The Blue Jays traded a couple prospects for a versatile infielder this weekend following a season during which their own infielders had trouble staying on the field. That much about the Yangervis Solarte trade makes sense.
What makes a little less sense? A Toronto team projected to finish almost 10 games worse than the best two teams in their division just improved their 2018 roster at a potential cost down the road. It might be a fine trade in a vacuum, but is it a well-timed one?
Predictably, Toronto had trouble with injuries in 2018 — predictable if you consider the fact that the Blue Jays were the oldest team in baseball last year. By weighted team age — that is, accounting for plate appearances and batters faced — the Blue Jays were the only team over 30 years old (30.1 to the Royals’ 29.6).
Last year, only the Braves’ infielders surpassed the Jays’ cohort in terms of days per DL trip.
|Team||Infield DL Days Lost||Days Per Trip|
So it’s not surprising that Toronto acquired one of the 16 players in baseball last year who played more than 40 innings at four positions or more. Solarte came with a bonus of being one of the five best bats on that list, depending on how you would rank Marwin Gonzalez, Ian Happ, Kiké Hernandez, and Hernan Perez.
It’s a little surprising, however, that the Jays would give up a center-field prospect (more on Edward Olivares from Eric Longenhagen later) in order to improve their projections by a little more than a win — especially when their projections still place them five games out of the second Wild Card slot in the American League.
Maybe this is as much about 2020 as it is about 2018, though. For both teams.
The Padres are in the middle of a build, while the Blue Jays are everyone’s favorite choice for the next team that should start a build. But something funny happens when you take a look at those sometimes silly 2021 lineup tables over at Baseball America. Right now, it looks like the Blue Jays may have as many foundational position players in their peak age ranges in 2021 as the Padres.
The Padres’ pitching is ahead, but the Jays boast Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (22 years old in 2021), Bo Bichette (23), and Anthony Alford (26) on that fictional lineup. It’s possible that the club feels as though the next competitive window isn’t far away.
The Padres, meanwhile — with Luis Urias (24), Fernando Tatis Jr (22), and Manny Margot (26) — could say the same. Since their work on the pitching side has produced more top prospects, though, maybe they’re willing to make this trade for upside in the outfield.
It doesn’t look like the pitching prospect given up by the Jays, Jared Carkuff, has the upside the Jays need there, so they were willing to use him and Olivares to go get a versatile player who can approximate league-average production wherever the club ends up needing him. That Solarte can do it for less than $18 million combined over the next three years (provided all his options are exercise) makes him a good glue pickup for next year’s team, and maybe also for 2020’s team.
Does the switch-hitting infielder have any upside beyond what he’s exhibited in the majors so far? Last year, his launch angles and exit velocities should have produced a .261/.320/.396 line according to xStats, production that would be just short of league average and not far off his actual .255/.314/.416 line. He hits for more power from the left side — from which side he also hits more fly ball — but San Diego and Toronto have about the same park factor for lefty home runs. Maybe the park is better suited to his approach from the right side of the plate. Maybe he’ll be league average again one of the next three years.
Does Solarte have some downside? Definitely. He’s 30 years old, and his average exit velocity just dropped 4 mph between 2016 and 2017.
The Blue Jays may currently sit behind the Angels for the second Wild Card in the team projections, but those forecasts have large error bars, and there’s no American League team in between the two clubs. You could say the Jays are just outside the Wild Card race and you wouldn’t be technically wrong. A player like Solarte, despite the fact that he may not be much better than league average with the bat or the glove, could really help the team when the next injury pops up in their infield.
And if he plays well into his early 30s, Solarte may end up playing the same role when the Jays’ next round of young studs are ready to go. It’s a cheap deal for three years, and he can play all over.
That’s probably enough of a reason to risk this type of prospect, even if the downside is that they may have just spent a young major-league regular in order to acquire a below-average stopgap third baseman who will play behind a traded Josh Donaldson as the team jumps more fully into a rebuild. That’s a fairly depressing downside, but you have to remember to put it up against the other two ways the new Jay can help.
Solarte’s combination of three affordable years and three usable gloves makes him a unique fit for a Blue Jays team stuck between competing in 2018 and 2020.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.