MILWAUKEE – As a general rule, teams that are well below .500 at the July 31 trade deadline don’t add. Maybe they sell, maybe they stand pat, but they’re not going to be the ones acquiring win-now pieces.
In that sense the Toronto Blue Jays have a lot of work to do. They entered play Wednesday 20-26, last in the American League East and 5.0 games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
Even so, they don’t intend on becoming summer sellers. General manager Ross Atkins said Wednesday that he’s more concerned about reinforcing his roster than disassembling it.
“Absolutely,” Atkins said. “We’re focused on adding and winning. We’re focused on what’s the best thing for us sustaining a championship organization and environment.”
Atkins points to last season, when the Blue Jays were 19-23 after 42 games. This year’s Blue Jays were 18-24 at the same point. To get back in the race, the Blue Jays will need something like the 20-8 stretch that they put together immediately following last year’s slow start.
“We absolutely need to go on a run at some point soon,” Atkins said. “There’s no concrete timeline that we have to make a decision by, because it all depends on the division and how we’re playing.”
The Blue Jays expect Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki back from the disabled list this weekend, and J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano are both making meaningful progress in their return from elbow and shoulder inflammation, respectively. Once those star players return to the roster, the Blue Jays will have a better sense of where they stand in relation to the rest of the league. Until then, the Blue Jays will hope depth pieces can continue stepping up.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve had some good stories from the minor leagues, some good stories in our bullpen, some contributions from external organizations that have kept us afloat,” Atkins said.
Teams rarely make blockbuster trades before July for a number of reasons. Many club executives are focused on the amateur draft until early June, fewer clubs are willing to sell early in the summer and prospective buyers are still determining their biggest areas of need.
That said, there’s no real downtime on the baseball calendar, so a team like the Washington Nationals could easily defy tradition and phone the Chicago White Sox about closer David Robertson right now instead of waiting for July. As for the Blue Jays, they’re already keeping in touch with the rest of the league.
“We talk trades all of the time,” Atkins said, citing last year’s May 31 trade for Jason Grilli as an example. “There’s constant discussion about those opportunities. I think the human nature of deadlines is that things heighten as you get closer to them.”
By the time the Blue Jays get to July, they may have no choice but to prioritize the future over the present. To some extent the standings dictate those decisions. For now, though, that’s not the way they’re thinking.
“At some point we’ll know, based on objective and subjective and projected health information what’s best for the future of the organization, but we remain absolutely focused on adding and winning,” Atkins said.