TORONTO – Roughly six weeks out from the non-waiver trade deadline, with the Toronto Blue Jays well back in both the American League East and wild card races, general manager Ross Atkins was asked Friday about where on the spectrum his team sits right now.
"Not in a good situation," he said. "Not where we want to be, it’s not what we set out to do. We set out to have a contending team and right now we don’t."
Of that there’s no doubt and the overriding question is what that means for a team holding a handful of intriguing rental players led by J.A. Happ, likely to be their most coveted asset between now and July 31, and star third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Clearly the Blue Jays are positioned to sell and replenish the roster as they look to further turn over the core from their closing competitive window, but what that looks like and how far that goes will become clearer in the days and weeks ahead.
"Today is not the day to answer that," Atkins said when asked if the Blue Jays should be considered sellers. "As we talk to other teams, we consider every opportunity to make the organization better and understand what that would mean as we get more information from teams. We’re in a position where we don’t have to make that decision and this (trade) market is moving a little bit quicker than typical deadlines. There are some really clearly defined buyers in it. Because of that, we’ll get some clarity here sooner than you would normally at most deadlines. That’s not today."
The Tampa Bay Rays, praised by one rival executive for always reading the trade market well, jumped into the fray May 25, sending closer Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span to the always aggressive Seattle Mariners for pitching prospects Tommy Romero and Andrew Moore.
Last week, the Kansas City Royals sent outfielder Jon Jay to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two minor-leaguers, too.
Beyond Happ and Donaldson, starters Marco Estrada and Jamie Garcia, relievers Seunghwan Oh (club option), John Axford, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Loup, and outfielders Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce are other Blue Jays with expiring contracts.
One matter Atkins and the front office must settle in the coming weeks is what pieces they have elsewhere on the roster that should remain in place for 2019 and beyond, as they begin to integrate some of their prospects from the farm system.
"The way we’re thinking about it is where are we today, and of course we can reflect on how we got here, but right now we’re thinking about where we are today and we have to consider our alternatives," said Atkins. "One of those alternatives will be having to consider the potential of acquiring talent but at the same time, at this point in the game, we’re just seeing what the market is suggesting."
DONALDSON STILL ON HOLD
Josh Donaldson was on the field doing some early defensive work Friday afternoon but his activation from the disabled list remains on hold after his left calf didn’t respond well to his attempt at baserunning.
The star third baseman was disappointed by the results Thursday, when he came to Rogers Centre on the off-day to test out his calf on the infield. But he still didn’t feel ready to unleash, leaving him waiting for the tightness to ease further.
"With how everything has gone thus far, I felt like the time would be enough for me to be able to sprint," Donaldson after taking groundballs Friday. "But my calf is just saying it’s not there yet, it’s telling me every time I try to stride it’s not good. I don’t want to push through it and make this longer than what it should be."
In the interim, Donaldson continues to take batting practice, work on his defence and "do everything except run and that’s what’s frustrating about it."
He can stop and start and put torque on his leg in the batter’s box, but he hasn’t been able to "sprint, run the bases at an effective rate and feel comfortable about it, as well. Everything feels very good, side-to-side, on defence being able to go in under control, stuff like that. It’s getting there, it’s just taking a little longer than I want it to."
The likelihood at this point is that Donaldson gets at least one rehab game to test out the leg before his activation, so if there is a setback, the DL cycle wouldn’t reset. In the meantime, his absence continues to leave an irreparable hole in the Blue Jays lineup.
"He’s our best player," said Atkins. "Not having him is a huge blow, a huge blow to our players, a huge blow to everyone."
Outfielder Steve Pearce (oblique) will start a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo on Saturday while Marcus Stroman (shoulder) is expected to throw about 85 pitches Monday with double-A New Hampshire in what could be his final rehab outing before a return to the Blue Jays.
Pearce has been out since May 3 and once ready, he’ll re-enter a crowded outfield mix that includes Curtis Granderson, Teoscar Hernandez, Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk.
Stroman, meanwhile, has been out since May 9 and the Blue Jays will want him back ready to throw in the neighbourhood of 100 pitches. Barring a surprise, he’ll replace Sam Gaviglio in the rotation, whom Atkins described as "one of the better stories over the last month, so that’s been intriguing to us."
One way or another, the Blue Jays are going to have plenty of holes to fill in their starting rotation for 2019, as right now only Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are due back, although the club holds an option on Jaime Garcia.
That makes the progress of their minor-league starters especially crucial, with Atkins pointing to a trio that have made strong progress.
"Sean Reid-Foley has been awesome, Ryan Borucki and Jordan Romano have been solid," said Atkins. "Those guys are in good situations at this point of their careers, they’re where they should be in triple-A and double-A. Very encouraged by that."
With the Blue Jays likely to subtract from their rotation at the deadline, there may be some opportunity for them later this season.
"We’re not thinking about it as should we make room," said Atkins, "but if we have an opportunity for one of those guys and they continued on their trajectory right now, it would make some sense to consider that."