Last night, the Toronto Blue Jays swapped Ben Revere for Washington Nationals reliever Drew Storen. With the offseason losses of Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins, an already thin Toronto bullpen was looking sparse indeed. Having also lost David Price, and without a rock-solid rotation, the bullpen was an area that needed to be addressed by the new front office. Despite melting down after the Nationals stripped him of his closer’s duties, Storen should take command of the eighth inning for the Blue Jays, especially given a full offseason to digest his less-prominent but no less-important role in a major-league bullpen.
The move came somewhat surprisingly, because Revere is still incredibly cheap and under team control for two more seasons. In 56 games with the Blue Jays last season, the left fielder hit .319/.354/.381 with seven steals. Revere has hit over .300 for three straight seasons. While his offensive contributions have been put down by some in the advanced metrics community, Revere has recorded over a hit per game in his six-year career, rarely strikes out, and has been successful on 81% of stolen base attempts in his career. He hits mostly singles, but has stolen second base 161 times in his career.
Revere does not seem like the type of player who would be traded away without a solid backup plan in place. He was one of the only left-handed hitters for the Blue Jays last year, and was an outstanding table setter. The options to replace him in left field are Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey. Saunders played in only nine games last year while dealing with injuries. He is a career .230 hitter in over 1,700 at-bats. His OPS is barely higher than Revere’s despite the fact that, at 6’4″ and 225 pounds, he is perceived as a power threat. Pompey was given a chance to be the everyday center fielder last season, but struggled mightily. He has batted just .226/.295/.391 in 51 major-league games. Pompey did bat .307/.383/.421 in the minor leagues last season after his demotion.
With Pompey and Saunders being the two options to start in left field, it is hard to imagine that the Blue Jays made the Revere trade without having another trick up their sleeves. There are no guarantees Storen will bounce back to being an effective pitcher. Revere is a safe bet to reach base once every three times, steal 50 bases, and just generally be in scoring position when Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jose Bautista come up to the plate. There is no guarantee that Pompey or Saunders can even come close to matching his production.
The new front office, led by Mark Shapiro, has not made many friends so far this offseason in Toronto, but the winter is far from over. The price keeps dropping on free-agent outfielders like Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. Even Chris Davis is now being pitched as an everyday outfielder by Scott Boras. There is barely any interest from any other team in the league on any of the three sluggers. The Blue Jays could very well be aligning themselves to make a run by creating an opening in left field.
If the old regime were still running the show, Upton, Cespedes, or Davis would likely be wearing Toronto blue and white by now. This is a team that is built around its ability to score, score, and score some more. One of the best, most underrated table setters in the league was just traded away. The fans in Toronto are already on the verge of mutiny after seeing the front office sit on the giant pile of money earned by selling 50,000 tickets per game in August and September. Now, you’re going to try and sell them on a pair of .230 hitters? That does not seem like the best course of action.
Furthermore, a viable, power-hitting outfielder really is needed in Toronto. The big elephant in the room is the fact that Bautista’s throwing arm is hanging on by a thread. He needs to be given time off from playing the field to maximize his real value to the team — on offense.
It’s reaching the point of the offseason where the agents for Upton, Cespedes, and Davis have to be getting antsy about their continued state of uncertainty. The Blue Jays have not done much this offseason, but there has always been a sense that they have been waiting in the weeds for the right moment to strike. With three left fielders still sitting on the market, the decision to trade Ben Revere for a relief pitcher with an uncertain future could be the signal that the right moment has finally come for the Blue Jays this offseason.