NEW YORK – The uncomfortable dichotomy for the Toronto Blue Jays as the July 31 trade deadline looms is between the kids working to establish themselves as legitimate big-leaguers, and the veterans biding time until they’re dealt or their contracts expire.
Over the next two-and-a-half weeks the parallel tracks on the roster will converge, and given that the roster is now heavily weighted toward the former rather than the latter, this will be the last sell-off of this rebuild, a final chance to augment the asset base before the focus shifts fully to building.
Add some impactful near-term pitching to the promising group of position players already in house, and the Blue Jays’ path back to relevance becomes much easier to envision. A failure to effectively leverage Marcus Stroman – who proclaimed himself “all good” after throwing a bullpen and will pitch Sunday against the New York Yankees, one of his suitors – and Ken Giles in trades, while ideally moving either Freddy Galvis or Eric Sogard to open up space for Bo Bichette (who’s expected up soon), will push back the program.
In the interim, with the players occupying those vastly different spaces, the games continue, like Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Yankees started by Aaron Sanchez, who’s in an awkward no man’s land, neither part of the Blue Jays’ future, nor someone that can be traded for value right now.
As such, the Blue Jays are holding onto him the way you hang onto that blue-chip stock in your portfolio in the hopes its share price rebounds. In Sanchez’s final outing before the all-star break, he said he felt like himself for the first time in two-and-a-half years while holding the Baltimore Orioles to a pair of runs on three hits and four walks in five innings. Having allowed 32 earned runs in his previous 21 innings over five starts, that was progress.
The Yankees, however, offered a far better litmus test of where Sanchez is at, and even after a four-run fifth followed four carefully navigated innings, he appeared to have taken another step forward.
“One hundred per cent,” said Sanchez, who got sick over the all-star break and was bed-ridden for two days. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the ball moving with that type of velocity, today, it felt like the old me. I felt like if I wasn’t going through this, I could have been out there and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that four-spot in the fifth. So I’m pleased.”
Things might have played out differently had the fateful fifth not started with Brett Gardner yanking an 84.5 m.p.h. roller just under Justin Smoak’s glove at first base for a leadoff triple. D.J. LeMahieu then followed with a run-scoring grounder that a diving Cavan Biggio did well to record an out on, the first of five straight balls off the bat at triple digits.
The big blow came from former Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who hammered a 91.2 m.p.h. sinker off the left-centre-field wall at 110.2 m.p.h. for a three-run double that opened up a 4-0 Yankees lead.
With Domingo German shoving, that was the ballgame.
Charlie Montoyo let Sanchez clean up his own mess in the fifth – “He earned my trust to let him have a couple more hitters,” said the manager – and the right-hander finished having allowed the four runs on seven hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
While he induced seven balls at 84.5 m.p.h. or under, he also allowed nine balls off the bat in triple digits, the majority of those coming in the fifth inning.
That was in part tied to his velocity as his fastball, which topped out at 95.8 m.p.h., averaged 93.3 on two seams and 92.6 on four, down from his game averages of 93.5 and 93.7.
Still, Sanchez is finding gains with his command, better maintenance of his velocity and better movement, a result of finding comfort with his arm slot and release point.
“When I’m able to go down and away with the sinker that’s coming back (over the plate), obviously I know I put myself in a good spot to get there,” said Sanchez. “I do think I’m there (mechanically). I knew it was going to take a while. Every injury I’ve had has been with my fingertips and that’s the last thing that controls the ball. You just plug away. I’m not going to shy away (from pitching). My body felt good, I’m going to go out there and make starts, reps is one thing that was going to help me get where I wanted to go. Take it for what it’s worth, the numbers are what they are. You can’t look back, just got to keep moving forward. Now that I finally feel like I’m at where I need to be, hopefully all this takes off.”
Either way, Sanchez appears destined to finish out the season with the Blue Jays, one of the few survivors from the post-season runs of 2015-16 to remain.
A summer sell-off off assets has been a Blue Jays tradition since 2017, when lefty Francisco Liriano was sent to the Houston Astros for Teoscar Hernandez and Nori Aoki and Joe Smith was dealt to Cleveland for Thomas Pannone and Samad Taylor.
Last year, the teardown was far more aggressive with Steve Pearce (Santiago Espinal), J.A. Happ (Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney), Seunghwan Oh (Forrest Wall and Chad Spanberger), Roberto Osuna (Giles, Hector Perez and David Paulino), Aaron Loup (Jacob Waguespack), John Axford (Corey Copping), Curtis Granderson (Demi Orimoloye) and Josh Donaldson (Julian Merryweather) all getting shipped out.
Since 2019 began, Russell Martin (Andrew Sopko and Ronny Brito), Kendrys Morales (Jesus Lopez and international bonus pool money) and Kevin Pillar (Derek Law, Alen Hanson and Juan De Paula) have all been moved.
Now, the final sale awaits, along with a couple of anxious weeks of expecting it all to happen.