Blue Jays deal prospects, but system still stocked
Toronto able to make mega-trade without losing some of its top young players
TORONTO -- When Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager of the Blue Jays in the fall of 2009, he vowed this day would eventually come.
There was going to be a time when the rebuilding of a once illustrious franchise would be complete. An era when the stockpiling of prospects would take a backseat to Major League talent in an effort to once again become relevant in the American League East.
It might have taken a little bit longer than originally expected, but that day finally arrived this week when Anthopoulos orchestrated a reported 12-player blockbuster trade with Miami that provides a series of upgrades to a franchise suddenly talking about postseason aspirations.
Toronto has been down this road before. There were the ill-advised spending sprees in 2005-07 that saw the club hand out more than $300 million in contracts to the likes of Vernon Wells, A.J. Burnett, Lyle Overbay and Frank Thomas.
That ultimately ended in disaster as the Blue Jays failed to take the next step and were eventually forced into yet another rebuild. But there also are some stark differences between the previous regime under then-GM J.P. Ricciardi and the one currently overseen by Anthopoulos.
When the Blue Jays started making that big push seven years ago, they had one of the weakest farm systems in baseball and a noticeable lack of depth on the 25-man roster. Everything needed to go right for the Blue Jays to compete, and when it didn't, the optimism seemed to rapidly disappear.
This time around, though, the Blue Jays appear better positioned to make a prolonged run. The team's core is locked up long term following extensions for Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow, while others such as Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson now enter the mix as well.
Perhaps just as important is that even after dealing a series of top prospects this week, the Minor League system is still flush with talent. Anthopoulos managed to pull the trigger on the massive trade without having to part with his best young players.
It was still a hefty price tag, but here's a closer look at the prospects involved and why the Blue Jays' farm system still has plenty left in the tank:
Offered in trade
Jake Marisnick: Marisnick is ranked by MLB.com as the No. 2 overall prospect in the Blue Jays' system, but he suffered through somewhat of a disappointing 2012 campaign. The 21-year-old began the year at Class A Dunedin and posted just a .263 batting average in 65 games before receiving a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire. Once there, the struggles continued as he managed to hit only .233 with a .622 OPS in 55 games.
Marisnick is considered a five-tool talent, but there is still some debate about whether he will be able to hit for average at the big league level. His mechanics at the plate aren't exactly smooth, and the lack of consistency could eventually become a problem. He's still a high-end talent but became someone the Blue Jays could part with because of the presence of fellow outfield prospect Anthony Gose.
Justin Nicolino: Nicolino was one of the Big 3 pitching prospects who received a lot of attention last year in Class A Lansing. The trio had been looked upon as the future in Toronto, and Anthopoulos was extremely hesitant to move any of them. But you have to give up something of quality in order to get something good in return, and Anthopoulos attempted to limit the damage by including Nicolino.
The 20-year-old Nicolino is considered the most polished of the Big 3 but also the one with the least amount of upside. Both Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez are both ranked ahead of him on the depth chart and will continue to develop in the Blue Jays' system. Those two combined with Matt Smoral, Roberto Osuna, Daniel Norris and Marcus Stroman, and it's clear this organization still has a lot of pitching depth in its lower levels.
Adeiny Hechavarria: Hechavarria is one of the best defensive prospects in the game, but with Reyes locked up for the next five years, there simply wasn't a need for him in Toronto. In order to best utilize Hechavarria's skill set, he needs to be starting at shortstop because of his incredible range and soft hands at the position.
There's no doubting Hechavarria's ability with the glove, but there was still plenty of questions about the upside of his bat. A lot of people tend to think the Cuban native will never be able to hit on a consistent basis at the big league level, but he did manage to post a .293 batting average in the final month of the season. If Hechavarria is able to find a consistent stroke, this is the piece the Blue Jays could eventually regret giving up. But with Reyes around, there wasn't a spot for him in Toronto anyway.
Anthony DeSclafani: DeSclafani flew under the radar this season in Class A Lansing because of the Big 3. Despite pitching in the shadows, DeSclafani made some waves by going 11-3 with a 3.37 ERA while striking out 92 in 123 innings. The numbers were impressive, but he also comes with his fair share of flaws. DeSclafani will need to establish a reliable breaking ball, otherwise he'll be forced into a bullpen role later in his career.
Henderson Alvarez: Alvarez is the perfect example of how quickly a player's value can change during the course of a year. By the end of 2011, Alvarez had secured his spot in the starting rotation and appeared as though he would become a core component of the franchise's future.
That changed this year as Alvarez struggled for most of the season. He failed to establish a consistent secondary pitch to complement his fastball/changeup combination, and the lack of strikeouts eventually caught up to him, as evidenced by the 4.85 ERA in 31 games. Alvarez could yet turn into the middle-of-the-rotation starter some people envisioned, but now more than ever he appears headed for a career in the bullpen.
Still in play
Travis d'Arnaud: Perhaps the most shocking element of this week's trade is that the Blue Jays didn't have to part with a young catcher to get the deal done. d'Arnaud is regarded as the best catching prospect in the game and someone that Anthopoulos has been loathe to part with over the past couple of years.
The fact he wasn't in the deal makes sense, but the omission of starter J.P. Arencibia was somewhat surprising. The Blue Jays could now use Arencibia as a trade chip as it still seems incredibly unlikely the club would want to let d'Arnaud get away.
Anthony Gose: Gose made his Major League debut in 2012 and experienced some success after a very slow start to his career. The Blue Jays would prefer to start Gose at Triple-A Buffalo this year to continue his development, but it's also possible he will split time with Rajai Davis in left field.
The Blue Jays already have Colby Rasmus and Bautista under contract in the outfield, but there is somewhat of a glaring hole in left field. Gose could win that position in the spring, but it's also just as likely he'll eventually be dangled for another upgrade later this offseason or at next year's non-waiver Trade Deadline.