The Toronto Blue Jays front office generally tries to be as opaque as possible, but recently their interest in Christian Yelich has bubbled to the surface.
The club has been rumoured to be in on Yelich throughout the offseason, and general manager Ross Atkins confirmed it Tuesday on Prime Time Sports in a roundabout sort of way:
All 30 teams are in so it’s not up to the Blue Jays on whether or not we get him. We’ll do what we can. We are definitely going to do everything we can to consider how we can make our team better. Yelich is a remarkable talent and he’s going to impact the Marlins or whoever he’s playing for in a significant way.
There are a couple of aspects of this quotation that are a little bit disingenuous. No, 30 teams are not in on Yelich. Sure, there isn’t a team that couldn’t use him in their outfield, but that doesn’t mean nearly that many teams will be putting together a massive trade package for him.
The Blue Jays GM makes it sound like trading for Yelich is akin to the old Japanese posting system where everyone puts an offer in an envelope and the Marlins pick the best one. The situation is not out of the Blue Jays’ control. They have the option to present Miami with a better package than anyone else. Considering the blue-chip prospects they have in their stable, the club could get Yelich, but at a potentially reckless cost. This isn’t a matter of could, it’s a matter of should.
What Atkins is really saying here is that lots of teams will try to acquire Yelich and the Marlins will have their choice of packages that appeal to them most. There will be no Godfather offer from the Blue Jays. He makes it sound like they can’t go the extra mile to get the Miami outfielder, but the reality is just that they won’t. That’s probably for the best.
Yelich has been lusted after by many a Blue Jays fans lately because he seems to solve a number of the club’s problems. Hole in the outfield? Yelich grades out as the fifth best outfielder in baseball by WAR over the last two years. Need someone who will give the team a boost in 2018 with Josh Donaldson still in town and be an important cog when a homegrown core emerges in the future? Yelich is at the height of his powers now, but is also just 26 and under team control affordably through 2022. If you could magically whisk one player onto the Blue Jays roster there aren’t many who’d be a better fit than Yelich.
However, there’s a significant difference between having Yelich and getting Yelich. Having Yelich would be fantastic for the Blue Jays, getting him would probably be a mistake.
Consider the other side of the coin for a moment. Imagine the Blue Jays were looking to move their top trade asset: Marcus Stroman. If Toronto were to move Stroman for a package of prospects, it would have to be a hell of package – both for PR and baseball reasons. Fans and the media would hammer the team if there wasn’t a huge return, ideally with a blue-chip headliner. The franchise would also be set back if they moved a top-notch player in his prime and didn’t get good value.
That’s exactly where the Marlins are. Arguably the biggest difference is that Yelich is worth significantly more than Stroman. You could debate who’s better, but a position player is inherently less of a risk than a pitcher and Yelich’s WAR of 15.9 easily tops Stoman’s 10.5 since the latter debuted in 2014. More importantly, the outfielder has five years of team control compared to three for the starter. On FanGraphs’ 2017 Trade Value series, Yelich ranked 27th to Stroman’s 47th.
So, when you begin to conceptualize what it would take to pry the 26-year-old from Miami, it’s seems less likely such a move would further the Blue Jays dual goals. Would Yelich instantly make the club a 2018 playoff contender? Sort of, but one of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox looks like a lock for the AL East crown and you can probably pencil in the loser of that battle for one wild card. With Shohei Ohtani on board, the Los Angeles Angels are favourite for the other spot and it could be a dogfight there. Even if the Blue Jays got Yelich, it would still be an uphill battle to a 2018 playoff appearance.
On the other hand, making a deal for the young outfielder would gut a farm system that is on the rise, but far from the league’s best or deepest. If the Marlins cleaned out the Blue Jays’ cupboard, the next wave the team is counting on may be delayed or rendered insufficient to compete in what is becoming a deadly division again. Theoretically speaking, Yelich may be better than any prospect currently in the Blue Jays system – despite the massive ceilings of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette – but if Toronto is going to compete with the big boys in the 2020s they’ll need to hit on some homegrown minimum-salary stars. A trade for Yelich would reduce their opportunities to do that.
Thinking of how the Blue Jays could use Christian Yelich is easy. Imagining a deal for him that works for the franchise that the Marlins would actually accept is hard – maybe even impossible. That’s why Ross Atkins is saying this is out of his hands.
He could change that state of affairs with a single phone call, but he almost certainly won’t – and he definitely shouldn’t.
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