What are Blue Jays’ organizational needs ahead of trade deadline?

Blue Jays analyst Mike Wilner tells Sportsnet's Starting Lineup that based on recency, contending teams won't give up any significant assets for Marco Estrada as a rental for the rest of the season.

After losing 47 games in the first half of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays arrive at the all-star break last in the AL East with seven teams between them and a wild-card berth. Objectively speaking, it’s unlikely that they’ll make the playoffs.

Even so, the Blue Jays say they hope to add at the July 31 trade deadline to bolster the current roster and improve their chances of winning in future seasons.

“We are relentlessly trying to infuse young talent,” team president Mark Shapiro recently told Sportsnet 590 The FAN.

In other words, the traditional buyer-seller dichotomy doesn’t apply here. So what exactly could that mean? What do the struggles of the 2017 team tell us about where the Blue Jays need talent most? A closer look at each position offers some answers…

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Catcher
Even at age 34, Russell Martin continues to get on base at an above-average clip while providing power from behind the plate. He’s locked in as the starter for 2018 and 2019, when he’ll earn $20 million per season.

Behind Martin, the Blue Jays are actually in decent shape, even with Miguel Montero slated to hit free agency this winter. The defensively talented Luke Maile remains an option, while 22-year-old Danny Jansen’s hitting .296/.393/.440 at double-A. The Blue Jays have bigger needs elsewhere.

Infield
On paper, the Blue Jays have quality infielders at all four positions. At their best, Justin Smoak, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson are all impact players.

But considering Tulowitzki’s injury history and Travis’ persistent knee issues, the Blue Jays have reason to pursue middle infield depth at the deadline. Internally, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Richard Urena are among the organization’s top prospects, and could conceivably impact the MLB roster by 2018. That said, neither has reached triple-A yet.

(Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will eventually profile as big-league infielders if their rapid progression continues, but even the most optimistic timeline would likely have Guerrero and Bichette in the minors all of next year.)

Ideally, the Blue Jays might obtain their own version of Ben Zobrist or Marwin Gonzalez—someone capable of filling in around the infield while providing some offence.

“It’s like two players in one for me,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch recently said of Gonzalez. “Marwin’s an everyday player who doesn’t know what glove to wear every day.”

An addition like this would make life easier for John Gibbons not only week-to-week but within games. It’s admittedly a lot to ask, but as long as we’re talking about upgrades, why not aim high?

Outfield
While Kevin Pillar’s entrenched in centre field for three more seasons, the Blue Jays could pursue corner outfielders this summer.

They do have options internally, starting with Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera at the MLB level. There are up-and-coming players, too: top prospect Anthony Alford reached the big-leagues before breaking his hamate; Dwight Smith Jr. showed promise at the MLB level; Dalton Pompey’s skillset remains intriguing.

Still, if this season’s injuries have proven anything it’s that there’s no such thing as too much outfield depth. Jose Bautista’s a free agent after 2017, assuming the mutual options on his contract aren’t exercised by both sides, so the Blue Jays could lose at least one outfielder within a few months. Pursuing outfield help before that happens makes sense.

Designated Hitter
Kendrys Morales has 16 home runs, but has been a slightly below-average hitter as measured by wRC+ (96). Regardless, the 34-year-old has two-plus years remaining on his contract, so DH figures to rank low on the Blue Jays’ list of targets, especially considering that first base prospect Rowdy Tellez has reached triple-A.

Starting Rotation

(Eric Christian Smith/AP)

Thanks to Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays have the makings of a strong rotation under team control through 2020. But with Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano on the brink of free agency, the Blue Jays could absolutely use more arms.

In the big-leagues, J.A. Happ’s under contract for one more year, and Joe Biagini showed promise in the rotation. Still, Happ could draw interest as a trade target, and Biagini’s by no means a proven starter.

The minors include many intriguing arms, but top prospects Sean Reid-Foley (4.42 ERA, 67 strikeouts, 33 walks. 71.1 innings), Conner Greene (4.37 ERA, 64 strikeouts, 52 walks. 90.2 innings) and Jon Harris (5.53 ERA, 62 strikeouts, 30 walks. 86.1 innings) continue developing at double-A. Others, like T.J. Zeuch and Justin Maese, are even further away.

All things considered, starting pitching remains an area of need for the Blue Jays. Otherwise they’ll find themselves calling on more replacement level arms the next time their depth is stretched.

Bullpen
The continued progress of Roberto Osuna (under team control through 2020) gives the Blue Jays an elite closer. Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes look like quality setup relievers, as does Biagini. Still, the Blue Jays could use help. Teams churn through reliever after reliever in today’s game, so there’s a near-endless need for bullpen arms.

Compounding matters, the Blue Jays might consider trading away relievers if the likes of Joe Smith and Aaron Loup draw serious interest this summer. Last summer the Athletics landed intriguing infield prospect Max Schrock for Marc Rzepczynski, suggesting that teams will part with talent for proven relievers even when they don’t have Aroldis Chapman- or Andrew Miller-level upside.

Regardless, every team needs an abundance of quality relievers, the Blue Jays included.

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All things considered…
The Blue Jays have enough needs that they don’t have to narrow in on one particular position. They could use immediate help everywhere but catcher and DH, creating lots of options for club decision makers as they contemplate trades.

Broadly speaking, the club’s also old, slow and below average on defence. Given those limitations, it’s no surprise that the Blue Jays hope to add young talent in the weeks leading up to the July 31 deadline.