Two of the most aggressive teams thus far this offseason - the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners - made an intriguing one-for-one swap on Wednesday, as Seattle sent outfielder Michael Saunders to Toronto in exchange for left-hander J.A. Happ, as first reported by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. The deal seems to address a clear need for the Blue Jays, but is somewhat of a head-scratcher for the Mariners in terms of value.
Based on just value alone, Saunders is the superior talent to Happ. The 28-year-old, who has spent the past decade with the Mariners' organization, has become a rather reliable outfield option over the past few years. Beginning with the 2012 season, he has hit .248/.320/.423 with a 111 OPS+ and 5.6 WAR. He had elevated his game to another level in 2014, though injuries ultimately limited him to just 78 games. In 263 plate appearances, he hit .273/.341/.450 with a 128 OPS+ and 2.4 WAR. Saunders spent a majority of the 2014 season playing right field, where he was regarded as a positive contributor by defensive metrics. He figures to take over left field in Toronto, a position which he has not played in a significant capacity since 2010. The native Canadian (adding Canadians seems to be the trend in Toronto this winter) has two more years of team control, which is one more than Happ.
Saunder's presence in left field also likely spells the end of free agent Melky Cabrera's tenure in Toronto, a note which has now been confirmed by Blue Jays' GM Alex Anthopoulos. In saving money that would have gone to Cabrera (as well as the roughly $3 million saved by swapping Happ for Saunders), the Blue Jays also position themselves for a potential run at a big-name starting pitcher, as Chris Cotillo reports. The Blue Jays's rotation is currently set to be composed of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, and one of a variety of fifth starter candidates, so another impact arm may be necessary to put them over the top.
In Happ, the Mariners add a back-end starter type entering his last year of team control. The 32-year-old southpaw is coming off a season in which he posted a 4.22 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 1.3 WAR in 158.0 innings with the Blue Jays. He will likely slot in behind Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton to serve as the club's fourth starter next season.
For the Mariners, adding Happ could precipitate a larger move for an impact bat such as Justin Upton, who figures to be available, especially with Atlanta's addition of Nick Markakis earlier today. Happ could give Seattle enough rotation flexibility to not require Taijuan Walker''s presence in 2015, allowing them to potentially use him as the centerpiece to acquire a player of Upton's caliber. So, while we still must wait to see the true reasons for this trade by Seattle, it does seem somewhat lopsided on the surface.