Blue Jays may hold the keys to trade season

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

They are not selling yet. They may not sell at all. But the Toronto Blue Jays will be one of the most fascinating teams to watch between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
We learned from the Rays last year that a team can win the American League East without playing 81 games in Back Bay or the Bronx. But we also learned from the Rays last year that a lot has to go right in order for that to happen. And this has not been a season of good fortune for Canada's team. Six pitchers currently reside on the disabled list, and ace Roy Halladay was a recent visitor. Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, signed through 2014, haven't been hitting. The team is in fourth place and would probably need to climb the standings quickly in order to convince ownership that additions to an $80 million payroll are warranted this month. Maybe this isn't going to be The Year. No shame in that, particularly in this division. So, unless the standings change quickly, Jays officials should turn their attention to 2010 — which might be their last chance to win with the current cast. Halladay, third baseman Scott Rolen, first baseman Lyle Overbay and closer Scott Downs will be free agents after that season. The contracts of general manager J.P. Ricciardi and manager Cito Gaston are set to expire then, too. The guiding philosophy should be a simple one: Do everything possible to help Halladay reach the playoffs as a Blue Jay in 2010. The Jays' best chance to keep Halladay thereafter is to bring postseason baseball back to Toronto for the first time since 1993, proving to him that a championship is attainable for the club. How can they do it? They might want to start by trading one or two pitchers to bolster an offense that trails the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox in on-base and slugging percentages. Don't get me wrong: Toronto's lineup, thanks to Rolen, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, has actually been above average in the majors this year. But "above average" doesn't win in the AL East. And because of a relatively rigid payroll figure — for now, at least — the ideal acquisitions would be young and controllable. So, who can the Jays trade? Well, let's look at it in a slightly different way: Who can't they trade? Halladay, for one, isn't going anywhere. And I would be surprised if the Jays dealt starters Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond. Romero is a former first-round pick who provides a left-handed presence and is riding a streak of 20 scoreless innings. Richmond, the Canadian right-hander, has shown an ability to mix his pitches and should be a durable fourth or fifth starter. ("I can see the influence from Halladay in the way he pitches," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said last week.) And don't forget that — at least in the optimistic scenarios — the '10 Jays will have some starters who are currently on the disabled list. Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan have each had one double-digit win season in the majors. If even two of those three return at full strength next year, Toronto could have a rotation to rival Boston and New York. It's dangerous to suggest that any team has a pitching surplus. But if the Jays slide in the standings, it would make sense for them to explore the trade market for left-handed swingman Brian Tallet. He turned in a quality start at Yankee Stadium on Friday and is 5-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 20 games (16 starts) this year. Tallet could be looked upon as a viable option for teams looking for a mid-rotation left-handed starter, particularly if the Mariners stay in the race and elect not to move Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. The bullpen is also deep, even if high-priced former closer B.J. Ryan remains a non-factor. Downs, who hopes to return soon from a sprained toe, has quietly been one of the American League's best relievers this year and is showing that he can handle the ninth. The Jays are almost certain to keep Downs, but they could consider moving one of their hard-throwing right-handed setup men: Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo, Brandon League or Jason Frasor. (Ricciardi said last week that Janssen will be added to the bullpen, not the rotation, when he returns from the disabled list after the All-Star break.) It's apparent that the '10 Jays could be a lot better than the '09 Jays. But some aggressive trades may need to happen first — if not this month, then probably during the winter.

All-Star Freddy gets value boost

This could be a big day for Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez. One of two things will happen: He's either going to make the National League All-Star team or watch his trade value increase, however incrementally. Here's why. Right now, Sanchez's contract includes an $8 million option for 2010 that vests automatically after 635 plate appearances. But the trigger will drop to 600 plate appearances if he's an All-Star; under that circumstance, potential suitors would have to acknowledge the near-certainty that trading for Sanchez now means a significant payroll commitment for next season, too. Sanchez is on pace to finish with more than 660 plate appearances, which would guarantee the option under either condition. But it's worth keeping an eye on those numbers. The Pirates have made Sanchez available. But one Mariners official said the team isn't seriously considering him as a trade option to improve their infield, although on the surface he appears to be a good fit. Seattle would love to add a pure hitter, and Sanchez, currently hitting .316, is a former batting champion. (Sanchez didn't play Friday because of tightness in his lower right back, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) The Mariners have some doubts about Jose Lopez's ability to stay at second base in the long term, and they have a shortage of everyday middle infielders in the upper tiers of their farm system. Sanchez also has experience at third base, where Seattle is presently trying to account for the absence of Adrian Beltre. In that sense, Sanchez could help a team like Seattle this year and afford it flexibility in offseason planning. One scout who has watched Sanchez a lot during his career offered the following assessment: "I think he would hit better as a third baseman, because his body would take less pounding. He's good at third. He might even be better there than he is at second. He has good hands and reacts well." Sanchez last played third on a regular basis in 2006.

Briefly ...

... The Mariners asked Florida about outfielder Jeremy Hermida, a major league source said, but it doesn't appear the talks advanced very far. Hermida would provide a left-handed power threat at low cost (roughly $1.125 million between now and the end of the regular season), but his trade value isn't what it once was. Hermida's slugging percentage has declined since 2007, and the Marlins are now starting Brett Carroll regularly against left-handers. ... If only Tony La Russa and Scott Rolen had found a way to get along, the Cardinals might not be looking for more offense right now. The resurgent Rolen was hitting .332 with six home runs and 30 RBIs for the Blue Jays through Friday. "What a year he's having," Ricciardi remarked last week. "He's been great. You always have certain players you watch, and they make you appreciate the game. He's one of them. He has so much respect for the game, and he plays it like that. He doesn't cheat one at-bat or one inning. "He's like Doc (Halladay) on the mound: If you're a young player, and you're not watching the way Scott Rolen plays, you're really missing an opportunity. He's been absolutely outstanding for us." ... Maddon hasn't formally named J.P. Howell as the Tampa Bay closer, but the competitive left-hander has accounted for five of the team's seven saves since June 1. (Fellow lefty Randy Choate, in his first meaningful big-league duty since 2006, has the other two.) Howell is having a terrific season, with a 1.63 ERA in 39 appearances. He didn't allow an earned run in 13 innings during June. ... The Padres have made Kevin Correia available, even though he's arguably the most effective starting pitcher on the active roster. But it doesn't appear that he's generated much excitement among clubs yet. ... Cincinnati is still short on offense, even with third baseman Edwin Encarnacion back from the disabled list. But it's worth noting that outfielder Chris Dickerson has done a good job recently as a part-time leadoff man. He's making a strong case for playing time, perhaps at the expense of Willy Taveras. ... One person in the industry who knows Oakland general manager Billy Beane well predicted last week that Matt Holliday will remain with the team all season. The A's would then offer salary arbitration to Holliday and collect the compensatory draft picks when he signs elsewhere. "Billy loves the draft," the source said.
Tagged: Red Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Blue Jays, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, Padres, Marlins, Rays, Randy Choate, Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells, Adrian Beltre, Scott Downs, Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay, Erik Bedard, Freddy Sanchez, Kevin Correia, Alex Rios, Jason Frasor, Matt Holliday, Jose Lopez, Brandon League, Aaron Hill, Jeremy Hermida, Edwin Encarnacion, Dustin McGowan, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, J.P. Howell, Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, Adam Lind, Jesse Litsch, Brett Carroll, Scott Richmond, Chris Dickerson, Ricky Romero

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