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toronto blue jays logoWhile the Chicago Cubs’ top two arms – Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel – get the bulk of the attention when it comes to Toronto Blue Jays-related trade rumors, there have been some games recently where Blue Jays scouts were in attendance, and neither big arm was starting. Perhaps they were looking at some complementary pieces? Perhaps to augment a deal with one of the arms?

Whatever the case, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports that the Blue Jays have been keeping tabs on second baseman Darwin Barney and swingman Carlos Villanueva, each believed to be among the players the Cubs will look to trade over the next month. The Blue Jays, currently in first place in the AL East, have one of the worst bullpens in baseball (in part because of some rotation deficiencies), so an interest in Villanueva – among many other players, presumably, makes sense. At second base, the Blue Jays have had a black hole all year, and their infield issues were exacerbated recently when third baseman Brett Lawrie went down with a broken finger. While Barney doesn’t do much to upgrade the offensive side of the ledger, if he can provide similar offense but Gold Glove defense, he might be worth a look from a team like the Blue Jays.

Villanueva will be an interesting trade piece, depending on how teams view him. He’s making just $5 million this year, after which he’ll be a free agent. So the financial investment is negligible, especially if the Cubs have the flexibility to eat some salary. Early in the year, Villanueva was forced into starting duty, and struggled (albeit with decent perhiperals). You don’t really want to offer that as an excuse for his overall numbers – 5.77/3.52/4.00 ERA/FIP/xFIP – given that Villanueva would be marketed as a swingman. He’s not much of a swingman if you’ve got to say, “Well, he struggled starting, but look at him as a reliever!”

… but, yeah, he’s been pretty good as a reliever: 3.12 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 3.88 xFIP, 19.6% K rate, 8.0% BB rate. He’s been especially nails since early June, sporting a 1.26 ERA since June 4. Villanueva previously pitched with the Blue Jays, so there’s also some familiarity there.

As for Barney, you know the story: his .198/.243/.284 is brutally bad, even as he’s been “hot” the last month or so (.231/.242/.338 – yes, I had to pick an arbitrary endpoint just to come up with that line). He’s started quite a bit lately, so maybe you can spin an argument that he’ll do better with more playing time. But, the trends, the peripherals, the scouting, and the minor league track record have always suggested that this is Barney. He’s great with the glove, great with his teammates, and terrible at the plate. In his first year of arbitration, Barney is making $2.3 million, and is a virtual lock to be non-tendered after the year.

On his own, neither Villanueva nor Barney return much in trade. Each maybe nets a fringy, medium-upside, wart-filled prospect. The question you always have to ask on trades like that: is it worth the minimal return, and to save a little money, just to take a great teammate/leader out of the clubhouse for the final few months of the season? Might they be worth more, organizationally, if they stick around to close out the year?

As complementary pieces, however, these guys could be very important. It’s not too hard to imagine the Blue Jays are holding the line on the reported asking price for Jeff Samardzija – Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey (this is just for discussion’s sake) – but might finally relent if the Cubs added a guy like Villanueva or Barney.

Keep in mind, however: complementary pieces are available widely around baseball, and the Blue Jays (or other teams) are likely to have many options like Villanueva and Barney.

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