TORONTO – Just before 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Marcus Stroman left the Blue Jays clubhouse at Rogers Centre. While his longtime teammates turned left toward the bus that would take them to a plane chartered for Kansas City, Stroman walked straight ahead, past the assembled media and down to the player parking lot where he got into his car and drove off.
When he returns to Rogers Centre, if he returns, it’ll be as a visiting player.
A few minutes earlier, Stroman heard the news: he had been traded to New York, and not to the Yankees but to the Mets, for two pitching prospects, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson. For Stroman, it’s a chance to pitch close to home, albeit for a losing team. For the Blue Jays, the trade capped a day of wholesale change impacting virtually every facet of the organization from the rotation to the starting lineup to the farm system to the coaching staff.
Perhaps predictably, emotions were running high. Around the time the news of the trade was breaking, a commotion could be heard within the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. The cause and source were unclear, but someone was seemingly upset based on the noise. Media members were not admitted to the clubhouse afterwards, an unusual occurrence that underscores the bizarre nature of the day.
Hours earlier, it was already clear that this wasn’t your ordinary Sunday at the ballpark. At 12:45 p.m., roughly 20 minutes before first pitch, manager Charlie Montoyo pulled Eric Sogard aside. Trade talks were heating up with the Tampa Bay Rays–the day’s opposing team. Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays decided to pull Sogard from the lineup while the front offices finalized details of a deal that would send two players to be named later to Toronto.
“If it happens, thank you for everything you’ve done,” Montoyo told Sogard at the time.
Within the hour, the teams had an agreement. Sogard left his spot on the Blue Jays’ bench and retreated to the clubhouse, where he started packing his bags.
“It was definitely an interesting scenario,” he said afterwards, still wearing his Blue Jays-branded shorts. “I was sitting there thinking, what team I should be cheering for?”
If he chose the Rays, he must have been happy with the way the game played out. Aaron Sanchez dominated early and the Blue Jays raced out to an 8-1 lead, but a depleted bullpen gave up six unanswered runs and the Rays won 10-9.
Considering the Blue Jays signed Sogard to a minor-league deal over the winter, they have to be pleased with his tenure in Toronto. In 73 games, he batted .300 with 10 homers and an .840 OPS while playing five defensive positions. Behind the scenes he also helped young players such as Cavan Biggio and Billy McKinney before being traded.
“He was great,” Montoyo said. “We’re going to miss an outstanding kid, a great clubhouse guy, one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. Hopefully the team he goes to makes it to the playoffs.”
The departure of Sogard creates room on the roster for Bo Bichette, who will join the Blue Jays in Kansas City, according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. Even after a rough week in which he hit .097 with 12 strikeouts, Bichette has 15 stolen bases with a .277 average and an .813 OPS at triple-A.
The 21-year-old ranks sixth among all MLB prospects, according to Baseball America. Now he gets to test himself at the highest level alongside the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Biggio. What that means for shortstop Freddy Galvis remains unclear, though the veteran Galvis has been drawing trade interest from contending teams and could be moved.
Either way, it’s a good problem to have. Asked how he’d fit Galvis and Bichette into the lineup earlier in the month, Montoyo said, “I’ll find room for both of them.”
On the mound, Sanchez boosted his trade value with another impressive outing. He struck out 10 Rays Sunday, including the first six hitters he faced, a franchise record. That will presumably intrigue contending teams, even though the Rays eventually scored four runs off him on their way to the comeback win.
“I’m not quite there yet, but I’m definitely making strides,” Sanchez said afterwards. “You’ve just got to ride it out. Hopefully this trend of me feeling good continues.”
After battling command issues for most of the season, Sanchez has cut down on walks dramatically of late. He walked two in his first start after the all-star break and just one in the start after that. In the two starts since? No walks at all.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen wasn’t nearly as effective, however, and closer Ken Giles was unavailable–a potentially concerning development as the front office listens to trade offers on the 28-year-old.
“He wasn’t 100 per cent, so I stayed away from him,” Montoyo said.
And in case the drama on the field wasn’t enough, the Blue Jays are in the process of making changes to their coaching staff–an unusual choice at this time of year. Shelley Duncan, the team’s major-league field coordinator, will be reassigned within the organization, sources told Shi Davidi and me.
The decision appears unrelated to the Stroman trade, as change was brewing before Sunday. While specifics aren’t clear, some observers sensed growing distance between Duncan and the rest of the coaching staff of late.
So, to recap. You have two trades, one involving a division rival and another involving one of the Blue Jays’ best homegrown pitchers in recent memory. There’s a surging starter and a sidelined closer. There’s a top prospect on his way up and a coach now on his way out. And all of it happened within the span of five hours.
That’s a lot of change for one afternoon. And over the next few days, there’s sure to be even more of it.