No Need for Panik: Blue Jays and Marlins Make Marginal Swap

The Blue Jays are roughly where they planned on being heading into the season: 40-36 and on the periphery of the Wild Card chase. They’re doing it roughly the way they expected — with big seasons from their young boppers (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is an MVP front runner, Bo Bichette has been excellent) and timely contributions from their opportunistic offseason spending spree (Marcus Semien has been excellent, Robbie Ray looks solid).

Despite those bright spots, however, the team has plenty of room for improvement. The outfield, which looked like a potential strength coming into the season, has been hamstrung by a quad injury to George Springer; he’s made only 39 plate appearances so far this year. Teoscar Hernández has played the field in his place, and while he’s hitting well, he’s a better fit at DH. He’s also right-handed, a trait the team’s four primary outfielders share. The bullpen has been disappointing as well; Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza have impressed, but that’s about it.

To address this concern and simultaneously shore up the bullpen, the Blue Jays made a trade with the Marlins. Adam Cimber, Corey Dickerson, and an undisclosed amount of cash are headed to Toronto (well, to Buffalo at least) in exchange for Joe Panik and Andrew McInvale, as Craig Mish and Jon Heyman first reported.

Cimber is the main reason Toronto made this deal. He’s one of the strangest pitchers in baseball — a soft-tossing, side-arming righty who has amassed an enviable career line (3.69 ERA, 3.75 FIP) despite a near-complete lack of strikeouts. His fastball averages 87 mph, and his 8.5% swinging strike rate is one of the lowest in the game.

That doesn’t sound good — and those parts of his profile are indeed not great. But he succeeds anyway, because of one simple trick: batters can’t elevate or square up his signature sinker. Part of it is because he throws like this:

Part of it is because he locates the pitch extremely well. He starts it over the plate and runs it in on righties, and “sidearmer throwing a pitch that runs in on you” is an exceptionally unsettling look for hitters who rarely experience it. His career sinker heat map tells the story effectively:

The slider he uses as a complement is a funhouse mirror of the pitch; it drops a roughly equal amount on its flight to the plate while breaking the opposite way horizontally. He also locates it to the opposite corner:

Those two heat maps are most of what you need to know about Cimber. He locates two unique pitches exceptionally well, and hitters have a hard time doing damage. Since he debuted in 2018, his 3.8% barrel rate on batted balls is the fourth-lowest in baseball. It’s not so much that batters can’t make hard contact — he’s middle of the road there. It’s not so much that they can’t elevate the ball — he gets more grounders than average, but not an extreme amount. Rather, it’s the combination of the two that matters, and that funky angle and pitch mix are excellent at stopping righties (and yes, it’s basically only righties) from teeing off.

Cimber won’t take a high-leverage role in the bullpen, but he’ll be valuable right away. The Jays have used Tyler Chatwood, Anthony Castro, Patrick Murphy, and Jacob Barnes as key righties this year, and Cimber will push each of them down a peg in the leverage hierarchy, with the possible exception of Chatwood. That’s helpful for a team without a single starter averaging six innings per outing; making as much of the bullpen as possible out of good relievers is imperative.

Dickerson, the second part of the Jays’ return, is a sneakily good fit, except for one huge caveat. In an ideal world before this trade, they’d put Springer in center every day and flank him with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk, with Hernández handling DH duties. Now, they can swap Dickerson into left to give the starters rest while improving their hitting against righty pitching. “Go hit righties” has been Dickerson’s job for his entire career, and he’s accomplished it consistently; he’s been 16% better with the platoon advantage over a decent sample size, and there’s little reason to think that won’t continue.

Just one problem: Dickerson won’t be patrolling left field in Buffalo imminently, because he’s currently wearing a walking boot while recovering from a foot injury caused by an awkward landing on first base. The most recent update precludes him from returning to action before the back half of July, and that’s certainly no guarantee; soft tissue injuries can be stubborn.

If and when Dickerson does return, he’ll be a marginal outfield upgrade and useful bench bat. Whether that’s for two months, two weeks, or even no time at all — again, soft tissue injuries can be stubborn — remains to be seen. He’ll have no immediate impact on the Jays’ fortunes, but they can at least stash him on the IL and wait to see how his recovery progresses — think of him as a wild card that might be worth half a win or so down the stretch, or might never don a Jays uniform.

What did it cost to acquire Cimber and Dickerson? Largely, it cost Dickerson’s salary. He’s owed roughly $4.5 million for the balance of the year, and Cimber will make roughly half a million over the same time frame. That’s a boring way to look at the Jays’ cost, but baseball teams care about economics (shocker!), and paying Dickerson to rehab was surely not high on the Marlins’ wish list — enough so that they’re even covering a small portion of his remaining salary.

The Blue Jays also sent out players, what with this being a baseball trade and all. Joe Panik is headed to Miami, but he didn’t have much of a spot on the Blue Jays, and he likely won’t on the Marlins either. He’s been a replacement-level player for the last four years, a bench piece who can play excellent second base defense but can’t hit enough for that to matter. The Marlins don’t need a second baseman, but they might need a utility infielder, and Panik’s contract made the math work for both teams.

Andrew McInvale, the other player in the trade, was a 37th round draft pick in 2019. He’s been striking out the world so far this year — 32.4% of opposing batters over two levels of the minors — after a brief introduction to pro ball in 2019. Per Eric Longenhagen, McInvale has worked hard since college to improve his fitness and strength; he was mostly 90-92 in college, but occasionally touched 97. He’s a four-pitch pitcher in theory, but rarely uses his curveball, instead focusing on a slider with vertical action — think of a very poor man’s Shane Bieber. His command makes him relief-only, but if his new physique leads to a sustainable velocity increase, he could be a back-of-the-bullpen type quite soon — at 24, there’s not much benefit to keeping him in the minors if he appears ready to contribute. That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to make the majors — he’s pitched all of 20 innings at Double-A and is walking 15% of opposing hitters there — but he’s certainly an interesting arm.

Is this trade going to change the Jays’ fortunes? I don’t think so. If they net a win out of it this year, that’s a great outcome — they’re trading for a middle reliever and an injured bench bat, which is about as anonymous of a trade haul as I can imagine. Cimber isn’t a free agent until 2025, which means they’ll get plenty of junk-balling weirdness in the bargain, but McInvale might have provided something similar in a few years.

He probably wouldn’t have provided something similar — prospects mostly don’t pan out, particularly 37th-round draft picks. Cimber likely won’t be the difference between making and missing the playoffs; that’s not how relievers work. The handful of million dollars the Marlins save won’t suddenly turn them into a financial powerhouse, and the Jays will hardly be ruined by their extra outlay. This is about as incremental as a trade gets — but for both teams, I see what they were aiming for, even if I think the end value to each franchise will round to zero.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

newest oldest most voted
JayTeam
Member
Member
JayTeam

As far as many Jays fans are concerned this is a massive win. Despite some absolute meltdowns by multiple bullpen guys, putrid hitting (Tellez, Jansen, Davis, Adams) and Gurriel’s deer-in-the-headlights fly-catching in LF, no player has drawn more consistent hate among the fan base than Joe Panik. The one thing he’s best at, 2B defence, has been pretty well moot all season with Semien playing there almost every day.

Phil
Member
Member
Phil

Did he at least walk around London, Ontario while he was with the Blue Jays?

Panik on the streets of London…

tz
Member

Nah, he spent time hanging with Dan Ford.

Panik at the Disco.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I am a little surprised to hear he’s been getting so much hate. If I were to build a model of players that get booed by their own side, it would involve:

-Relatively new to the team, fewer good memories to fall back on
-Not very young, so you can’t rationalize growing pains
-Big salary, because that brings expectations
-Absolutely slammed in high leverage moments, an actual use for WPA

Panik fits the first two, not so much the last two. Maybe there aren’t many players who fit that. Lourdes Gurriel, maybe.

An unscientific set of players hated players by their own fans right now:
-Gregory Polanco (dude has been awful for years!)
-Alex Colome
-Jackie Bradley Jr.
-Aaron Slegers

SucramRenrut
Member
SucramRenrut

I don’t think JayTeam’s claim is accurate. I am Canadian and have seen/heard nothing of the sort. Panik is simply a solid D, good enough contact bat and Santiago Espinal’s recent play made Panik expendable, at least that’s my take.

JayTeam
Member
Member
JayTeam

Which fan sites do you read? The most popular sites comment sections have had more vitriol toward him than any other player. Panik’s D has not been solid, because he’s out of his element playing 3rd, where he’s played most.

Negative UZR, , -6 DRS,, -4 OAA. He’s been bad there.

JayTeam
Member
Member
JayTeam

Sorry, Joe, only negative 3 outs above average, not 4.

Hughes
Member
Member
Hughes

It would’ve been nice if he had a better glove, but it’s hard to get worked up about bench utility infielders. He’s a net 0 OAA, -0.2 UZR, -4 DRS,

He really hasn’t played much 3B, and probably has played enough to say that’s not the position for him. He was drafted as a SS and converted to a 2B (where he still plays decent D).

rho180
Member
rho180

Based on the Jays subreddit, I would have said that Chatwood gets the most hate (although if we’re including non-players, it’s Montoyo in a landslide).

Alby
Member
Member
Alby

That’s an excellent reason to stay off fan sites. They’re a cesspool of ignorant ranting.

tz
Member

I think Panik must fit the “Erik Gonzalez” mold, which is the “why do they keep giving THIS guy playing time” category.

It also probably doesn’t help that Panik falls into the much broader class of “players who are not Munenori Kawasaki”….

Twitchy
Member
Twitchy

I’ll admit to not liking Panik but it’s a roster issue. I wouldn’t boo him but I don’t like him on the roster.

He’s a replacement level player, so he isn’t helping the team. He’s limited to 2B, but he’s often used at 3B where he’s not a good defender. The Jays need someone who can play multiple infield positions from their backup so it’s frustrating to see them continue to use Panik at 3B when he can’t play there. It’s not his fault he’s out of position, but that’s why he isn’t a good fit.

He’s occasionally starting over players because the Jays are a RH lineup so he’s that lefty bat. Except you can’t expect much more than an 80 wRC+ so he’s not adding much.

I’d prefer my backups to balance out a weakness of the starters. Defence especially at 3B would be a good start, but positional flexibility or speed or having a platoon advantage would be great. So for me a right handed bat who can play multiple positions and possibly platoon with Biggio at 3B vs LHP would be a better fit. Biggio has a 109 wRC+ vs rhp but 73 vs lhp so this feels like an easy spot to find a rh bat to platoon to give them a better bat vs lhp. Panik obviously can’t fill this role so again he’s not a good fit.

That would be why I dislike Panik. He doesn’t fill any role the Jays really need and when he’s used it isn’t taking advantages of his strengths.

JayTeam
Member
Member
JayTeam

One final point. The Jays have only 2 players considered plus defenders by all 3 systems – Semien and Espinal. Panik blocking Espinal was also a source of contention as the season’s moved on. Espinal is starting to provide some offence as well and may well gobble up much of the playing time at third.

Francoeurstein
Member
Francoeurstein

Anecdotal, but a lot of Braves fans were anti-Heyward and are anti-Swanson. They were/are productive players, but they didn’t line up with their prospect reports.

tz
Member

Curious – how were Jays fans with the now-retired Devon Travis?

(Panik is actually a few months older than him).

JayTeam
Member
Member
JayTeam

Travis made a great first impression and it stuck. After all the injuries hit, think it was more sadness and sympathy directed his way by most rather than negativity.

Hughes
Member
Member
Hughes

It’s sad that knee injuries destroyed what he was showing for potential.

Interestingly the guy we traded for him (Anthony Gose) ended up not working in the outfield with a 81 wRC+ and converting to a pitcher. He’s worked his way up to AAA with Cleveland and appears to be wild thing with almost 13 K/9 and 10 BB/9.