So The Jays Didn’t Get Christian Yelich

Even though Toronto missed out on the star outfielder, it might tell us something about Ross Atkins' motives.

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Photo: Corn Farmer/Flickr

On Thursday afternoon the Brewers announced that they had acquired outfielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins. Yelich, due to his extremely team-friendly contract, five years of control, and excellent production, was one of the most sought-after players this winter. He’s in his prime, will earn just $7 million this season and has been worth 9 wins above replacement since 2016.

The haul the Brewers gave up reflects the immense value they received in Yelich. Going to Miami is top prospect and outfielder Lewis Brinson (ranked #13 by MLB.com and #18 by Baseball America) along with OF Monte Harrison (#75 by BA), 2B/SS Isan Diaz (#86 by MLB) and RHP Jordan Yamamoto.

Word from SiriusXM radio host Craig Mish today was that the Blue Jays were the runner up. He noted that 20-25 teams were in on Yelich but ultimately the Brew Crew and Jays’ offers were the only ones Miami seriously considered. We don’t know the details of these negotiations but the ultimate package that the Marlins decided on does give us some clues about what the Jays may have offered and what they were thinking.

I’m going to break this down from a Blue Jays’ perspective to the best of my ability.

What We Know

It’s clear now that Ross Atkins has been extremely aggressive in improving the team this winter. Many fans have labelled the front office as cheap, or afraid to go after the big fish. Indeed, they were after a Fish. In this case a fish in the form of an actual star player. So you can throw away those particular criticisms of the Shapiro/Atkins regime for now.

It’s also clear that the Jays have a very strong farm system. In order to get to the advanced stages of a trade involving a star player, Toronto needed to have something significant the Marlins wanted. We can also infer that the Jays felt like they could part with a top prospect or two while leaving the farm system in good shape.

Staying with the prospect angle, we know from Mish’s reporting that Ross Atkins wouldn’t part with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. This isn’t surprising as Vladdy is considered to be arguably the best prospect in all of baseball. But at least we have a sense now that he is pretty close to being untouchable. This is noteworthy because teams give up top prospects all the time, but the ones they don’t give up are often the ones they truly believe in.

Case in point, the Red Sox reportedly would not include Rafael Devers in the deal for Chris Sale. Instead, the headliner position player they sent was Yoan Moncada (and at one point, the top prospect in baseball). And even though it’s still very early in their careers, it looks like the Red Sox knew what they were doing. It’s clear the Blue Jays feel Guerrero is a similar cornerstone player of the future.

We know that the outfield is an area where Atkins felt the team needed a big upgrade. This isn’t revelatory, by any means. He already acquired Randal Grichuk and Curtis Granderson. But it does now beg the question: how confident are the Jays in Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford if they were looking at adding yet another outfielder? This we don’t know for sure, but…

We Can Speculate

With Pillar and Grichuk, adding Yelich would have all but eliminated Hernandez and Alford from an every day role, and perhaps even a bench role. Presuming Pillar remains in Toronto, of course. But this is interesting in the sense that it may reveal how confident the team is in its outfield prospects. Alford has a pretty high ceiling, but also an injury history. Teams value durability and perhaps this puts a dent in how the Jays value Alford.

We can also make an educated guess on what the Blue Jays’ offer(s) was to the Marlins. Craig Mish noted that “once [the Marlins] were officially told no on Vlad, it was definitely Milwaukee.” So if the Jays weren’t going to include Guerrero in a deal, then what allowed Atkins to remain a finalist for Yelich? Realistically, it would’ve been an offer that included their #2 prospect, Bo Bichette. For what it’s worth, Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair also said as much today.

The Marlins did have their eye on a young middle infielder, as they got Isan Diaz from the Brewers. One could assume that they looked to find a similar match with the Jays on Bichette. If the Jays were willing to part with Bichette and not Guerrero, perhaps that’s an indication that they feel Bichette isn’t the same type of core piece.

The Marlins also focused on outfield talent, getting Monte Harrison in addition to Brinson. Harrison has loud tools – eventual 20-home run power, above average speed and a hell of an arm. He’s not ranked nearly as high as Alford is on prospect lists because of a propensity to swing and miss. But if the Jays wanted to put together a deal rivalling that of Milwaukee’s, my feeling is that both Bichette and Alford would’ve needed to be included. Steep? You bet. But the Brewers did part with a lot of upside.

I don’t know if this is what the Jays offered. Even if they did, I don’t know if the Marlins would’ve taken it. Maybe it also would’ve required a mid-range pitching prospect like Jon Harris or Justin Maese. Maybe instead of Alford, it was a lesser outfielder like Hernandez and a much better pitching prospect like Nate Pearson.

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We can go in circles guessing what the Jays were willing to part with and what they weren’t. And what the Marlins coveted might not have even been positional equivalents on the Jays. Perhaps they saw more value with three young pitchers in addition to their ask of Vladdy, instead of an infielder and outfielder.

At the end of the day, the Jays missed out on perhaps the best available outfielder. It’s disappointing but it’s not heartbreaking given what they would’ve had to surrender. And it’s also encouraging to know how aggressive Ross Atkins has been in improving the team this winter. Not everyone believed the Jays when they stated their goal was to contend in 2018, but it’s pretty clear now that they do.

When GMs miss out on a marquee player they wanted, they don’t usually give up and accept status quo. Atkins clearly wanted to upgrade the roster in a big way this week. What he does next might not be as big a splash, but it’s reasonable to assume he had a Plan B if Yelich fell through. What that is and when it happens remains to be seen. But this winter’s cold stove might finally be heating up, and that’s welcomed news if nothing else.