On December 1st, 2017, the Blue Jays traded one of the outfield prospects – J.B. Woodman – for Aledmys Diaz from the St. Louis Cardinals. Nearly one year later, the Blue Jays cashed in and dealt Diaz again for some pitching depth in the form of Trent Thornton.
This past summer, the Cardinals released Woodman, which rendered the Woodman/Diaz trade a win for the Blue Jays right then and there. Diaz had an injury-shortened 2018 season but still managed to post a 102 wRC+ in 130 games for the Blue Jays.
With four years of team control remaining, Diaz’ value had probably reached its peak. If the Jays were going to trade him, this was the offseason to get the maximum value. It turned out to be Thornton, a right-handed pitching prospect from the Houston Astros.
At first glance, I don’t love this trade for the Blue Jays and it seems a bit underwhelming. Diaz isn’t a top-tier infielder, but he’s a versatile piece for any team to have. It may not be in a full-time capacity, but he’s a multi-position player who can hit for power and looked solid playing third base this past season.
Thornton isn’t a household name, but the Blue Jays sorely lack pitching depth and they can take all the arms they can get. The team’s 2019 rotation will almost certainly be back-filled with a free agent signing or two, but beyond that, the Blue Jays need talented arms in the minor leagues.
Here’s MLB.com’s scouting report on Thornton:
Thornton has a funky delivery but it gives him deception and doesn’t prevent him from filling the strike zone. With solid stuff and strike-throwing ability, he has the ingredients to become at least a No. 4 starter. But he often gets hit harder than he should, so his long-term role may be as a multi-inning reliever.
They were right – this guy has one of the funkiest deliveries you’ll see. His mechanics have a lot of working parts.
Tyler Thornton's delivery is … interesting. pic.twitter.com/h5Ea8Rremb
— Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) November 17, 2018
On paper, this trade makes a tonne of sense for the Blue Jays, but it feels like they should’ve got more in return for a player the calibre of Diaz. On the other hand, though, perhaps the organization sees something special in Thornton and they covet him greatly.
Thornton was in danger of being exposed in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, so the Jays could’ve potentially waited to pick him up until next week. The risk they run there is another team might select him, or if they did land him, the Jays would’ve had to carry Thornton on the Major League roster all year.
Jeff Luhnow said Trent Thornton was asked about "quite a bit" during last season's trade deadline.
"He's on the radar for a lot of teams. He's a valuable guy that can probably pitch in a big league rotation next year."
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) November 17, 2018
You can’t go wrong with pitching prospects from the Astros organization. We’ve seen how they’re able to find diamonds in the rough and tend to go after guys with high spin rates. According to Astros Future, Thornton has a higher spin rate curveball than Collin McHugh, who is a notorious spin rate savant.
Interestingly enough, so is former Astro and current Blue Jay, David Paulino. He posted the 8th highest average spin rate on his curveball in 2018 and had the 6th highest spin rate of all pitchers in 2017.
Ultimately, it’s hard to get mad about this trade. With the Blue Jays’ glut of infielders, Diaz was bound to get traded within the next year. With Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in line to become the team’s starting shortstop and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s arrival on the horizon at the hot corner, Diaz would only be keeping third base warm for Vlad.
Prior to this trade, the Blue Jays had no fewer than 8 big leaguers coming to Spring Training camp to compete for four infield positions. That doesn’t even include prospects like Bo Bichette and Vlad Jr. Factoring the high potential for Devon Travis being non-tendered as well, that whittled the list down to seven names.
When the Blue Jays acquired Diaz in the first place, it was to fill an infield void. Now that there are plenty of bodies on the infield, Diaz is no longer a need for the Blue Jays. Filling the pitching void became a bigger priority for this organization, which is why they made this deal for Thornton.
Barring an injury, I’m positive we’ll see Thornton at some point in a Blue Jays uniform during the 2019 season. If he has a strong Spring Training, perhaps there’s a chance he even breaks camp in the starting rotation. He’s one more arm to add to the cavalry.