Published On: Thu, Jul 19th, 2018

Richard Griffin: Blue Jays youth movement would look like this

What if the Blue Jays actually did what many frustrated fans have been suggesting and blew up the current roster of 30-somethings by the deadline, replacing them with nothing but system players in their 20s for the final two months?

Would the product at Rogers Centre in August/September be unwatchable, or simply inexperienced and unlikely to win as many as it loses?

Righty T. J. Zeuch could be part of the Blue Jays’ big league plans sooner than expected if they choose to get the youth movement started early.
Righty T. J. Zeuch could be part of the Blue Jays’ big league plans sooner than expected if they choose to get the youth movement started early.  (Icon Sportswire / GETTY IMAGES)

Of course, a complete reboot is impossible for many reasons. There are financial commitments to players such as Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales, too much money to move unless you eat salary moving forward. Players on expiring contracts, such as Marco Estrada and Curtis Granderson, would be easier to trade. On the other hand, there are 30-somethings the Jays would want to keep, productive players with affordable contracts with club-friendly options, including Justin Smoak and Yangervis Solarte.

But contending teams scouting the Jays over the next 11 days are well aware that there’s a bullpen full of experienced arms that could come in handy down the stretch: Seunghwan Oh, Tyler Clippard, John Axford and Ryan Tepera, who is 30 but under team control through 2021.

The Jays have always known their two primary candidates to trade by the deadline — all-star lefty J.A. Happ and 2015 American League MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson — and that speculation has all but been exhausted. Happ is likely to be dealt in the next week, while Donaldson’s chances of being moved remain slim as long as he remains on the disabled list with calf issues.

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The bar has been set as far as the return for a rental player after two trades in the past couple of days. After Tuesday’s all-star game, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent five prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for top-end rental Manny Machado. Then on Thursday, the Cleveland Indians pulled the trigger to bolster their sagging bullpen, sending their own No. 1 prospect, 22-year-old catcher Francisco Mejia, to the San Diego Padres for about three months of lefty closer Brad Hand. In addition, Cleveland picked up 27-year-old reliever Adam Cimber, who made 42 appearances for San Diego.

So, what would it look like if the Jays’ 25-man roster went all-out with the youth movement, and how long would it take after blowing it up to rebuild into a contender? Today, there are 15 Jays age 30 or older on the active roster or DL. Here’s what the Aug. 1 roster could look like with an age-29 ceiling (more or less), leaving the current DL and suspended lists as is:

ROTATION (6)

RH Marcus Stroman (27), LH Ryan Borucki (24), RH Sam Gaviglio (28), RH Sean Reid-Foley (22), RH T.J. Zeuch (22), RH Aaron Sanchez (26/DL)

Sure, this would be a very young and inexperienced group, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be competitive. Reid-Foley (the Jays’ No. 10 prospect) has an 11-2 record and 3.12 ERA in 19 starts at Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo. Zeuch (No. 9) is 9-6 with a 3.31 ERA in 19 assignments with Class-A Dunedin and the Double-A Fisher Cats. In one of the most amazing streaks in memory, the Tampa Bay Rays played 896 games without a single start by a pitcher in his 30s from June 25, 2006 (Mark Hendrickson) to April 6, 2012 (James Shields). The Rays reached the post-season three times in five years. That group of 20-something starters included David Price, Shields, Matt Garza, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Scott Kazmir, Jason Hammel and Edwin Jackson.

INFIELD (6)

1B Rowdy Tellez (23), 2B Devon Travis (27), 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. (19), SS Aledmys Diaz (27), UT Richard Urena (22), UT Gio Urshela (26), SS Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (24/DL)

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There would be a dollop of patience needed with the slow-developing Tellez, who is in his second full season with the Triple-A Bisons, and there would be a learning curve while watching infielders abuse fundamentals at the MLB level. But an upside? Yes.

OUTFIELD/DH (6)

LF Teoscar Hernandez (25), CF Anthony Alford (23), RF Randal Grichuk (26), DH Dwight Smith Jr. (25), UT Dalton Pompey (25), CF Kevin Pillar (29/DL)

Alford has been struggling at the Triple-A level, but his athleticism allows him the chance to catch up quickly at the MLB level. Pillar is out of action until at least September when the rosters expand. This group would be fun to watch.

BULLPEN (10)

RH Ryan Tepera (30), RH Joe Biagini (28), LH Tim Mayza (26), RH Luis Santos (27), Aaron Loup (30), RH Jake Petricka (30), RH Chris Rowley (27), RH Conor Fisk (26), RH Danny Barnes (28/DL), RH Roberto Osuna (23/suspended)

This group would not be competitive without cheating on the original 20-something premise and borrowing three 30-year-olds — Tepera, Loup and Petricka. Many of the best arms in the system haven’t yet figured out command and control. Besides, it’s easy to find serviceable bullpen arms in the off-season, so this is not the area where organizations are judged.

The moral of the column is that blowing up an aging Jays roster is not the solution to a rebuild, but neither is it fair to say that going younger is a sign that they’re giving up for two to five years. The Jays are sellers, but given the talent that exists in the upper levels of the system, accompanied by wise decisions in trades and free agency (which is definitely not a given), it could turn out that 2019 is the one painful year for fans before a reasonable chance to compete in 2020.

Richard Griffin is a sports columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @rgriffinstar

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Richard Griffin: Blue Jays youth movement would look like this