The End Of T-Bone

During the 7th inning of yesterday’s 4-1 loss against the Mariners, the Blue Jays pulled Travis Snider out of left field, and as he went around exchanging hugs and handshakes in the dugout, it was presumed that he was traded, just in advance of today’s 4:00 PM non-waiver trade deadline. As it turns out, the Toronto did indeed trade him to the Pirates for setup man Brad Lincoln.

On the surface it’s a surprising trade to see Alex Anthopoulos pull off, trading a 24 year-old starting outfielder for a 27 year-old middle relief pitcher. Snider is also exactly the type of player that the Jays have looked to poach from other teams that may have been disillusioned with – young guys with high upside that were for whatever reason undervalued by their clubs (ie. Colby Rasmus, Yunel Escoar, Brandon Morrow). Generally speaking, 24 year-old outfielders with this amount of power and potential just aren’t available. Considering the number of years that the organization has bounced him up and down between Toronto and Vegas while still selling his potential as a future core piece of the team…to finally seeing him traded here straight up for a reliever, to put it bluntly, stings like a motherfucker.

To be fair, Brad Lincoln is actually a very solid pitcher, and was actually drafted fourth overall in 2006 (albeit out of college versus high school), the same draft Snider was picked at 14. He was ranked as the 4th best prospect in Pittsburgh’s deep farm system in 2010 by Baseball America and 6th by Minor League Ball before he made his debut as a starter and lost his prospect status. He languished for two years as a spot starter in Pittsburgh, earning a label as a AAAA player who had nothing to prove in the minors but didn’t have what it took to succeed in the majors…not completely unlike Travis Snider. The Pirates finally moved him to the bullpen full time this year as a reliever to set up closer Joel Hanrahan, and that’s where he’s finally found some success, pitching to a 2.73 ERA with a very good 4.29 K/BB ratio. As a reliever he’s free to put some more juice in his limited outings, dialing his fastball up a couple of ticks to 93 MPH which he complements with an excellent curveball (that’s held opposing batters to just a ridiculous .117/.128/.156 line this year) and most importantly, where his lack of a third pitch isn’t exposed in multiple trips through the lineup.

Interestingly enough, the player picked immediately after Lincoln in the 2006 draft, Brandon Morrow, now his teammate, had a career trajectory that went in the opposite direction.

One upside is that Lincoln is under club control through 2018, whereas Snider only goes through 2016, and there’s no doubt that’s of some value to the club, which needs to build a core of cost controlled, quality players to compete with the monster payrolls of the AL East. Additionally, the Jays will now only have about $7 million committed in 2013 to their 7th, 8th, and 9th inning guys in Brad Lincoln (small scaled increase from $0.4 million), Casey Janssen ($3.9 million), and Sergio Santos ($2.75 million)…or roughly half of what Philadelphia pays Jonathan Papelbon to pitch the 9th. That gives enormous payroll flexibility to spend on other holes, like starting pitching…or now, a left fielder.

Still, a straight up trade for a reliever is not something everyone’s happy about, considering the fan expectations that if moved, Snider would have been the centerpiece of a trade for a established, frontline starter like Josh Johnson or Matt Garza. Unfortunately the reality is that his current value is more in line with a future platoon player with some upside…and that the Blue Jays no longer saw him as a part of their long term plans. And who would know more about their own prospects than the Jays? Evidently the decision was to move him while he still had the value he did, as it’s possible that another half season of disappointing at-bats or another injury would have further decreased his attraction to other teams.

The biggest question is now what intentions the Jays have for 2013. Was this trade made to avoid having that same “is Travis Snider a legitimate major league outfielder?” question that’s been hanging over the club for the last four years, and as a precursor to pursuing an established talent and big bat for left field (or for first or DH, with Edwin Encarnacion moving out there) and finally committing to a season of legitimate contention? Or does the club see light hitting centerfield prospect Anthony Gose or other in house options as a possible corner outfielder…which carries pretty much the opposite sentiment of serious contention?

In the meanwhile, my hope is that Travis Snider can find success on the surprising Pirates this year, who are only three games back of the Reds for the NL Central lead, and currently tied for the National League Wild Card. Snider’s true skill level was always an interesting, if polarizing, issue that’s dogged Jays fans for years…and if nothing else, I’m happy to not need to think about it anymore.

As ESPN analyst Keith Law notes in an Insider article about the trade…

The Pirates get to roll the dice on a flawed hitter who’s young enough to retain some upside, while the Blue Jays get a reliever who can help the team immediately and doesn’t have the washout risk of the guy they gave up.

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Destined to fight the world's evil, The WAMBAG endures massive battles involving impossible stunts, races on horse-pulled carriages, and the desecration of enchanting medieval castles (all done with dizzying computer graphics). Not only does the eye candy keep on coming, the tongue-in-cheek writing and deep Transylvanian accents perfect the film with a dose of dark humor.

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