A few weeks back, the Jays sent relief pitcher Brandon League and outfield prospect Johermyn Chavez to their expansion cousins, the Seattle Mariners, for pitcher Brandon Morrow.
Initially, I was disppointed in the move, given Morrow’s abuse at the hands of the Mariners, bouncing him back and forth between the rotation and ‘pen like a ping-pong ball. Trading Chavez initially appeared to be a mistake too as he hit .283/.346/.474 with 21 home runs and 89 RBI in A-ball as a 20-year-old. However, upon further inspection, the deal actually seems better for the Jays than I originally thought. At worst, it should be a classic even baseball trade.
I was disheartened by the fact that the Jays were giving up on League and his 98 mph sinker as well as that split-change that was swung on and missed 35% of the time (most for any one pitch in baseball in 2009). I was also concerned that letting Chavez and his great arm (rated #3 in the Minors) go would rob the Jays of one of the few strong prospects they had. That was until I looked at the numbers in closer detail.
Morrow has walked 5.83 batters/9 IP in his Major League career and will be 26 at the end of July, but is much younger developmentally and definitely has room to improve. The key for the Jays will be to settle on a role for the young right-hander. The Jays see him as a starter and providing that his diabetes does not get in the way, he should turn out to be a good #3 or serviceable #2 in most rotations. Ultimately, this is where Morrow’s future lies. His walk rates are too poor to be an effective late-game reliever. The Jays should use him as a starter and commit to that (whether in the Show or minors) regardless of the outcome. Every role switch is a leap back in his development and the time has come where all strides must take place in the same direction – forward.
Chavez did put up good numbers but stikes out a ton (27% in 2009 in A-ball)
League arguably had his best year in 2009 with a 3.16 xFIP, however this simply amounted to 1.0 WAR. This seems right as top relievers rarely reach 3 WAR (Jonathan Broxton led the way in 2009, being worth 2.9 WAR). 3 WAR is what you would expect from a #2 or #3 starter (A.J. Burnett, Randy Wolf, John Danks). That’s right, the top relievers are worth about the same as #3 starters. That’s not the greatest advertisement for relievers. League will all but never have a chance to close in Seattle given the presence of David Aardsma and his penchant for wildness (3.25 BB/9) would also preclude him from being considered as a backup plan. This will provide a career path of a decent, to above-average setup man, really not that much. 1.0 WAR last year was the approximate value of Ross Ohlendorf or Jeremy Guthrie and this is around where League will likely peak.
On the surface, the trade seems rather odd. However, the question truly becomes, “Would you trade Ohlendorf or Guthrie for Morrow?” That requires a one word answer: