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Reevaluating Shapiro/Atkins after five years: trades

Toronto Blue Jays play the Seattle Mariners Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Two years ago, I looked at the performance of the Shapiro/Atkins front office after three years in charge, a time when the Blue Jays were at the trough of a rebuild and they bore the weight of the disenchantment. Now on the other side, coming off a postseason appearance of sorts and things broadly looking up, I thought the end of the year was a good to update/repeat the exercise at the five year mark with more information and data now available.

2018 three year evaluation: Free agents | Trades | Other moves | Strategic direction

2020 five year evaluation: Free agents | Trades | Draft, IFA, other | Strategic direction

Three years in, the Blue Jays had made 36 trades involving a major league (40-man roster) player, of which 25 were deemed significant enough to examine in detail. I’m not going to go through all of those deals, but there are a number where events and information of the last two years have significantly changed the outlook:

  1. 11/20/2015: Liam Hendriks for Jesse Chavez
    Though still a bad deal, it didn’t look terrible two years ago after Hendriks had a rough 2018 that including going unclaimed on waivers after two solid years short of his 2015 breakout. 110 innings of 1.79 ERA/1.70 FIP and 5 WAR later, the fullness of time did prove this to a disaster — only mitigated by every team passing when they could have had him free.
  2. 7/2/2017: Lane Thomas for IFA slot money
    This was under the radar, not involving as major leaguer and with Thomas spinning his heels in farm system. He unlocked those tools with St. Louis and had an explosive 44 PA debut in 2019 before struggling in a similar sample in 2020; we’ll see if he makes the Jays regret giving up on him. On the flip side, the amount of IFA slot wasn’t disclosed, nor do we know exactly what it allowed the Jays to do.
  3. 7/31/2017: Francisco Liriano and cash for Teoscar Hernandez and Nori Aoki
    Two years ago this was too early to grade, with an opportunity cost for Tesocar to live up given the money the Jays ate. With his emergence, it now grades as a big win. Even if he regresses from 2020, he’s still been a 112 wRC+ bat over 1,200 PA, worth 3 WAR with three years of control left.
  4. 1/19/2018: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene for Randal Grichuk
    The books are now closed on this deal, with Leone and Greene becoming free agents and Grichuk attaining six years service and thereby exhausting the control the Jays were acquiring. While Grichuk has been inconsistent and never put everything together, he’s still a regular posting 3 WAR. The Jays sold high on Leone while Greene stalled out, so the Cardinals got effectively nothing.
  5. 5/12/2018: Gio Urshela for cash/PTBNL
    This didn’t even get mentioned last time, and I’m still not sure what to make of it seeing as they gave up nothing and moved on three months later. A sprinkle of Yankee pixie dust later and he’s a 130 wRC+ monster who’d be really nice to have had on the infield.
  6. 7/26/2018: J.A. Happ for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney
    With Drury and McKinney departing in 2020, the books are now closed here, and their lack of production makes this a loss. I still believe it’s the case that a soft market limited any return, but there’s also a pattern of the Jays targeting these types as opposed to lower level lottery tickets and that’s a choice for which they’re accountable.
  7. 7/30/2018: Roberto Osuna for Ken Giles, David Paulino and Hector Perez
    The books are largely closed here, though Hector Perez could move the needle further if he emerges. Giles couldn’t stay healthy, but did rebound and was very effective when on the mound. The Jays weren’t ultimately able to maximize that value, but it was still a solid return given that Osuna made himself persona non grata.

In the past two years, the front office has made another 23 trades involving MLB players, of which 16 are non-trivial:

  1. 11/17/2018: Trent Thornton for Aledmys Diaz
    After buying low and having Diaz rebound in 2018 but not fit in the longer term picture, the Jays flipped him for a MLB ready pitcher the Astros didn’t have room for. Thornton had a solid rookie year, and his future role is to be determined, but this looks like a solid decision.
  2. 12/30/2018: Clayton Richard and cash for Connor Panas
    This was just to fill innings in a rebuilding year so ultimately inconsequential, but there were indications of AL East cannon fodder, and well...
  3. 1/11/2019: Russell Martin and $16.4M for Ronny Brito and Andrew Sopko
    Opening up the playing time for Danny Jansen was the priority, saving $3.6-million in salary was a bonus. That alone makes it a (small) win even with no further return. Sopko was released, and Brito appears little more than an org guy.
  4. 3/27/2019: Kendrys Morales and $10M cash for Jesus Lopez and $1M IFA slot
    Again, this was basically about opening up playing time, but considering the total collapse in production, the Jays sold high (so to speak). Lopez was an org guy, but saving $2-million and getting the IFA money that allowed them to add a few interesting pitching prospects late in the signing period makes this a solid win.
  5. 4/2/2019: Kevin Pillar for Derek Law, Alen Hanson, and Juan de Paula
    I didn’t understand why this was necessary at the time, and that’s still the case. They just dumped the most recognizable name on the roster and a still productive player for...nothing. It’s not even like they had a good alternative use for the playing time (like giving Anthony Alford a shot). Not ultimately consequential, but just pointless.
  6. 7/28/2019: Eric Sogard for Curtis Taylor and Edisson Gonzalez
    We’ll see if anything comes of it, but seemingly a nice return cashing in on a career year and expiring contract.
  7. 7/28/2019: Marcus Stroman for Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson
    Whatever one things of the specific return and its adequacy, selling high on Stroman was the right move and subsequent events have only vindicated it. If the prospects turn into productive MLB players or better, it could end up a huge win.
  8. 7/30/2019: David Phelps for Thomas Hatch
    It remains to be seen how well, but the Jays did well to get Hatch for Phelps.
  9. 7/31/2019: Daniel Hudson for Kyle Johnston
    By contrast, the return for Hudson looks light, never mind exactly how great he was.
  10. 7/31/2019: Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and Cal Stevenson for Derek Fisher
    Why? Just...why. In the end, Sanchez being injured and Biagini ineffective limit how bad this could have been. Having to throw in Cal Stevenson is still inexplicable even if he doesn’t end up adding value. Derek Fisher has been...well, enough said. We’ll see if he survives the winter. The Jays will be fortunate if this just ends up the giant nothing burger it’s looking like.
  11. 11/4/2019: Chase Anderson for Chad Spanberger
    This was more deploying cash than a true trade, and while there’s no long term cost it didn’t end up a good investment.
  12. 8/27/2020: Taijuan Walker for Alberto Rodriguez
    Unless Rodriguez blossoms into a significant prospect, this was a solid upgrade at a reasonable cost and a nice trade.
  13. 8/31/2020: Robbie Ray and cash for Travis Bergen
    This probably ends up insignificant, but Ray didn’t really help much.
  14. 8/31/2020: Jonathan Villar for Griffin Conine
    Conine may well end up a bust and maybe didn’t have much trade value. Still seems a bit of a hefty price to pay considering Villar could have been had for cash, and then insult to injury not only didn’t help but was terrible.
  15. 8/31/2020: Ross Stripling for Kendall Williams and PTNBL
    The next couple years will shed a lot more light, but it seems to me the Jays greatly overpaid here. Top dollar for a buy low rebound candidate who seems superfluous to his old organization?

As before, my framework is to evaluate each deal along two dimensions. The first would be a value scale from -2 to 2 (essentially a modified 20-80 scale), where 0 is a wash, 1 or -1 is a win or loss, and 2 or -2 is a huge win or huge loss in terms of relative value exchanged. The second dimension would be significance the trade on a four point scale from 0 (immaterial move) to 3 (franchise altering; none). Multiplying the two gives an overall rating from -6 to 6 for each deal, though effectively -4 to 4.

A further consideration is the future uncertainty — there is a big difference between deals were the books are closed, and those. Of the 60 total trades, I rate 26 as insignificant, leaving 34 as moving the needle. 16 of those deals are complete or substantial complete, meaning the assessment is basically locked in. I rate them as follow:

For me, it nets out essentially to a push. There’s two really bad deals (Hendriks and Happ), offset by two deals that worked out really well (acquiring Liriano and Grichuk).

There’s another 11 deals where the books aren’t closed, but we’ve got a pretty basis for evaluation now even though there’s room for the final assessment to change:

This is largely a mixed bag too, but getting Teoscar is the one that really moved the needle, partially offset in my view by the Fisher trade. That leaves seven deals where it’s really too early to say much concrete, and assessments are more opinion than anything:

Overall, I have the Jays coming out of all this perhaps slightly ahead, but on balance I don’t think the front office has either created or destroyed value in trade.


For trades, the Shapiro/Atkins regime deserves a grade of:

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