The Toronto Blue Jays Are Now Happless

A day after Boston added starting-pitch depth from the Rays in the form Nate Eovaldi, the Yankees have followed suit this afternoon with another AL East team, acquiring left-hander J.A. Happ from Toronto in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney.

While this trade doesn’t preclude the Yankees from making a splashier acquisition for a starting pitcher, it wouldn’t surprise me if Happ is the only significant addition to the New York rotation. The team’s been linked to Cole Hamels in recent weeks, but that seems a curiously unsatisfying acquisition from New York’s perspective. At this point, Hamels’ reputation is still mostly derived from what he did in Philadelphia and, after a so-so 2017, he’s been hit hard and often in 2018. It’s tempting to disregard the inflated HR/FB rate as a fluke, but his 44.9% hard-hit rate this year is the second-highest among qualifiers — this after he set a career high in 2017. Now, that’s not enough to doom a pitcher by itself — Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin are up there too and having fine seasons — but it does lend support to the notion that his homers allowed aren’t flukes.

Getting hit hard is a risk in Yankee Stadium, and the point of these types of deadline trades isn’t to maximize upside but rather to find some certainty. No, Happ wasn’t really the sixth-best starter in his 20-4, 3.18 ERA Cy Young-contending year in 2015, but he’s also a fairly safe pitcher at this point, one who has already been playing in the AL East and experienced plenty of success. The Yankees aren’t trying to make a David Price or a Johnny Cueto trade here; rather, they’re looking for someone more dependable than Sonny Gray to slot after Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia down the stretch. Fourth starters do tend to make an appearance in the playoffs and, should the Yankees reach the ALDS — which our odds says isn’t about 70% likely to occure — it’s difficult to imagine they’d be comfortable turning to Gray, who has failed to complete the fifth inning in seven of his 19 starters in 2018. And with it looking more and more likely the Yankees are the first Wild Card rather than the AL East winner, that extra Wild Card game means they’re even more likely to require the services of that fourth starter.

In the ZiPS playoff odds, the addition of Happ to the rotation boosts the team by about a win over the course the rest of the season, moving their divisional odds from 23% to 28% in the projections. ZiPS believe the Yankees are a slightly better team than the Red Sox, but the 5.5 games baked into the cake, so to speak, are telling here. This is more a depth move for the Yankees than something intended to upend any playoff scenarios.

And the truth is, the Yankees aren’t paying for Happ as if this were a move intended to cannonball into the playoff pool. Brandon Drury’s potential role disappeared once the Yankees were happy with the readiness of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. While Drury has played all but catcher and center field at some point, he doesn’t really have that much defensive versatility because he’s below-average defensively at the positions where flexibility is most important. Were he a better second or third baseman, there’s always the chance he becomes Ben Zobrist, but I’m not seeing it here. If Andujar or Torres were to get injured, I’d honestly be more comfortable with Ronald Torreyes as a short-term candidate with better defense, and with the team still employing Neil Walker for reasons that completely escape me, Drury just had no real upside in New York.

What I don’t quite understand is the Blue Jay’s side of this trade. I’m at the point where I feel time has run out on this core. Even assuming that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette work out wonderfully, there are too many organizational holes/questions to just hunker down until the prospects arrive. Working under that assumption, it’s a challenge to see why the team would be all that interested in Drury or McKinney, both who are better depth pieces for a contending team in the next couple of years. I understand that two months of J.A. Happ’s services isn’t going to fetch a bevy of top prospects — and while the Blue Jays didn’t really lose from a pure value standpoint — I’m not quite sure how this value is determined. I’d much rather get a couple of lottery-pick prospects from deep in the Yankees depth chart than safer high-floor, no-ceiling picks. I thought the haul from the Oh trade was excellent for what the team gave up, but I’m scratching my head a bit here; if Drury actually ends up being a Josh Donaldson replacement in 2019, then the Blue Jays have probably lost enough wins that it doesn’t matter who plays third base.

Brandon Drury, ZiPS Projections, 2019-2022
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .254 .318 .395 433 48 110 26 1 11 55 37 103 1 91 -5 0.7
2020 .254 .320 .401 414 46 105 26 1 11 54 37 100 1 93 -5 0.7
2021 .251 .318 .412 362 41 91 23 1 11 48 33 89 1 95 -5 0.6
2022 .255 .323 .407 361 41 92 23 1 10 48 33 84 1 95 -6 0.6

As for Billy McKinney, this is the third even-year deadline trade of which he’s been a part, previously in blockbusters for Jeff Samardzija and Aroldis Chapman. A lot of the shine has come off McKinney’s prospect luster, and even if it’s not the Pacific Coast League, a .230/.307/.481 line in the minors this year isn’t moving him back up the prospect rankings down which he’s been sliding on a yearly basis. He’s close enough to the majors and displays enough power that I think he’ll have some kind of MLB career, reasonable upside being that he hits enough homers for a few years to get a starting job for a while, like Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler.

Billy McKinney, ZiPS Projections, 2019-2024
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .249 .313 .450 398 50 99 21 7 15 54 34 101 2 102 2 1.2
2020 .247 .315 .469 388 50 96 22 8 16 55 35 103 2 107 1 1.3
2021 .247 .318 .464 388 51 96 22 7 16 56 37 108 1 107 1 1.3
2022 .244 .319 .470 385 51 94 22 7 17 56 39 110 1 109 0 1.3
2023 .242 .318 .460 376 50 91 22 6 16 54 38 107 1 106 0 1.1
2024 .245 .320 .459 364 48 89 21 6 15 51 37 99 1 107 0 1.1

All-in-all, the Yankees paid a fair amount in value for a J.A. Happ rental, I just feel the Blue Jays would have been better served to get that value in a different configuration. But perhaps this tells us that the Blue Jays may in fact be more interested in a short-term retool rather than the full-on rebuild?





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Da Bum
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Da Bum

In reference to the headline … *groan*

Luy
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Luy

It must be so Drury going through life hating shitty puns.

…*self-groan*

Roger21
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Roger21

Personally, I was just hoping that the Yankees would trade for Soria, so that they’d complete the trifecta of “Judge, Drury, and Mexecutioner”