would be surprising if anyone in this group were still on the 40-man six months from now. Devon Travis is the notable here, but with the injury issues I can’t see him being tendered a 2020 major league contract.

One final group to discuss, is players beyond the 40 man rosters at the big league threshold or who are Rule 5 eligible this winter. Bo Bichette was mentioned above, and unless the Jays contrive reasons to delay his arrival until late April-2020, he should be up very soon assuming Galvis in particular is moved. Nate Pearson is less likely, but from a pure performance perspective, the stuff is there.

It’s hard to forecast at this point until we see what what the Jays get back over the next five days, but there’s not necessarily a huge Rule 5 cohort this winter. T.J. Zeuch will be added, but he’s the only absolute sure thing with Zach Jackson, Jackson McClelland or some other relievers at least real candidates (or potentially getting a shot later in 2019).