Jays tried to get Iwakuma, Seager

 In an upcoming book detailing the Toronto Blue Jays disastrous 2013 season from sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi and John Lott, an interesting tidbit is dropped regarding summer trade talks between the Jays and Seattle Mariners. Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopolous said that his club was pursuing an acquisition of starter Hisashi Iwakuma and third baseman Kyle Seager.

While teams often ask about each other’s top players for no other reason than due diligence, this is a rather interesting rumour to give some second thought. The apparent trade talks occurred during a period in which the Jays were battling injuries throughout their rotation, and holes on the left side of their infield due to injuries to Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, which means a Seager/Iwakuma acquisition would have made sense. The Jays were building to compete now, and both Seager and Iwakuma would have provided immediate value.

Since the talks didn’t register much for headlines in the summer, we can likely deduce that the Mariners placed a huge price tag on both players, or are more interested in using them as building blocks towards a winner. I believe both factors were in play here given the ages and salaries of Iwakuma and Seager. Iwakuma, who turns 33 next April, will earn just $13.5MM for 2014-15 provided his $7 million team option for 2015 is picked up. Seager turned 26 this past week and will be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2014 season.

I would think that the M’s would be willing to explore extensions for both players this winter, but won’t be too worried about leaving talks shelved for an extra year. Iwakuma is coming off of a 7.0 WAR season by Baseball-Reference, and a 4.2 WAR season by FanGraphs, and it may be worth seeing if how much he regresses, if any, before locking him up long-term. He is under team control through 2017 regardless. There’s less discrepancy between Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs when it comes to Seager’s value as both saw him worth about 3.5 WAR in 2012, and worth 4.1 WAR in 2013 (BR 4.9 WAR and FG 3.4 WAR). It’s likely Iwakuma and Seager hold more value to the Mariners when the tall task of replacing their production is considered. Seattle isn’t a free agent’s dream right now, and GM Jack Zduriencik doesn’t have the best history in the trade market, either. The phrase, “it would take an overwhelming offer for the team to trade so-and-so” fits well here because of that.

Between the two, I’d think Seager is the more likely to be examined for a long-term deal this winter before he reaches arbitration. While there aren’t a lot of comparable players to Seager, we could point to the extension Pablo Sandoval signed with the Giants prior to the 2012 season, for 3 years and $17.15MM, as a comparable. It’s not an ideal comparison of course, but Kung Fu Panda’s deal worked out to salaries of $3.2MM, $5.7MM, and $8.25MM for his three arbitration years, and I could see a good case being made for Seager to receive a similar deal covering his arbitration years. A lot can change though in one year’s time, so there’s minimal downside for letting him play his last pre-arb season for less than a million bucks and without an extension. It’s also worth noting that it’s more valuable to the team to buy out at least one year of a player’s free agent years, but when doing so it comes at a much higher cost.

As the M’s hang on to both players, the Blue Jays will still be in the market searching for similar players. The Jays are expected to be busy this winter after a disappointing 2013 season that came with high expectations after their blockbuster trades with the Miami Marlins and New York Mets last winter. Injuries shattered the playoff dreams for Toronto fans. The Jays will provide some competition for the Mariners in free agency as they also need to shore up their starting rotation. They’re expected to be involved in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, as well as other free agents such as right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza.

Second base is another large hole for the Blue Jays after Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonafacio, and Mark DeRosa failed to generate much production in 2013. The market for free agent infielders is looking pretty barren this winter outside of baseball’s next likely $200 million player, Robinson Cano. Omar Infante, Gordon Beckham and Brandon Phillips are rumored to be available via trade this winter, and the Jays have been connected to Beckham in the past.

A very real possibility for the Jays is bringing in a third baseman and shifting Lawrie back to second base, even though that would come with some possible downsides. It seems that the Jays prefer slugger Jose Bautista’s arm in right field, so moving him back to third is unlikely, but could be considered in the right scenario. If the Blue Jays do manage to bring in another third baseman, there’s a possibility Lawrie could be shopped around for some rotation help this winter.

The Mariners and Blue Jays could find themselves in a position to deal this offseason, even if Iwakuma and Seager are off the table. Only one of Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley will be the M’s starting second baseman for 2014, and the other would represent a valuable trade asset. The Jays have a similar situation in center field with Colby Rasmus and Anthony Gose vying for the starting job in 2014, although Rasmus has the clear upper hand.

Rasmus, 27, has been up and down for most of his five-year career, but the former first-round pick has established himself as a 20-homer threat while playing an above average center field. He’s arbitration eligible for the last time and will hit free agency after next season. Gose, on the other hand, is one of Toronto’s top prospects and has seen big league action in the previous two seasons. The 23-year-old hasn’t quite developed with the bat yet, but is a superb fielder who has above average speed, and still less than one year of accumulated service time.

A trade based on Franklin and Gose, for example, could represent an interesting proposition. While Franklin is a bit more established than is Gose, we can see how a deal along these lines would be beneficial for both clubs as each are dealing from a surplus to fill a need. Personally, I think the Mariners should aim for Rasmus instead of Gose for obvious reasons. Seattle could prove to be a great place for Rasmus to establish consistency to his game with less pressure to perform and 2014 being a contract year. It’d probably require more than just Franklin or Ackley to get Rasmus from the Jays, but I think it’s an interesting place to start talks.

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Jason A. Churchill

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