Where were you when the Blue Jays traded the most Professional Hitter they’ve ever had to the Miami Marlins? I was sleeping on a vaguely comfortable impromptu bed in an office in the basement, trying to escape a climate change-induced heatwave when my brother charged into the room with the news.
“Joe Panik is no longer a Blue Jay.”
I’m not ashamed to say I wept.
Anyways, the Jays finally got a solid relief pitcher (with all due respect to Jacob Barnes) to slot into their bullpen in Adam Cimber, a ground ball-inducing submariner who had appeared in 33 games for the Marlins this year, and who the Jays had previously faced when he was with Cleveland. Also coming to the Blue Jays is left-handed-hitting left fielder Corey Dickerson, who Jays fans may remember from his annoyingly productive time with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2016-17. Going the other way, as previously mentioned, is veteran infielder Joe Panik, as well as minor league pitcher Andrew McInvale. To make room on the 40-man, left-handed reliever Travis Bergen has been designated for assignment.
Will this solve the Blue Jays’ ongoing bullpen issues? Will Corey Dickerson adequately make up for the lost Professionalism? Is Andrew McInvale the new Noah Syndergaard? All these questions and more answered in the new Heat Stroke edition of JAYSLAM.
THE NEW BLUE JAYS
The Jays’ bullpen ineptness and complete absence of depth which to be fair, have largely been prompted by injuries to Kirby Yates, Julian Merryweather, Ryan Borucki, David Phelps, and Rafael Dolis, among others, has a rallying point that fans and pundits have demanded be addressed. And, uh, rightfully so. Since being the best bullpen in baseball throughout April, the Jays’ relief pitchers have tumbled down to 18th in xFIP, being a major part of the six-game slide the Jays suffered through earlier in June. With the starting rotation exceeding expectations and the offence rounding into its expected Death Star form, the bullpen was the clear area to address come the Trade Deadline.
And to their credit, Mark Shapiro and the front office have apparently been working to address this, though given as it’s still June and selling teams are either a) still in the process of deciding whether or not they actually want to sell, or b) waiting out the market, they’ve had to be wary of paying an unwarranted premium for relief pitching, the least consistent job in baseball in terms of production.
On Sportsnet 590’s Lead-Off, Shapiro said as much to Scott MacArthur and Matt Zigomanis.
It's just the understanding that we're in June and the trade market, again, looking back historically, there aren't a lot of trades — very, very few to happen now. And if they do happen now, the premium and price paid is extremely high. So those conversations are being had, they'll end up being the roots of the deals that will make between now and July 30th. And we will ultimately improve the team.
Not, uh, much of a premium on this one though, eh Mark?
Make no mistake, Cimber is the biggest piece of this trade. He’s a 30-year-old submariner who uses three pitches in more or less equal parts: A four-seamer, a slider, and a sinker. In 34 ⅓ innings this season, he’s pitched to a 2.88 ERA and 3.32 FIP, though his 4.86 xFIP isn’t especially optimistic, and while I think that metric is underrating Cimber, I can see why it’s not high on him.
Cimber doesn’t exactly overwhelm hitters: his fastballs average at around 87 mph and he doesn’t rack up many strikeouts at all (15.0 K% in 2021). However, that’s not really what you look at with Cimber. His funky delivery keeps hitters off guard, inducing ground balls and avoiding home runs. He has yet to give up a dinger this year, and he only gave up one in 2020. He doesn’t walk a ton of guys either (huge!), and this as well as the high grounder rate make him an ideal candidate to come into the game (ideally not in the highest leverage situations), pitch to contact, and get a key ground ball without walking a shitload of batters in the process.
He’ll still give up his fair share of hits, but he’s been excellent at limiting the damage, avoiding Barrels and exit velocity at an elite rate, with a good Expected Slugging Percentage Against. One weakness of Cimber’s in the past was left-handed hitters, but he’s done better at getting them out to the point where there are a bit of slight reverse splits at play. Right-handers have slashed .269/.329/.333 (.298 wOBA) line against Cimber, while lefties have hit .196/.327/.283 (.252 wOBA).
Cimber isn’t elite, but he’s certainly been good, and he gives you a better shot at winning ball games than other current Blue Jays I could name. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also not a rental, with two years of team control remaining after 2021. Hard to argue with this being a big boost to a bullpen that sorely needs it.
Lest any Blue Jays fans remember Dickerson’s time with the Rays and get excited about him returning the favour for us, there’s a reason that Cimber’s the centrepiece and not the 32-year-old lefty bat who hit 27 homers for Tampa Bay in 2017. Dickerson was a dependable power bat (and 2018 Gold Glove-winning defender in left field) for the Rays, Pirates, and Phillies, slashing .280/.320/.490 (.210 ISO) with 76 home runs, a 113 wRC+, and 7.4 fWAR from 2016 to 2019. In 2019 with the Phillies, he suffered a foot injury that cut his season short.
He signed a two-year deal with the Marlins before the 2020 season, but it hasn’t gone as hoped, as his 0.4 fWAR and 99 wRC+ with the Fish With Arms would indicate. While his batting average and OBP haven’t dropped by an obscene amount at all (.261 and .318, respectively), his power numbers have fallen off a cliff. In 115 games with Miami, Dickerson only hit nine home runs. His slugging percentage has plummeted to .391, as has his ISO (.130). The analytics bear that out, as his Hard Hit and barrel rates, as well as his average exit velocity, have all been well below league average. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s currently on the IL with a left foot injury and isn’t expected back until some time after the All-Star break.
Make no mistake, this is absolutely a salary dump. Even if we didn’t know that the Jays would be taking on $4.4 million from his contract on top of the $485K of Cimber’s, that much would be clear. That said, when you factor in the $2.65 million that the Marlins are wiring over, as well as the Jays shedding all $982K of Panik’s remaining salary, Toronto is only adding about $1.3 million to payroll, in total.
That’s not to say that Dickerson is useless to the Jays, though. The Jays were going to be in on left-handed bench bats, and while Dickerson certainly isn’t the best option out there (and this shouldn’t preclude further upgrades), it’s certainly reasonable to believe that he could be better than Joe Panik and Rowdy Tellez had been thus far. He can also spell Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left field, providing average-at-best defence, which is honestly a non-negligible fielding upgrade, at this point.
I’m certainly not proposing that Dickerson immediately take playing time away from Gurriel or even Randal Grichuk, but even if he continues to be kind of bad, or if he’s too hurt to make a meaningful contribution, he’s only under contract for this year. Nothing like a good old low-risk, moderate-reward veteran acquisition!
SO LONG. GOODBYE. I’LL SEE YOU WHEN I SEE YOU.
You can’t say that the Jays didn’t get exactly what could be reasonably expected out of Joe Panik. While he did provide above-average defence at second base (and ONLY second base) and he had solid if not spectacular contact hitting skills as a lefty slap hitter, accompanying that with good walk and strikeout rates, he was overall a poor hitter (.235/.318/.325, 80 wRC+ in 2020-21) owing to a complete and utter lack of power. Among all batters in 2020 and 2021 with at least 250 plate appearances, Panik ranks 247th out of 270 in Hard Hit rate and 259th in Barrel rate.
It didn’t exactly help perceptions that Charlie Montoyo seemed so enamoured with him too, playing him over the likes of Rowdy Tellez or Santiago Espinal. Removing that option does provide a certain degree of addition by subtraction. As Andrew Stoeten put it:
If you’re a front office that is going to hire a manager based on things other than his ability to squeeze the best out of his in-game management, and who sometimes makes weird decisions with personnel and ends up having trust in guys whose play doesn’t merit that trust, it is imperative that you do everything you can to manager-proof your roster. This move takes the Blue Jays a big step in that direction.
Tellez isn’t really a factor for now, especially if Dickerson comes back healthy and at least somewhat effective, but with Espinal hitting at least comparably to Panik while providing better defence, Panik had simply become expendable. On the plus side, Don Mattingly is gonna fucking love him.
We here in the boiling hellscape that is my living room wish Joe Panik the best of luck. He will always have the distinction in JAYSLAM lore of being the first Best Bird winner to also win the coveted “Double Take” award. Happy trails, old friend.
I’ve forgotten McInvale’s name at least five times today, which should probably be indicative of how high his stock as a prospect is. The Jays picked the 24-year-old relief pitcher in the 37th round of the 2019 draft, and he’s posted a nice stat line (minus a high walk rate) so far in Double-A this season. Fuck ‘em up, Andrew.
Scott Mitchell @ScottyMitchTSNProspect heading to Marlins from #BlueJays is Double-A right-hander Andrew McInvale, per source. He was a 37th round pick in 2019.
An indirect casualty of the move, Bergen was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man for Cimber and Dickerson. It’s unfortunate for him, but it makes sense. Substantially less sense when you look at the roster and see that Jeremy Beasley is still there, but it makes sense regardless.
In 10 games for the Jays in 2021, Bergen posted an eye-catching 1.69 ERA, but his underlying stats have been kind of wretched. He’s struck out a low 13 per cent of hitters while walking 17.4. The math is, uh, not pretty.
With Tim Mayza rounding back into form and Ryan Borucki coming back from the IL soon (hopefully), as well as any other potential bullpen upgrades, Bergen was going to be on the bubble anyway. Given his career trajectory though, he’ll probably end back up with the Jays anyhow.
WHAT’S LEFT TO BE DONE?
With Cimber coming on, Steven Matz soon being activated from the COVID IL, and with Borucki and Rafael Dolis ideally coming back soon, the short-term full strength bullpen looks something like this, give or take a reliever:
Ideally mid-leverage, but likely forced into high-leverage:
Tyler Chatwood (gulp)
Mid-leverage, probably better suited for lower leverage:
God Help Us:
Trent Thornton/Jacob Barnes/Tayler Saucedo
There are at least a couple spots there that could stand to be upgraded. The continued lack of lockdown high-leverage relievers beyond Romano and Borucki (even including Borucki in that category was kind of a stretch) could certainly stand to be addressed. Julian Merryweather coming back healthy would certainly be a big boost, but you certainly don’t want to put all your faith in that.
Obviously, the biggest name on people’s minds (and mine) is the Pirates’ Richard Rodríguez, but there are some other options, including Taylor Rogers, Ian Kennedy, Caleb Thielbar, Kendall Graveman, and Scott Barlow, as well as many others, could also be options depending on how their respective teams are doing. Cimber is a great step, but there’s absolutely more work to be done too.
Dickerson does fill a need for a bench bat, though it doesn’t necessarily preclude the Jays going out and getting someone like an Eduardo Escobar (White Sox BTFO) or what have you, especially given Dickerson’s injury. If he does come back healthy, he should be solid in this niche though, and the bench depth looks a little better with him slotted in there.