What Blue Jays’ acquisition of Vogelbach means for lineup, Tellez, future

Charlie Montoyo talks about how Daniel Vogelbach fits into the Blue Jays lineup and how the team wanted another impact bat.

TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays’ first trade of the 2020 season didn’t address their biggest need or even land someone playing all that well.

But in acquiring Daniel Vogelbach from the Seattle Mariners, they added a 2019 all-star with a history of hitting right-handed pitchers. If he can bounce back to his career norms, that’s a useful bat for manager Charlie Montoyo to deploy late in games. If not, well, the cost here was minor with cash considerations going back to Seattle but no prospects.

Regardless, there’s more work ahead for the Toronto front office. Not only are two rotation spots unaccounted for following injuries to Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton, there’s room for further improvement on the bench, too.

For now, there’s Vogelbach, a second-round pick of the Cubs in 2011 who was traded to Seattle in a deadline deal a few months before Chicago won the 2016 World Series. He broke out with 30 home runs in an all-star 2019 season, largely because of his ability to destroy right-handed pitching. The left-handed hitter posted an .844 OPS against righties last year to go along with 25 home runs and an impressive 17.5-per cent walk rate. At that point, he looked like a valuable hitter whose power and plate discipline would make up for his perpetually low batting averages.

But after a slow start to the 2020 season in which Vogelbach posted a .476 OPS with just two home runs through 18 games, the Mariners designated him for assignment. After all, at six feet, 270 pounds Vogelbach is best used as a designated hitter. If he’s not hitting, he’s generally not helping much on defence or on the bases.

Clearly, there are limitations to what Vogelbach offers — he shouldn’t face many lefties — but there are also clear game situations where he’s useful. With a lifetime .777 OPS against right-handed pitching, there’s some reason to believe he can bounce back from his slow start once he completes the COVID-19 intake process and joins the Blue Jays, likely later this week. If that happens, the Blue Jays will benefit from a powerful left-handed bat who works a tough at-bat.

At first glance, Vogelbach seems somewhat redundant on a roster that already includes Rowdy Tellez and certainly there are similarities in skill-set between the two powerful, left-handed sluggers. But there are also scenarios where both players can help Montoyo in the same game.

Late in games that Tellez starts, a bat like Vogelbach will give Montoyo more pinch-hit options than usual. For example, Vogelbach would be useful if a right-handed pitcher’s on the mound and a hitter such as Santiago Espinal, Joe Panik or Brandon Drury is at the plate. It’s even possible that Montoyo will start both Tellez and Vogelbach if the matchup’s right.

“There’s a chance they both could be in the lineup,” Montoyo said. “We’re just looking for another bat to impact the lineup. It’s got nothing to do with Rowdy, it’s more about getting another bat into the lineup.”

And really, why stop now? The addition of Vogelbach will likely be the first of multiple trades the Blue Jays make this month, though they could go in a few directions with their next move. Anthony Alford, who was designated for assignment last week, could end up in a trade of his own if rival teams want to jump the queue on the waiver process the way the Blue Jays did with Vogelbach.

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Plus, there’s an obvious need for pitching and room for further upgrades on the bench. Ideally, the Blue Jays might add a starter like Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy without surrendering too much prospect capital, but they’ll have competition at a time that the likes of the Braves, Astros and Yankees could use rotation help, too.

Alongside that search for pitching, the Blue Jays could also explore deals for a right-handed hitting position player. An acquisition like that would essentially provide an upgrade over Drury, who has a .400 OPS and can be freely optioned to the minors. Perhaps Jonathan Schoop of the Tigers or Jedd Gyorko of the Brewers would be of interest. A left-handed hitter like Tommy La Stella of the Angels would be an upgrade, too.

Clearly, it’s not the Blue Jays’ biggest need right now. With Shoemaker sidelined for weeks and Thornton back on the injured list, the pitching staff needs help most urgently. At the same time, a run scored is as good as a run saved, so with a week to go before the deadline, the Blue Jays are interested in hitters, too.

“We’re looking at all options,” Montoyo said. “The main deal right now is our pitching. We lost two starters in one day, so it’s trying to see what we’re going to do with that. But we’re looking at all options, that’s for sure.”

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