On November 21st Toronto made a move that still has many scratching their head. They swapped pitchers with the Oakland Athletics, trading one of their best arms out of the bullpen, 26-year-old Liam Hendriks, for Jesse Chavez.
Hendriks was reliable throughout the 2015 campaign and into the postseason. An arm like that is hard to find, one that has fans exhaling a sigh of relief upon entering the lovable turf. Hendriks was a solid late-inning guy with a high ceiling and tons of leftover potential to be used.
His fastball reached 96 MPH this year and was consistently trusted in high leverage situations. The Australian finished the season with a perfect 5-0 record, a 2.92 ERA, and 71 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched. His K/BB ratio also made him one of the better relievers in Major League Baseball, as he allowed only 11 free passes all year.
So why did the Blue Jays acquire Chavez?
Innings. Chavez can eat up innings and provide the “long-man” role out of the bullpen if Toronto wishes to use him that way.
The main narrative I am hearing is that the trade acquisition will be used as Marco Estrada was last season — begin in the bullpen and go from there.
In 2015, Chavez finished with a 7-15 record, and has yet to have a season of over .500 baseball. His ERA was 4.18, which is just lower than his career ERA of 4.55. Through the second half of the campaign, he struggled, posting a 5.59 ERA accompanied by a .836 opposing OPS.
The book on Chavez is that he continuously dwindles away during the back half of the season. In 2014 his ERA rose to 4.60 in the second half, and in 2013 it was 5.25 post All-Star break.
The reality is Toronto may have lost this trade in a big way. Hendriks is young, has tremendous upside, and is a potentially elite set-up man. Sure, Chavez will bring innings to the table, but at what cost?
The Tony LaCava era is off to a rocky start.
A version of this story originally appeared on www.thenewsoptimist.ca