With 19 losses in their last 28 games, there’s no question that the Toronto Blue Jays are struggling badly.
Yet they still have a respectable 47-43 record and trail the division-leading Baltimore Orioles by just two games. In a surprisingly weak American League East, the opportunity exists for the Blue Jays to advance to the post-season if they play well enough during their remaining 72 games.
As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches, general manager Alex Anthopoulos must decide what to target in trade talks and how aggressive to be. Until recently the Blue Jays were presumed to be targeting pitchers, but the starting rotation’s recent success could push the GM to prioritize other areas. The Blue Jays say they’re open to anything.
Here’s an assessment of where the Blue Jays stand up and down the roster, and a speculative look at potential targets for Anthopoulos:
Jose Reyes gives Toronto certainty at shortstop, but that’s about the only infield position where the Blue Jays have any real stability for now. Edwin Encarnacion’s injury hurts, though they aren’t about to go and trade for a first baseman with Adam Lind, Jose Bautista and Dan Johnson within the organization.
Instead, the Blue Jays will look at second and third base. Anthopoulos said last week that the Blue Jays could address either position, though they view Brett Lawrie as a third baseman long-term. For now a right-handed hitter would be ideal so that the Blue Jays don’t get exposed against left-handed pitching with the likes of Juan Francisco and Munenori Kawasaki.
Some of the bigger names out there don’t appear to be fits for the Blue Jays. Daniel Murphy, a left-handed hitter, was just named to his first all-star team and would be tough to pry away from the New York Mets. Chase Headley has been dealing with a herniated disc and isn't hitting.
Some Blue Jays people like Martin Prado, as reported by Shi Davidi, though the Arizona Diamondbacks would surely have to pick up some of the $27 million or so remaining on his contract in any trade. Former Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill may also be of interest, though he’s not hitting either.
Could the Blue Jays make a big move and obtain Ben Zobrist or Adrian Beltre? Either player would make the Blue Jays significantly better for 2014-15 and boost Toronto's chances of contending. Still, acquiring a player of that calibre would presumably require a top prospect and then some if the Rays and Rangers are inclined to listen.
If the Blue Jays aim lower, then names such as Gordon Beckham and Luis Valbuena could be of interest.
If the Brad Glenn-Darin Mastroianni-Cole Gillespie-Nolan Reimold carousel tells us one thing, it's that the Blue Jays want to find a right-handed hitting outfielder. Finding a fit would allow the Blue Jays to address two holes at once and move Bautista to the infield while Encarnacion recovers.
While Reimold may well prove to be the solution when healthy, the Blue Jays should take a long look at Justin Ruggiano of the Chicago Cubs and perhaps Chris Denorfia of the San Diego Padres. Both players have long track records of hitting lefties (Ruggiano: .832 career OPS vs. LHP, Denorfia: .814) and should be available.
As a group Blue Jays catchers rank 23rd in MLB with a .622 OPS, but making a mid-season change at catcher presents many logistical challenges for the pitching staff. Plus, there aren’t clear upgrades available and the Blue Jays have bigger needs elsewhere.
If anything, the Blue Jays will promote Erik Kratz, who offers the strongest throwing arm of any Blue Jays catchers and would give manager John Gibbons another power bat against left-handed pitching. After a hot start, Josh Thole is batting just .095 since the beginning of June.
Blue Jays starters are tied for fourth in the American League with a 3.79 ERA thanks to Mark Buehrle's success and breakout seasons from Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman. With J.A. Happ and R.A. Dickey providing steady innings, the Blue Jays have a respectable rotation one through five. While any team can improve, the rotation now projects as a strength, not a weakness.
Trading for a back-end starter wouldn't make much sense as long as the Blue Jays' current rotation is healthy. With Todd Redmond capable of making a spot start and Brandon Morrow working his way back, it’s not a pressing need.
An ace level pitcher like David Price would make the Blue Jays better, to be sure. But the cost in terms of prospects might not be worth it for a club already getting solid pitching.
The Blue Jays rank 26th in MLB with a 4.36 bullpen ERA, so there's definite room for improvement. Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup give the Blue Jays a pair of effective lefties, which suggests that right-handed relief might be a better fit.
Relief pitching is always in abundance this time of year, so Anthopoulos would have plenty of choices whether it's Chad Qualls, Brad Ziegler or even Jason Frasor. Chad Jenkins has options, so the Blue Jays could keep him even if they add a bullpen arm.