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Richard Griffin: Blue Jays shouldn’t rush into any Happ deal

Blue Jays’ GM Ross Atkins is in a favourable position when it comes to negotiating a trade for highly-coveted lefthander J.A. Happ prior to the July 31 trade deadline. He is not up against the wall in terms of payroll, so the Jays can afford to be creative when it comes to the remaining amount of his $ 13-million salary for 2018. That ability to eat salary means the return in terms of talent can be better.

There are also plenty of MLB suitors that believe they are contenders and could use a veteran lefty starter like Happ with up to a dozen starts left in Aug.-Sept. And if the trade is made earlier in July, as is a strong possibility, that team will get even more of Happ. Among contenders who may feel they need another starter are the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, Red Sox, M’s, Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

J.A. Happ is a rather valuable commodity on the MLB trade market.
J.A. Happ is a rather valuable commodity on the MLB trade market.  (Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star)

What might the Jays expect in return for Happ, who in 2018 is 10-4, 4.03 ERA with a solid 1.110 WHIP? Here are a couple of recent examples of Atkins and the Jays trading a starter the past two years and what they received in return.

On Aug. 1, 2016, the Jays traded RHP Drew Hutchison to the Pirates for LHP Francisco Liriano, C Reese McGuire and OF Harold Ramirez. The Jays’ willingness to take the Liriano contract was a key. Meanwhile McGuire now ranks 14th on the Jays’ list of prospects, while Ramirez recently dropped out of the Top 30.

On July 31, 2017, the Jays traded that same Liriano to the Astros for OF Nori Aoki and OF Teoscar Hernandez. The Jays took on the veteran Aoki to eat his contract, while Hernandez has now become a starter in the Jays’ outfield.

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Happ is better than either Hutchison or Liriano. Look for a similar type of deal, where the Jays pay a large chunk of Happ’s remaining salary or else take on an unwanted contract from their trading partner. In either case, Happ has enjoyed his time in Toronto, where he has had his most success, so a deadline trade does not preclude the Jays from negotiating with Happ as a free agent in November.

MLB GETS YOUNGER BUT JAYS DON’T: The major-league game is changing, getting younger, and it’s up to the Blue Jays to keep pace with what they see unfolding around them.

Executing fundamentals is no longer what fans are looking for as much as they are high ceilings, with amazing raw skills. Throwing to the right base or trailing a lead runner and taking the extra base on a missed cutoff throw are no longer skills that are valued. What counts is Sports Centre highlights with amazing athletes doing amazing things. That’s where it’s at. Let the best kids learn in the majors and take away the dread of 4-5 years riding buses in the minors. Lure the best athletes.

The stars of the MLB game are getting younger and it seems drafted players or international free agents that may have educational options or are multi-sport athletes are now realizing that the faster they sign and immerse themselves in professional baseball, the faster their path to the major leagues.

Recently-signed Jays’ second-round draft pick Griffin Conine (Duke University) pointed that fact out on a conference call after he signed, speaking of the opportunity to reach the majors following a short minor-league path.

In 2018, there have been an amazing 32 MLB players that were 22-years-of-age or younger that have played — 17 position players and 15 pitchers. Among that group of prodigies, the Jays have had just one, infielder Richard Urena (21).

Meanwhile, to put it in perspective, at the Triple-A and Double-A levels, the Jays boast five players 22-or-younger — pitchers Sean Reid-Foley and T.J. Zeuch, along with infielders Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Urena.

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The Jays would argue they are giving their youngsters time to improve their fundamentals and see more reps before a debut. Meanwhile, the Yankees, Braves, Red Sox and Nationals are all contending with kids making huge contributions.

M’S HAVE FUN: On Saturday, the Mariners staged a unique, fun promotion called “Turn Ahead the Clock Night,” the brainchild of team executive Kevin Martinez with the approval of no less than Hall-of-Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.

The point was to move ahead 20 years in time and imagine the MLB game in 2038. The uniforms were futuristic designs, sleeveless vests worn either tucked or untucked with bared arms all the rage. It was accepted, even encouraged that hats be worn backwards during the game, a la Junior Griffey. A futuristic mascot entered the field of play pre-game in a gull-winged DeLorean. It was fun.

Then the next day, which of course was Canada Day, the M’s honoured one of their own, with Ladner, B.C. native James Paxton pitching on his own Bobblehead Day. The design was a clever statue with of The Big Maple with an American Eagle on his shoulder, reflecting a game in April where he was used as a human perch by a swooping bird named Challenger who may have thought Paxton was Justin Trudeau.

BRONX BOMBERS SET TORRID HR PACE: The Bronx Bombers have never been more aptly nicknamed than in 2018. As of July 2, they had bombed 137 home runs as a team, three more than any season in club history prior to the all-star break. They have 12 days to add to that franchise record. (NOTE: All-Star Games began in 1936).

Even with the powerful presence of Aaron Judge (23) and Giancarlo Stanton (19), it has been a balanced longball assault. A total of seven Yankees have double-digit home runs, while every defensive position in the lineup has at least 13 homers except for left field, led by Brett Gardner. Left field sits at nine bombs.

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