Creativity the key for Blue Jays to revamp roster before deadline

Justin Smoak spoke to the media about the Jays struggles heading into the All-Star break and what it means to make the ASG.

Here are some things we know about the Toronto Blue Jays.

• Currently last place in the American League East with a 41-47 record, the club’s hopes of qualifying for the post-season can only be described as remote and unrealistic. The Blue Jays are five games back of a wild card spot, with seven teams to pass in order to reach that plateau. They are closer to last place in the American League than they are to a playoff position. Baseball Prospectus estimates Toronto’s playoff odds at 6.3 per cent. FanGraphs estimates Toronto’s end-of-season win total at 80, which won’t be nearly enough.

• Through 88 games this season, the Blue Jays rank among the bottom third of MLB teams in numerous measures of offence and defence. Injuries have played a part in this, especially the extended absences of Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis, and Aaron Sanchez. But the fact the Blue Jays are the oldest team in baseball, and one of the slowest according to StatCast metrics, has played a large part, too.

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• The Blue Jays have added a bevy of young talent to their minor-league system over the last two years, netting two first-round picks in May’s draft, shopping aggressively in the international market where they signed five of the top-38 ranked international prospects this month, and using their financial might when the opportunity presents itself, such as the club’s signing of 23-year-old Cuban import Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a seven-year, $22-million contract last winter.

• Much of Toronto’s best young talent is years away from making a major-league impact, including two of the club’s top three prospects according to Baseball America, teenagers Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who were promoted to high-A Dunedin on Monday.

• The Blue Jays have a distinct lack of impactful young talent in the upper levels of their farm system, with apologies to Dwight Smith Jr. (who has been up and down this season), Rowdy Tellez (who hasn’t had a strong year at triple-A), and the injured Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey. Some of these players will get looks at the end of 2017, but it’s unclear if they can be counted on to crack 2018’s opening day roster as productive, everyday players.

• Toronto is a major MLB market, with an immense, young, passionate fan base that has powered the Blue Jays to an American League best home attendance average of 39,644, while also supporting the club in droves on the road. The club’s ownership, Rogers Communications, has allowed Toronto’s front office to operate with a top-10 MLB payroll since 2013, including the approximately $163-million spent on this year’s roster.

The picture that paints is one of a club that must navigate its way through a multi-year transitional phase in which it remains competitive and bridges the gap between the overly-veteran, ineffective roster of today and the young, athletic roster the club envisions years from now when its most promising current prospects are ready to contribute.

Easier said than done, to be sure. But the Blue Jays have indicated they intend to compete for the post-season in 2018. And considering the inability of 2017’s roster to produce an adequate number of wins, adjustments will have to be made.

That means the Blue Jays will likely search for opportunities to add current major league talent — with contract term extending into 2018 at least — over the weeks leading to the July 31 trade deadline in order to retool for the coming years. As Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith pointed out on Monday, the most pressing areas of need for the Blue Jays are middle infielders, corner outfielders, and starting pitching.

The club will of course listen to offers for its pending free agents Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, Joe Smith, and Jose Bautista, who would have to waive his 10-and-5 rights before he could be traded. But it will likely also look to augment its current core with players who are already in the major leagues, as well as prospects.

Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take fans inside the Blue Jays and around MLB with news, analysis and interviews.

That can happen a few different ways. One is a pure baseball trade that involves two teams swapping big league talent that addresses each other’s needs. Another is a trade that involves taking on an unwanted contract from another organization, much like the Blue Jays did at this time last year, acquiring Liriano and the $13.6 million he’s owed this season along with two prospects from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Drew Hutchison.

One more is a three-team trade, like the ultimately failed one Toronto tried to pull off last February, which would have seen pending free agent Michael Saunders go to the Los Angeles Angels, Jay Bruce (who, at the time, carried two years of club control) join the Blue Jays, and multiple prospects on their way to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Blue Jays will have to get creative to pull off any of the above. And, naturally, the club’s ability to add in the coming weeks will depend entirely on the opportunities the trade market presents. If the right deal doesn’t materialize, the team could be very quiet between now and July 31. Remember, the Liriano deal crept in barely under the wire, just minutes before last year’s deadline.

But with a complete tear down and rebuild not in the cards, a current roster in clear need of upgrading, and a lack of major-league ready replacements in the upper-minors, that’s the path the Blue Jays appear poised to take.

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