The Artist Formerly Known as B.J. Upton
The Blue Jays’ first move of the 2016 trade deadline season was a win-now depth move, with an eye to next season.
The Jays traded class-A prospect Hansel Rodriguez to the San Diego Padres for 31 year-old outfielder, Melvin Upton (formerly B.J Upton). A major part of the deal is the money the Padres are going to pickup out of his contract. Upton is owed 22 million through next season; as per the trade, the Jays will only have to pay 5 million of that. After a quick stop in Buffalo to deal with a worker’s permit issue, Upton only had to walk across the diamond to the Jays dugout, as the Padres are in Toronto for a three game set. Upton expressed his appreciation to the Padres organization and his excitement to join the Jays.
According to Jays’ manager, John Gibbons, Upton’s role will be as a platoon guy with Justin Smoak. Smoak will be getting most of the at-bats against right-handed pitchers, while Upton will go up against the southpaws.
The trade for Upton also provides some insight towards the future. With two-thirds of the team’s outfield (Michael Saunders and Jose Bautista) set to become free-agents at season’s end and Upton under contract through the 2017 season, he could potentially be a one season place holder while the team decides on a more permanent solution in the outfield
After a few underwhelming seasons since he was traded from Tampa Bay, Upton is having a nice bounce-back year. According to baseball reference, he is above his career statistics in batting average, slugging and OPS, and is four home runs away from his fourth 20/20 season (20 homers/20 stolen bases). Along with his potential offensive upgrades, Upton provides solid defence at the left and centrefield outfield spots.
Blue Jays’ general manager, Ross Atkins, said that the team was not done with just that one move and that they expect to be active as the deadline approaches. Atkins said the Jays will now turn their focus to upgrading their pitching staff. With staff ace, Aaron Sanchez expected to be moved to the bullpen and placed on an innings limit, the Jays will need to address his spot in the starting rotation. The club has the option to recall Drew Hutchison from triple-a Buffalo as they have discussed in the past, or they could try to trade for a more accomplished starter at the deadline.
The Blue Jays began to address concerns about their bullpen on Tuesday by trading struggling reliever, Drew Storen, to the Seattle Mariners for another struggling reliever, Joaquin Benoit.
Storen never got his footing in Toronto since being acquired in the offseason from the Washington Nationals. In 38 appearance this season, Storen pitched to a awful 6.21 ERA to go along with a 1.59 WHIP. At the beginning of the year he was thought to be the setup man to closer Roberto Osuna, but was quickly relegated to garbage time innings given his poor performance in pressure situations. With Benoit, the Jays are hoping that they can catch lighting in a bottle for the second time this season. Relief pitcher, Jason Grilli, came over in a mid-season trade from Atlanta, where he had an over ERA over five, but in his time with Toronto, Grilli has been a solid pitcher and has lowered his ERA to a tidy 3.63. Benoit is coming in under similar circumstances. He enters the Jays’ bullpen with a 5.18 ERA and the team will hope he can regain his form from 2015, in which he owned 2.34 ERA.
I expect the Jays to be busy as the trade deadline approaches, but don’t expect them to make any major moves which further mortgage the future of the club. Team president, Mark Shapiro, was critical of the moves former general manager, Alex Anthopolous made at last years’ deadline. Saying the trades depleted too much of the team’s farm system. With some of the expensive prices being thrown around for even the mid-level starters, it could be a quiet deadline day for the Blue Jays.