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Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins brags about ‘years of control’ gained through trades

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The Blue Jays were among the more active teams in the lead-up to Wednesday’s 4 PM ET trade deadline. The club dealt infielder Eric Sogard, starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and relievers Joe Biagini and Daniel Hudson. In exchange for those players, the Jays acquired two players to be named later, pitcher Kyle Johnson, Anthony Kay, Simeon Woods-Richardson, and Derek Fisher.

With a 42-67 record, it’s no surprise that the Jays decided to pawn off their players and recoup as much value as possible. For Jays fans, though, they watched some of their favorite players — particularly Stroman — leave for greener pastures. The hope is that some of these new players will eventually grow into new fan favorites.

Oddly, that’s not how GM Ross Atkins characterized the Jays’ moves in a conference call. Per Scott Stinson of the National Post, Atkins bragged that the Jays “turned 14 years of control into 42 years of control.”

Atkins is no stranger to these kinds of quotes. At Pitch Talks in February 2018, Atkins said of free agency, “You’re talking about aging players and the trend of overpaying a player’s aging curves has come to an end across baseball.” Earlier this year, in order to justify keeping Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the minor leagues to begin the season so as to gain another year of contractual control of him, Atkins said, “I just don’t see [Guerrero] as a major league player.” Guerrero, who should have been promoted to the majors in 2018, has a .767 OPS and 11 home runs in 78 games since his call-up in late April.

Can you feel the excitement in Toronto? Fans will flock to the Rogers Centre, wearing their fresh home white jerseys with “Contractual Control” written on the back. Concession stands will offer memorabilia cups that describe how many years from now players like Kay and Woods-Richardson will reach free agency. Rather than include actual players in TV ad spots, an accountant will simply detail how much money the Jays will save because so many of their players are not yet eligible for arbitration.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.