The Toronto Blue Jays have had one rollercoaster of a season so far.
Over the winter months, the Jays revamped their roster to be more defense-oriented and less power-hungry, trading away a bevy of players in Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and top prospect Gabriel Moreno in exchange for outfielder Daulton Varsho and reliever Erik Swanson (as well as pitching prospect Adam Macko).
In addition, the Jays rose above the Competitive Balance Tax threshold for the first time in franchise history, signing key players such as Chris Bassitt (three-year, $63 million), Brandon Belt (one-year, $9.3 million ), and Kevin Kiermaier (one-year, $9 million) to add some veteran flavor to a hometown core. They also bought out Bo Bichette’s arbitration years.
Situated in a tough AL East division, the Blue Jays are currently in third place and occupy the third spot in the Wild Card standings, although the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are fewer than 3.0 games back of Toronto and could make things interesting.
With a schedule stocked full of inter-division games in September, the Jays will need to find a way to buck the trend of losing against their rivals (they’ve gone 7-20 in the AL East this season) if they want any shot at making the postseason this year.
A Right-Handed Bat for the Blue Jays
Looking at the current roster, one might think the club should have enough firepower from the right side of the batter’s box with the likes of Bichette, George Springer, Matt Chapman, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the lineup on a consistent basis.
The problem, however, stems from the other of the box, where the Jays’ left-handed bats have struggled mightily against southpaw pitchers and own a .605 OPS with zero home runs and only eight RBIs heading into Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Internally, the club has called upon Jordan Luplow to address this area of need. For his career, he has handled left-handed pitchers well, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Jays don’t try to find a veteran right-handed bat with a bit more of a track record against left-handers.
So far, the Jays have been rumored to be linked to Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox, who has struggled overall this season to a .241/.281/.283 slash line with a .564 OPS. However, he has had much more success against left-handers, posting a .338 average and a .752 OPS through 77 at-bats.
The sample size is small, and Anderson lacks power this season (zero home runs), but he could be an intriguing player that fits the “change of scenery may do you some good” narrative.
Moreover, Blue Jays utility player Whit Merrifield carries an $18 million mutual option this offseason, while Anderson has a club option for $14 million this winter. Anderson isn’t an upgrade over Merrifield in the batter’s box right now, but with the former Royal able to play left field, both players can slot into games when a left-hander is on the mound. The front office can figure out better options later this year.
Anderson isn’t the only lefty-hitting bat available, but so far, he seems like the clear front-runner given the White Sox’s struggles this season. That said, he has barely played second base as a professional, and the Jays are already set at shortstop.
Other potential fits are Paul DeJong (Cardinals), Tyler O’Neill (Cardinals), Lane Thomas (Nationals), Jeimer Candelario (Nationals), and Tommy Pham (Mets).
Pitching, Pitching, and More Pitching
This season, the Toronto Blue Jays have put forward a very strong pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Collectively, the group owns a 3.83 ERA with 956 strikeouts, good enough for fourth in MLB entering Tuesday night’s game.
Kevin Gausman has led the charge and is currently putting himself into the Cy Young conversation, while Yusei Kikuchi and José Berríos have been in a groove this year and really helped stabilize the rotation.
Bassitt has seen his fair share of consistency issues, but when he is on, it is a quality start. Alek Manoah has been the biggest surprise this season, struggling out of the gate and requiring a quick tune-up down in the Dunedin Player Development Complex to try and right the ship. He recently rejoined the team.
Looking ahead, the Jays will have Hyun Jin Ryu available in the near future, as the southpaw is in the final stages of returning to the big leagues after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season. The club could move to a six-man rotation in hopes of getting all the arms into the mix, but it wouldn’t be surprising if either Manoah or Kikuchi takes a turn in the bullpen if the five-man rotation is where the organization wants to go.
Overall, the starting pitching depth in the organization is quite weak outside of Bowden Francis, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the club looks at acquiring a starter with some options available to stash away in Triple-A who can be ready to go in the event of an injury.
For the bullpen, the Jays have seen a lot of success from numerous arms, including Tim Mayza, Trevor Richards, Erik Swanson, and closer Jordan Romano. The relief corps currently ranks in the top ten in numerous pitching categories.
The club also gained another left-hander in Génesis Cabrera recently, adding some additional firepower that does carry some risk when it comes to control. One of the best surprises this season has been Jay Jackson, who continues to find ways to impress out of the bullpen and has rightfully earned a spot on the active roster moving forward.
An interesting wrinkle to consider is the impending return of Chad Green, who is currently rehabbing down in Low-A after undergoing Tommy John surgery of his own last season. The former Yankees bullpen arm will need a roster spot come the middle of August, and there may be some tough decisions lying ahead, especially if the Jays add another bullpen arm at the deadline.
As per usual, there are numerous relievers available this year, and if history is any indication, general manager Ross Atkins and co. will likely look to find an arm with at least some control rather than a rental. Then again, anything is possible given the club’s “win now” mentality.
Roster-wise, Mitch White’s time in the bullpen is likely looking like it will come to a close if a trade is made, and the real roster crunch will come once Green is healthy in August before rosters expand in September.
Looking at trade candidates, Scott Barlow on the Royals is an interesting option given he is arbitration eligible for one more year after this season. The club could also pursue relievers like Brooks Raley (Mets) or Kyle Finnegan (Nationals), but given the state of the Jays’ farm system, a rental arm might actually fit better into their plans.
The Shohei Ohtani Question for the Blue Jays
It is not every day that one of the best players on the planet is potentially on the trade block, but this season, all eyes are on the Los Angeles Angels and whether they will trade two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani.
As of right now, the jury is still out on what the Angels will do with Ohtani, but they appear to be listening to trade proposals as the deadline draws near. The Angels are still in the Wild Card picture, but they’re on the outside looking in within the American League.
The Blue Jays don’t boast the strongest farm system at the moment, and any deal for Ohtani is likely going to require significant prospect capital to move the needle in a competitive trade market. Parting with the necessary prospects would be a tough call considering the lefty-batter is likely a rental given his looming free agency.
There is a chance the Jays could get a contract extension figured out to help alleviate trading away prospects, but Ohtani really doesn’t stand to gain anything from an extension unless he wants to be in Toronto for personal reasons. He is likely going to benefit more financially in free agency. There is no question that any team that adds Ohtani is bolstering their postseason chances with a top rotation arm and a power bat, but the cost will be high.
The Jays could swing a deal if they start the conversation with top prospects like Ricky Tiedemann, Brandon Barriera, and/or Orelvis Martinez, but is the club prepared to wager these prospects in exchange for two to three months of Ohtani to push for a World Series run? We shall wait and see.