OAKLAND, Calif. – This is the other end of the spectrum, a roster sell-off by the Toronto Blue Jays ahead of Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline that is as unprecedented in franchise history as the great buildup of 2015 was.
Six deals for six players, starting with the June 28 swap that sent Steve Pearce to the Boston Red Sox, that returned 10 players back, only two of them established big-leaguers in Brandon Drury and Ken Giles, the rest varying degrees of potential and hope.
There will be a lot of sifting through the sand coming up for the Blue Jays, and things are likely to get worse before they get better. More subtractions could come in August, as GM Ross Atkins said “there were a couple (more deals) I thought might happen and didn’t,” before the 4 p.m. ET cut-off hit.
It’s a reasonable assumption that Curtis Granderson and Tyler Clippard, both on expiring contracts and able to help a contender, were involved there. And then there’s the wild card that is Josh Donaldson, the star third baseman mired by a calf injury all season whom Atkins said is making rapid progress and attracted interest even as he rehabs in Dunedin, Fla.
“Josh is a great player and any GM would be excited about thinking about Josh in their lineup and playing third base down the stretch, so there were a lot of discussions,” said Atkins. “The challenge with any player that is not playing is understanding that risk and that timeline without the same access to information that we have. That tolerance for that risk was the hard part to try and bridge. We had a lot discussions about J.D. We stayed in touch with Josh, obviously, but it didn’t end up becoming a deal, obviously.”
Here are some thoughts on a wild few days that capped a transformative month for the Blue Jays:
• Atkins made two deals Tuesday, sending left-hander Aaron Loup, the longest-serving player on the club, to the Philadelphia Phillies for triple-A righty Jacob Waguespack and reliever John Axford to the Los Angeles Dodgers for triple-A reliever Corey Copping. Both are expected to start at triple-A and given where they are in their careers, Atkins said their path to the big leagues would be “dictated by performance and opportunity.” His scouting report on the duo? “In Waguespack, a very exciting pitcher that has power, has strikeouts and size and Trackman data that is encouraging,” said Atkins. “And similar on Copping, the ability to get strikeouts, some power to the stuff.”
• In all, the Blue Jays acquired two big-league players in Drury and Giles, who’s expected to join the team in Seattle on Thursday; four triple-A players in Copping, Waguespack, right-hander David Paulino and outfielder Billy McKinney; three double-A players in outfielder Forrest Wall, shortstop Santiago Espinal and right-hander Hector Perez; and low-A first baseman Chad Spanberger, creating more depth all around the organization. What does that do for the Blue Jays? “We’ll have a better understanding of that as more time passes and these guys play as Blue Jays for a little bit,” replied Atkins. Certainly the Blue Jays now have more prospect capital to spend, and a handful of notable non-rental players moved before the deadline around baseball, Chris Archer and Tommy Pham chief among them. “We did explore those opportunities but the bulk of our focus was on building depth that had substantial control,” said Atkins. “We were not aggressive in pursuing Chris Archer, that was not the fit we were looking for.”
• One question being asked around the team afterwards is what comes next, now that the bulk of the selling has happened. Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is coming next year and what kind of players the Blue Jays surround him with is critical. Intriguingly, Atkins noted that, “we’re going to have a lot of opportunities to consider over the off-season to really try to optimize and sync up our young talent with the right complementary pieces.” Along those lines, one reason some players felt a team meeting was needed after Monday’s 10-1 loss was that focused, strong play over the final two months could help show the front office what kind of talent exists on the roster, and perhaps convince the club to push forward aggressively rather than keep collecting assets.
• The Blue Jays sent the Red Sox $1.66 million along with Steve Pearce to get back Espinal but they didn’t have to use their financial flexibility to better their return in their other deals, which meant they saved just under $12 million in remaining salary on outgoing players while adding about $1.7 million for Giles and Drury. “We needed it a bit in the case of Steve Pearce, and otherwise it wasn’t something we had to use,” said Atkins. Asked if that money could be reallocated to other areas, Atkins replied: “Absolutely, if that presents itself.”
• One trend this deadline was swapping rental pieces for international spending pool slots, something the Blue Jays didn’t engage in. Why? “Ultimately, if there’s a player that has a proven track record, most teams would prefer the player in double-A or triple-A to international cap space,” said Atkins. “We did, and the reason that’s occurring more is because more and more teams are valuing their prospects. That was another avenue to bridge gaps on expiring contracts.”
• Beyond collecting another asset, a benefit the Blue Jays would have derived from trading Granderson was opening up more playing time for Dwight Smith Jr. and McKinney, something that’s important in the sifting work that lies ahead for the Blue Jays. Atkins played that down, repeating that “when you do have that challenge, where guys are quote-unquote blocked because of depth, that’s not a bad situation to be in.”
• Expanded rosters in September is one workaround for that, and barring an injury, that’s what triple-A catcher Danny Jansen, blocked behind Russell Martin and Luke Maile at the moment, is going to have to wait for, it seems. “Russ has been very important to this organization and Luke is very important, as well,” said Atkins. “Danny is pounding down the door, he really is. We’ll see how things transpire in the coming days and weeks but we are very excited to see him here.”