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  • Writer's pictureLouis Paillier

Breaking Down The Santiago Espinal Trade

Last night, the Blue Jays swung a trade, sending Infielder Santiago Espinal to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for minor-league pitcher Chris McElvain.


The decline of his defensive game

Espinal, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in 2018 in the infamous Steve Pearce deal, made his Blue Jays debut in the shortened 2020 season. Primarily known for being a strong defender, this wasn’t the case in 2023. In his first three years in the majors, the Dominican placed in the 88th percentile or higher in Outs Above Average, with his strongest defensive season being in 2022, where he tallied 9 OAA. He ranked in the 95th percentile that year. In 2023, however, his defensive game drastically declined, ending the season with -4 OAA.


LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 18: Santiago Espinal #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a photo during the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at Dodger Stadium on Monday, July 18, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Rob Tringali (MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Underwhelming offensive production

On the offensive side of things last season, Espinal was quite frankly, a bad offensive player. An all-star in 2022, albeit mostly due to fan voting, Santiago was under-average in most major stats. In 254 plate appearances, he slashed .248/.310/.335, good for a WRC+ of 80. On the positive side, Espinal managed to maintain strong numbers regarding his whiff percentage and strikeout rate, only swinging and missing 17.6% of the time and striking out at an impressive 14.2% clip.


Outside factors leading to the trade

Following the signing of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Davis Schneider’s strong stint with the team last year, Espinal was the odd man out. Now, a week before the team opens the season in Tampa, the infielder has found a new home. Turning 30 years old in November, Santiago Espinal was bound to be traded, after an underwhelming ’23 campaign. With the likes of Davis Schneider and Ernie Clement on the 40-man roster, along with young infield prospects climbing the ranks, he no longer had a clear spot, or role on the team.


Ernie Clement was somewhat on Jays' fans' radar heading into February, but not many expected to see him perform exceptionally in Spring Training, let alone force his way on the roster. In 40 at-bats, Clement has a 1.090 OPS, owns a .375 BA and has shown some pop, hitting 3 home runs. All this, while providing great defence. Yesterday, Clement made a start in LF. This was very interesting to see, as Clement, an infielder, was getting reps in the outfield. It wouldn’t have made sense for Ernie to play the outfield unless the Jays saw him as a super-utility guy who would start the season with the ballclub. They were evidently preparing him to play all over the field with the big club this year.  Unsurprisingly, a few hours later Espinal was shipped to Cincinnati, marking the end of his lengthy tenure in Toronto.



TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 12: Ernie Clement #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays speaks with a reporter ahead against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre on September 12, 2023 in Toronto, Canada.
Photo by Cole Burston (Getty Images)

With Espinal officially gone, Clement is poised to make the Opening Day roster, with some fans believing he has earned the starting 3B job over free-agent signing Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Realistically, IKF will most likely be the starting 3B on March 28th in St. Petersburg, though Clement could eventually win the everyday job if Kiner-Falefa struggles. This wouldn’t be surprising, as the fan favourite has a great contact rate, barely ever whiffs, plays solid defence and is a good baserunner.


The Return

In exchange for Santiago Espinal, the Blue Jays received minor-league pitcher Chris McElvain. Drafted by the Reds in the 8th round of the 2022 draft, McElvain spent his entire 2023 campaign between the Reds’ High-A and Low-A affiliates. Between both clubs, the right-hander owned a 3.75 ERA in 96 IP. Starting the season in High-A with the Daytona Dragons, McElvain made 11 appearances, all being starts, but struggled, leading to his demotion to the Daytona Tortugas, the team’s Low-A team. With the Tortugas, McElvain performed much better, owning a 3.04 ERA in 12 appearances.



OMAHA, NE - JUNE 30: Chris McElvain #35 of the Vanderbilt Commodores pitches against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs during the Division I Men's Baseball Championship held at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on June 30, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The 23-year-old will report to High-A Vancouver to start the season, according to the team’s transaction page.


All stats are from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant

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Mar 21
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

You are becoming my favourite source of information about the Jays! Great job!

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Mar 21
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Amazing piece

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