TORONTO -- The J.A. Happ sweepstakes came to an end on Thursday afternoon when the Blue Jays dealt one of their biggest assets to the Yankees.Toronto acquired infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney in exchange for Happ, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the year.
TORONTO -- The J.A. Happ sweepstakes came to an end on Thursday afternoon when the Blue Jays dealt one of their biggest assets to the Yankees.
Toronto acquired infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney in exchange for Happ, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the year. Drury is under club control through 2021, while McKinney has appeared in just two Major League games and has six years of control remaining.
The Happ trade was the second of two deals Toronto made on Thursday, and there could be more to come in the days leading up to the Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. The first trade was officially completed early Thursday morning when the Blue Jays sent reliever Seunghwan Oh to Colorado for prospects Chad Spanberger and Forrest Wall.
"We've always really liked Brandon, we talked a lot about him before he was a New York Yankee," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said of Drury. "It's the great thing about talent at this level, this stage of their careers, how much conviction you have that there will be a significant contribution.
"Brandon has withheld significant performance in the Major Leagues over several years and this year just hasn't had quite the opportunity and we feel like we have that moving forward."
The Blue Jays have been shopping almost all of their veteran players, but Happ was easily the club's biggest trade chip. He struggled during a three-start stretch before the All-Star break, but the Chicago native has been Toronto's best pitcher all season and the Blue Jays were looking to leverage his proven track record into a strong return.
The deal hardly comes as a surprise, but the return did catch some critics off-guard. Instead of targeting high-ceiling prospects at the lower level of the Minor Leagues, the Blue Jays centered their package around a pair of players who are ready to contribute now -- although exactly how they fit into the club's long-term plans remains unclear.
"We're acquiring versatile athletes that can play multiple positions, that have youth on their side and have offensive track records that are exciting to us," Atkins said. "When we acquire players we focus on helping them be the best possible players they can be with the Toronto Blue Jays."
Drury is a super-utility type of player who has appeared at seven positions during his big league career. The 25-year-old has started at second base more than anywhere else, but he also has experience in left field, right field and third base. In 307 career games, Drury is batting .267/.316/.439 with 32 home runs and 131 RBIs.
McKinney is a 23-year-old outfielder who was ranked New York's No. 20 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was batting .227/.297/.498 with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs in 55 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The former first-round pick made his debut earlier this season in Toronto before injuring his shoulder while crashing into the left-field wall.
"It's rare to find a player that has across the board average, or slightly above average tools, on every tool," Atkins said. "Obviously it's exceptional to find a player that is above average with every tool, that being the hit tool, the run tool, the throw, the defense, the approach. With McKinney, we feel as though he has all of those, at least at an average Major League level and that's unique."
Drury's presence on the 25-man roster could make Blue Jays infielder Yangervis Solarte even more available than he was before. Solarte has two years of club control remaining beyond this season, but his salary escalates to $5.5 million in 2019 and $8 million in '20 on club options. Toronto has been expected to explore trades for Solarte alongside veteran relievers such as Tyler Clippard, John Axford and Aaron Loup.
Beyond this season, Drury would be a short-term candidate to start at third base while the Blue Jays wait for the debut of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is ranked baseball's best prospect by MLB Pipeline. More long term, Drury could become a factor at second, and he'll likely be used all over the field. McKinney joins Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar, Teoscar Hernandez and prospect Anthony Alford as outfield options for 2019.
"Having that as a challenge is where you want to be when you become a championship organization," Atkins said when asked about the roster configuration and uncertain playing time. "We'll have opportunities for guys to play, there's no doubt about that.
"If it means someone goes to Triple-A, that is a good scenario for an organization. That's not the best scenario for individuals sometimes, but when organizations have those tough decisions, that's where you want to be."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.