No Need for Panik: Blue Jays and Marlins Make Marginal Swap by Ben Clemens June 29, 2021 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.