As a kid, I loved playing the board game Clue, using the process of elimination to solve the mystery. As an adult, that has transformed into a love of mystery novels and logic puzzles, the kind where you have to figure out where everyone in a room is sitting based on a few clues. Lately, my favorite game has been trying to guess at the return for Taijuan Walker from the Blue Jays based on a few clues leaked by the team.
Like any good detective, let’s start with the facts:
-The rules for this weird little season state that any player traded has to be in a team’s player pool (also called, semi-erroneously, the “taxi squad”). Teams have circumnavigated this rule by designating the player traded as being named later (PTBNL), which is why officially this trade is listed as “Taijuan Walker for cash or a PTBNL.” All indications are that it will be a player, but we can eliminate anyone who is in the player pool, or else we’d know the name already.
-Toronto will get four, maybe five regular season starts from Walker, and whatever he can give them in the playoffs, if they make it that far. It’s hard to gauge what a fair return for a rental like that would be, but it’s pretty safe to say it’s not a Top-10 prospect in the Jays’ system.
-However, all the reports we’ve seen say the PTBNL is expected to be a Top 30 player in the Jays’ system. We’re assuming that means by MLB’s list, although it’s possible it could be a fringe Top-30 player. Still, this cuts our list of potential suspects down to 20-ish.
-From that 20-ish, I’m also cutting out players like SS Rikelvin de Castro, a 2019 signee to whom the Jays just gave $1.2M, as I don’t think they’d trade someone they’ve invested that much in without seeing him play. (Fellow 2019 signee INF Estiven Machado is less heralded but also unlisted here.) For the same reason, I’m also generally not listing 2019 draftees like third-rounder CF Dasan Brown or RHP Kendall Williams, a 6’6” prep arm who the Jays took in the second round. 2018 second-rounder RF Griffin Conine has frightening strikeout numbers but enough raw power and the MLB DNA the Jays love that he’s off my list, as well. (And was just sent to the Marlins in exchange for Jonathan Villar, anyway.)
-Jon Heyman reports that the Mariners will be getting a “low-level” prospect back. Since most other outlets report that it’s a Top 30 prospect, we’re going to assume Heyman means this in terms of playing level, Double-A or below. (Either that, or he’s just attempting to drag the Mariners’ FO a little more. Either one.)
RHP Adam Kloffenstein, A-
Why it won’t be him: 2018 draftee who didn’t pitch until 2019, 6’5” with a fastball that touches 95, significant projection left, was a NWL All-Star and the MVP for the Vancouver Canadiens in 2019
Why it might be him: Backend bullpen type projection, maybe the Jays decide they can part ways with him? Feels doubtful.
RHP Eric Pardinho, A
Why it won’t be him: Missing all of 2020 with TJ, multiple injury issues, I want it to be him so it definitely won’t be
Why it might be him: Pardinho checks two of the Mariners’ preferred prospect boxes: he’s a Brazilian prospect who made a splash as a young teenager pitching for Brazil in the World Cup, and he’s now a post-hype prospect after running into some injury issues early in his young career and has been leapfrogged by other arms in the Jays’ organization. Pardinho is undersized but has always been a hard thrower, although the question is how much of that will come back post-TJ.
RHP Jackson Rees, A+
Why it won’t be him: Not technically a top 30 prospect if going by MLB’s list; not exactly a low-level prospect, as he was slated to start in Double-A this year. UDFA who is a little older for a prospect (26) and a fringier return than some of the other names on this list, but winner of the 2019 MiLBY for Top Relief Pitcher.
Why it might be him: Rees is a strike-thrower who doesn’t walk many people, so fits the Mariners’ ethos. Had a solid turn in the AFL this fall, named to the All-Star team, where Mariners brass could have seen him more frequently. FG has a 70 grade on his curveball.
RHP Sem Robberse, R
Why it won’t be him: This is the wildest name on the list; Robberse is a 2019 IFA sign out of the Netherlands who has 10 innings pitched in rookie ball. Toronto was the only team to offer Robberse a contract, so he’s not exactly on anyone’s radar.
Why I’d like it to be him: Mostly for an excuse to use the word honkbal, but also a three-pitch mix with velocity trending upwards and a high baseball IQ honed from years of playing on his national team in the Netherlands. But also, honkbal.
OF Alberto Rodriguez, R
Why it won’t be him: The Jays gave Rodriguez $500K in 2017. Rodriguez is still young, not even 20 years old yet, and just made the jump stateside this past season, where he performed well in the GCL. It should also be noted he’s not technically on MLB’s Top 30 list.
Why it might be him: Rodriguez is listed at 5’11” and hasn’t shown a ton of over-the-fence power, which isn’t an ideal profile for a corner outfielder, but he can hit for average and take an extra base and shows solid plate discipline for a young international player. Rodriguez, like Noelvi Marte, hails from Cotuí in the DR.
SS/2B Leonardo Jimenez, A
Why it won’t be him: Like Rodriguez, Jimenez was part of the Jays’ 2017 international signing class, although he got $825K.
Why it might be him: Jimenez does many things well, but doesn’t have any standout carrying tools. He’s a solid, not spectacular, defender in the middle infield. He has shown good plate discipline in rookie ball, and can make contact and hit for average, but is yet to hit a professional home run and doesn’t have a lot of doubles-that-might-grow-into-homers power, either.
SS Otto Lopez, A
Why it won’t be him: Canadian kid who has consistently posted above-average stat lines at every stop in the minors.
Why it might be him: Toolsy, contact-oriented infielder but lacks the arm to stick at SS. Similar to Jimenez, doesn’t have a carrying tool, but makes up for lesser defensive ability with better speed and slightly more power. Was a 20-20 player in 2019 (20 doubles and 20 stolen bases, exactly).
RF Will Robertson, A-
Why it won’t be him: 2019 fourth-rounder feels like a little bit of a steep price for a rental; he has just 263 plate appearances for the Jays.
Why it might be him: Performed well on the Cape, an attribute we know the Mariners prize; similar attributes to fellow prospect Griffin Conine with many fewer strikeouts but less raw power. Came from a small school (Creighton) so might still run into a buzzsaw against tougher competition. Some scouts see him as a candidate for a stance/swing change to really tap into that power and also be more consistent at the plate, which might make him an appealing target for the analytically-friendly Mariners. Average to slightly below speed/arm/defense, will need to hit to stick at a corner outfield spot.
Our feeling is Robertson is the most likely return. The Blue Jays are flush with position players in their system and on the big-league club but lack somewhat for arms, which is why they traded for Taijuan in the first place, so a position player feels like a more likely return, although they are a little thinner at outfield than infield. Robertson, who just finished low-A, wouldn’t immediately add to the looming outfield logjam, but is the kind of polished bat the Mariners like, and has the track record at the Cape we know they value highly.