MLB

Bob Elliott's Baseball: Scouts mixed on Jays' return for Happ

Dealing J.A. Happ is the beginning of the Blue Jays' makeover, but it's unlikely Brandon Drury or Billy McKinney will lead the team to its next World Series.

Drury, McKinney decent players, but neither is a giant-sized building block

Brandon Drury, acquired from the New York Yankees in a trade for pitcher J.A. Happ, will likely be the Blue Jays' starting third baseman next season. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Each and every year leading up to a non-waiver trade deadline my mind has flashbacks to July 31, 1993.

That day, the Blue Jays traded former No. 1 pick Steve Karsay and OF Jose Herrera to the Oakland Athletics for future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. 

While the trade was being finalized — Henderson had to waive his no-trade clause — a Jays scout phoned and asked who the Blue Jays had put in the deal. The scout was calling from an airport — it was before Twitter — and could not reach anyone in the office. When I told him it was Karsay, he said, "Great. Just great. We get Ricky Henderson for 12 weeks, while Karsay will pitch for 12 years. I may quit."

The scout did not quit and the next spring accepted his second World Series ring. Karsay pitched 11 seasons mostly as a reliever with the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and the A's.

Henderson was not a primetime contributor as the Jays slugged their way through August and September of 1993, hitting .215 with a .675 OPS while going 22-for-24 stealing bases. His OPS was .441 as the Blue Jays eliminated the Chicago White Sox in the American League Championship Series.

Rickey Henderson, left, and Joe Carter hoist the World Series Trophy after beating the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993. (Carlo Allegri/AFP/Getty Images)

Yet the Blue Jays would not have won the 1993 World Series without Henderson, who scored six runs and had a .711 OPS. He was leading off second when Mitch Williams went to the slide step which Joe Carter turned around for a three-run homer in Game 6.

So, here are the present-day sub, sub-.500 Jays, with their lagging attendance and their record and crowds expected to worsen the final two months, moving their all-star J.A. Happ to the division rival Yankees for INF Brandon Drury and OF Billy McKinney.

Happ, who turns 36 in October, will make 12 starts for the Yankees, so what did the Blue Jays get what in return for the best arm available at the deadline? After talking to a number of scouts and talent evaluators it sounds as if possibly an everyday player in Drury and an extra outfielder in McKinney. 

These are not giant-sized building blocks. 

Will Drury, who turns 26 next month, and McKinney, 23, be around for 12 years? We doubt it. 

Let's poll some scouts on Drury, who someone compared to having the same makeup and passion as former 3B Dave Hollins, an integral part of the 1993 Phillies who later played 27 games with the 1999 Blue Jays:

Scout 1: "We had interest in Drury when he was with Arizona. He can play second, third, first and the outfield. He's not a star, but he can hit. His best position? Third base, but he's probably best at bouncing around. He's a 7 (out of 10), a good player, not a great player. He's kind of like Steve Pearce, but with better defensive abilities. The new metrics are kind to him. I always thought he could hit  ... have liked him since I first saw him at class-A Visalia."

Drury made 112 starts for the Diamondbacks in 2016 with 31 doubles, a triple, 16 homers, 53 RBIs and a .786 OPS mostly playing left field. And in 2017 with Arizona, he had 37 doubles, two triples, 13 homers, 37 RBIs and a .764 OPS, mostly at second base.

In February, Drury was sent to the Yankees as part of a three-team deal which saw the Diamondbacks wind up with Taylor Widener from the Yankees and Steven Souza from the Tampa Bay Rays and the Rays receive Nick Solak from the Yankees, Anthony Banda, Sam McWilliams and Colin Poche from the D-backs.

Drury was standing along the first-base line opening night when the Yankees opened this season with a 6-1 win Thursday, March 29 at the Rogers Centre as Luis Servino beat Happ.

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 1: Brandon Drury #29 of the New York Yankees hits a two-run home run in the third inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on April 1, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by ) (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Scout 2: "I like the deal. Toronto wound up with two guys who have a chance. Drury is ready to play right now. He can play third, some second. We had interest in him when Arizona made him available. McKinney can't play centre, but he's a corner outfielder. Other teams wanted Happ. They did OK."

Drury went on the disabled list after the Yankees eighth game due to blurred vision and migraines, losing his job to rookie Miguel Andujar. 

Scout 3: "Drury is a high-end make-up guy. I thought that the Yankees gave up too much to get him. He was in the minors with migraines. But he can play."

Scout 4: "Drury is legit. McKinney is a decent outfielder. He strikes out a lot. But that's the game. That's what Major League Baseball wants: home runs, walks and strikeouts."

McKinney was not at the Rogers Centre opening night when CF Aaron Hicks was injured and headed to the disabled list. The next day McKinney arrived at the Yanks minor-league complex in Tampa and was told to go see vice-president of player development, Kevin Reese. 

Soon McKinney was on a Tampa-Toronto flight, batting seventh and playing left field. He was 1-for-4 with a single against Jays starter Aaron Sanchez in the second inning. 

And on Saturday afternoon he was hitting seventh and playing left again facing Marco Estrada, McKinney lasted only three hitters. The Jays' second-place hitter Josh Donaldson lined a ball to left. McKinney slammed into the wall attempting to make a catch. The lack of give in the fence appeared as if he hit a joint in the wall.

C.C. Sabathia gave up a Justin Smoak single and McKinney looked awkward fielding the ball. Manager Aaron Boone lifted McKinney for Brett Gardner. McKinney wound up with a left AC joint sprain and was placed on the disabled list.

Scout 5: "I know Toronto fans don't like sending a guy within the division, but I can remember Toronto sending both David Cone and Roger Clemens to the Yankees. They didn't get as much in this deal as they did for either Clemens (David Wells, Graeme Lloyd, Homer Bush) or Cone (minor-leaguers Mike Gordon, Jason Jarvis and Marty Janzen), but the Yankees only get Happ for two months."

Scout 6: "So they picked up one guy with vision problems, that didn't work out too well the last time Toronto signed a free agent (Ken Dayley pitched five innings on a three-year deal due to vertigo). And they picked up a guy who has started two games at the Rogers Centre and finished one."

Scout 7: "There were a lot of teams who wanted Happ and the Yankees had the best system, so it wasn't a surprise that Happ went to the Bronx. Everyone wants a major-league player in return now. Prospects? Very few prospects are Gleyber Torres. Most are educated guesses. You hope he's the player. The negative about Drury are his migraines.

Yankees guys told me they didn't know about it before the trade. Drury didn't look good at first base when he was sharing time for Greg Bird, so he was expendable. Drury is probably their opening day third baseman next year. I've seen Vladimir Guerrero and he's headed to either first base or DH. McKinney is a fourth outfielder. The deal will give those guys a chance to play."

Scout 8: "Drury has a chance to hit, but is a below-average defender. If you hit on all cycles with this guy, he might be a fourth outfielder or up/down guy."

Ready to Crank up the Google machine: A Rogers Centre regular told us of a game two or three years ago when, walking to the stadium, he was stopped by two people wearing Kansas City Royals garb. Obviously from out of town, then asked our friend to take a picture of them, one on each side of the statue of the late Ted Rogers.

The man said he knew who Steve Rogers and Buck Rodgers were, but when he returned to the hotel he would look up Ted Rogers on baseball-reference.com to see "how good a player he was."

Anyone know his career average? (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Cooperstown weekend: It is difficult to make a player from an opposing team laugh out loud. One night in Atlanta I made Chipper Jones howl. I asked him how much money he would have if he had one dollar for every time he heard 'Hey Chipp-AHHHH You Suck!'" while at Shea Stadium. When he stopped laughing he said "my grandchildren's grandchildren's would not have a financial worry." Jones will be inducted this weekend along with Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris.

Thome was with the Minnesota Twins in 2010 when the Blue Jays played Game 162 in Minneapolis, the final game of Cito Gaston's career. Thome sent a bottle of champagne over to Gaston's office. Thome later explained he had never met Gaston, but he respected him and his knowledge of hitting. And then asked 'You're not writing a story on me are you?"

One day at Yankee Stadium in 1992 there was a rain delay in the bottom of the fifth. After the delay, Morris came out, pitched one inning and made his exit. I noticed his ERA fell below 4.00. I asked if the reason he came back was to get his ERA under 4.00 — one of my dumbest questions. "If you think I give a crap about ERA you don't know me very well."
Congrats to all. 

About the Author

Bob Elliott is Canada's preeminent baseball writer, having covered MLB and Canadian baseball for nearly 40 years. He is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in 2012 became the first Canadian to be awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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