Off to a 2-11 start and with three very important players (Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez) on the disabled list, the Blue Jays are already looking like future sellers on the trade market. Things aren’t hopeless; Sanchez’s problem is only a blister, so he should be back before the end of the month, and no structural damage was found in Happ’s elbow. Assuming they get over the injury bug, the Jays should still be a fairly formidable for in the AL East.
Still, this is a Toronto team with holes under the best of circumstances. Going with a patchwork first base-left field situation of Steve Pearce, Justin Smoak and Ezequiel Carrera was a big mistake, especially given the abundance of affordable alternatives over the winter. Angel Pagan still makes a lot of sense here; it’s no lock that he’d be a solid starting left fielder, but he was one last year. Giving him a shot there and going with a strict Smoak-Pearce platoon at first would help. Pearce isn’t as bad as he’s looked thus far (he’s batting .162 with no extra-base hits), but his primary strength is as a starter against lefties.
The Jays thought they’d contend this year based on the strength of five above average starting pitchers and a lineup without any real sinkholes that’s led by two All-Stars. The healthy starting pitchers are still looking pretty good, but there’s little depth behind them and the lineup just isn’t very imposing with Jose Bautista scuffling. Bautista is 36, Russell Martin in 34 and Troy Tulowitzki is 32. No one there is a sure thing to rebound. Bautista will start hitting homers again, but he’s likely to finish with closer to 25 than 35. Martin overcame a very slow start last year, but still ended up with a big spike in his strikeout rate and his issues there have gotten even more severe in the early going this season. Tulo is far more solid than spectacular these days.
I don’t think the Jays are going to remain bad, but they strike me as more average than good and they’ll probably need to play .600 ball from here on out to claim a postseason spot. That seems quite unlikely. It could well be that Bautista, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano will finish this season playing for other teams.
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American League notes
- Donaldson is out 2-4 weeks with his calf injury. With the Jays searching for offense, Chris Coghlan has started at third the last two times the team has faced right-handers. I’m not sure that makes sense, given Darwin Barney’s considerable defensive advantage, but it gives Coghlan some AL-only value. If Coghlan hits, he’ll enter the mix in left field and at first base once Donaldson returns.
- Marcus Semien’s wrist surgery will cost the A’s arguably their best position player for at least the next two months. The club resisted the temptation to promote top prospect Franklin Barreto in his place and will try to get by with Adam Rosales and Chad Pinder for now. Barreto, though, is hitting .310/.375/.524 through 11 games in Triple-A Sacramento, and if he keeps that up, we could see him in early May. Odds are that he wouldn’t have mixed-league value initially; while he’s been a frequent basestealer in the minors, he hasn’t been a particularly good one, finishing 30-for-47 last year. He’s 0-for-1 in that department this season. He’d probably be limited to AL-only value for this year.
- Matt Bush’s shoulder issue turned out to be nothing major, so he’s expected to close while Sam Dyson spends a couple of weeks rehabbing a “hand contusion.” There’s plenty of time for Dyson to get his mojo back, and I imagine the Rangers would prefer to return him to the closer’s role rather than push Bush’s future arbitration salaries into the stratosphere. Still, that all hinges on Dyson coming back strong next month. Bush should be owned everywhere in the meantime.
- Orioles pitchers already have enough working against them in Camden Yards and the AL East, but the defense has been a serious problem in the early going, too. Surrounding an average-at-best center fielder in Adam Jones with the likes of Seth Smith, Hyun-Soo Kim, Mark Trumbo and Trey Mancini didn’t figure to work out very well, but what’s really surprising is that the infield has been just as bad as the outfield. I think that’s something of a fluke, but it gives me one more reason to bet against Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy this year.
- The Orioles seem optimistic that Zach Britton’s absence due to a forearm strain won’t be a long one. They’re not naming a closer in his place, but Brad Brach has to be the clear favorite for saves, given Darren O’Day’s struggles.
- Cleveland demoting Tyler Naquin in order to play Lonnie Chisenhall in center field was one move I did not see coming. I wasn’t very high on Naquin -- he was my No. 71 OF going into the season -- but he deserved a chance to show his fine rookie performance (.296/.372/.514 in 321 AB) wasn’t a fluke. What he got was 18 plate appearances. Chisenhall wasn’t even a very good defensive right fielder, and it’s not like the club was in desperate need to free up at-bats for Abraham Almonte and Austin Jackson. Sending Naquin down would have made sense if he were hitting .210 on May 15. Demoting him on April 13, particularly when they had the flexibility to send down Almonte… that I didn’t get.
- Whit Merrifield was one of my deep mixed-league sleepers early this spring, as I was hoping the Royals would play him regularly at second base and bat him leadoff. Instead, they chose to send him down and go with Raul Mondesi at second, a decision that they’re probably regretting now. Mondesi is looking as overmatched as he did last year, and Merrifield, playing right field, homered and reached four times in his season debut Tuesday. Unless Mondesi gets hot, the Royals should send him down and move Merrifield to second when Jorge Soler comes off the DL next week. Merrifield isn’t an immediate mixed-league pickup or anything, but he has enough pop and speed to help in deeper leagues.
List #1: 10 slow starters worth acquiring in trade
1. Anthony Rendon (3B Nationals)
2. Jose Quintana (SP White Sox)
3. Jonathan Villar (2B-SS Brewers)
4. Masahiro Tanaka (SP Yankees)
5. Edwin Encarnacion (1B Indians)
6. Kyle Seager (3B Mariners)
7. Devon Travis (2B Blue Jays)
8. Tim Anderson (SS White Sox)
9. Byron Buxton (OF Twins)
10. Jose Abreu (1B White Sox)
We went through this last year with Rendon; he hit .229 with two homers and six RBI through May 17 and then .285 with 18 homers and 79 RBI over the final three-quarters of the season. He’s too talented to struggle for long.
Encarnacion has typically been a slow starter -- his career OPS in April is 100 points lower than his rest-of-season mark -- so it’s not shocking that he’s hitting just .221 with two homers to date. What is concerning is that he’s striking out at more than twice his career rate. His K rate took a jump last year, but it was still plenty good for a power hitter. It’s still early enough that I don’t think panic is warranted, but I would insist on something of a discount if I were trading for him. His exit velocity is fine, so he’s hitting the ball pretty hard when he’s making contract.
I’m a little nervous about including the White Sox in this list, mostly because the team is only going to get worse as time goes on. I don’t worry about Quintana; his velocity is fine and his value will jump once he’s finally traded. I’m not as high on Anderson and Abreu as I was on Opening Day, but I still think they’ll be mixed-league assets when all is said and done.
I didn’t think Nicholas Castellanos qualified for the “slow start” list, but he’s now hitting .204 after all of the hype he was getting at the end of the spring and the first week of the season. He’s still a buy for me, as he’s demonstrated top-notch exit velocity to date.