Toronto Blue Jays Trade J.A. Happ for Michael Saunders


Toronto Blue Jays Trade J.A. Happ for Michael Saunders

The Toronto Blue Jays made significant news again on Wednesday, as they swapped starting pitcher J.A. Happ to the Seattle Mariners for Canadian left-fielder Michael Saunders.

It’s been just five days since Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos traded for Josh Donaldson and he has already made some more noise around the baseball world. The addition of Saunders to the Blue Jays lineup puts an end to the Melky Cabrera waiting game and could evolve Aaron Sanchez into a starting pitcher. Anthopoulos made it clear that Saunders will be the starting left-fielder for the Jays in 2015.

Anthopolous filled a hole in the Jays lineup and more importantly, he did so without spending an arm and a leg. Saunders made $2.3 million last season and is second-year arbitration eligible next season. This deal saves the Jays the millions of dollars that it would have taken to bring back Cabrera and can now be used to invest in a second baseman and to stock up on relievers. The man who will be replacing Melky is no slouch himself.

The Victoria, British Columbia native was the runner-up for the 2009 rookie of the year award and his on base percentage has been trending upwards over the last three years (.341 last season).

The 28-year-old played in just 78 games last season after missing time with a back injury, but played 130+ games in each of the previous two seasons. Despite missing half of last season, it was his best year production wise.

Jul 8, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners right fielder Michael Saunders (55) hits a single against the Minnesota Twins during the third inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Saunders was efficient and productive for the Mariners last season when he was in the lineup. His most impressive stats include his .791 OPS and 2.4 WAR, both better numbers than Dioner Navarro to put it in Blue Jays presepective. The most exciting part to look forward to with Saunders is what he will be capable of in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. After spending four seasons in Safeco Field, Saunders will be salivating in his homeland ball park. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect him to produce career high numbers next season. But the Blue Jays don’t need Saunders to come in and hit 30 home runs and steal 25 bases (I wouldn’t complain). They need him to play a reliable and consistent game as an everyday player at both ends of the diamond. Solid defense, efficient base running, and a steady bat will do just fine for a Jays lineup that is oozing with offense.

While Saunders makes his way north of the border, Jays’ starter Happ will leave town and join a strong Mariners rotation. Happ did his job last season with the Blue Jays and flourished in his role as the number five guy in the rotation.

Aug 31, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher

J.A. Happ

(48) against Toronto Blue Jays in second inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

The 32-year-old had an 11-11 record with a 4.22 ERA in his third season with Toronto. While he will be missed by Jays fans for his solid arm as a back-end starter, he certainly is replacable.

With this move, Sanchez will get his first shot at joining the Jays starting rotation.

Blue Jays management has said publicly that the plan is to absolutely utilize Sanchez as a starting pitcher, it is only a matter of when. With a vacant spot now sitting in the rotation, it seems as though Marco Estrada is the only guy who could possibly stand in his way.

Sep 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez pitches against Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning against Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not convinced that we will see him start for the Blue Jays next season yet, as AA could still bring in a pitcher via free agency… or another blockbuster trade. Nonetheless, it’s reassuring to know that the Blue Jays are being patient with Sanchez and are going to make sure he earns the role in spring training before it is given to him.

In other news, the Blue Jays signed first-baseman Justin Smoak to a one-year, $1 million deal today, shortly after non-tendering his contract. Smoak and Saunders have played together in Seattle since 2010.

It will be interesting to see where Saunders fits into the Blue Jays lineup. My guess is that he will start the year batting seventh, as throwing him into the two-spot to replace Melky would be a lot to ask of him. His left-handed bat is an asset but John Gibbons should let him work his way up the lineup with his bat.

Sep 23, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pinch hitter Michael Saunders (55) rounds 3rd base after hitting a solo home run against the Kansas City Royals during the 8th inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Jays filled the left field job with a solid all-around player who is under team control for another couple of years, and the cost was a replaceable number five starter. The most intrguing part of the deal is that we can speculate how they will spend the remainder of their budget. Are they targeting Jon Lester and is Jed Lowrie still on AA’s radar? All in all, it is another great move for Toronto in this off-season overhaul.

What do you think about the acquisition of Saunders at the expense of Happ? What are your thoughts on the Jays pulling out of the Melky Cabrera sweepstakes? Should Sanchez start next year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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