For decades, teams could acquire players all August thanks to the existence of waiver trades. Now that baseball has moved to a single deadline, those moves are no longer possible. Any significant additions will have to wait until the winter, not only for contenders but also for rebuilding teams like the Toronto Blue Jays.
So where do the Blue Jays stand now? Their major-league team still has significant flaws, particularly on the pitching side, but the emergence of young position players has created considerable optimism. In the minors, the farm system ranks ninth among the 30 big-league teams, according to Baseball America.
With the caveat that lots will change between now and the beginning of next year, let’s look ahead at the team’s 2020 depth chart. As strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves, it’ll become easier to anticipate the Blue Jays’ next moves…
The left side of the Blue Jays’ infield looks tough to beat — potentially for years to come. Guerrero Jr.’s already hitting like a star with a 116 wRC+ that’s right up there with Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado. If the early indications are to be believed, Bichette has real offensive upside, too.
Biggio’s strikeout rate has jumped considerably since arriving in the majors and he’s not hitting lefties much, but his ability to work an at-bat allows him to reach base more than most. Plus, the Blue Jays like his versatility and drive. Chances are he gets most of the starts at second.
That leaves first base, where you could re-sign Justin Smoak or give most of the at-bats to Tellez, but there’s also a chance to add here. A decade ago, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion emerged as stars after other organizations overlooked them. Why not get greedy and take a shot with someone here? This is a chance to make an already-promising offence even better. Best-case, you hit big. And if it doesn’t work, you move on, no harm done.
None of this rules out a new deal with Smoak or more chances for Tellez, but there’s lots of opportunity with first base and DH both relatively open.
Just as we anticipated entering the season, the Blue Jays have one corner spot locked down and question marks elsewhere on the outfield. The only difference: It’s left field, not right, that seems most promising.
The emergence of Gurriel Jr. as an offensive force ranks among the most positive developments of the year for the Blue Jays, while Grichuk hasn’t produced to expectations since signing a $52-million extension. Still, he projects as the 2020 right fielder and Hernandez will likely patrol centre if he can build off a productive July at the plate and continue providing solid defence.
Beyond that, Fisher, McKinney and Alford are leading candidates to contribute in complementary roles (or, once injuries strike, on an everyday basis).
It took a while, but Jansen turned his season around at the plate. He’ll continue to start most games, but his backups still matter given the potential for injuries at that position. While Maile counts among the Blue Jays’ clubhouse leaders, his OPS sits at just .447 as he approaches arbitration for the first time. That creates an opportunity for McGuire to play a bigger role on next year’s team.
Leading candidates: RHP Matt Shoemaker, LHP Ryan Borucki, RHP Trent Thornton
On the big-league radar: RHP Jacob Waguespack, LHP Thomas Pannone, RHP Sean Reid-Foley, RHP Yennsy Diaz, LHP Anthony Kay, RHP Julian Merryweather, RHP T.J. Zeuch
Prospects on the rise: RHP Nate Pearson, RHP Patrick Murphy
The Blue Jays’ projected 2020 rotation offers little certainty, especially now that Borucki’s sidelined with more elbow trouble. You can pencil Shoemaker in for one rotation spot, and Thornton looks like a good bet for another. Beyond that, this rotation’s pretty wide open.
The way Ross Atkins sees it, the Blue Jays will see some success stories emerge from this group. History tells us there will be plenty of busts along the way, too. Given the attrition rate for pitchers, there’s sure to be opportunity here.
If there’s one pitcher here with clear front-of-the-rotation upside it’s Pearson, who now ranks 15th among all prospects according to Baseball America. At this rate it’s easy to see Pearson spending most of the 2020 season in the major-league rotation.
First, some patience will likely be required. The Blue Jays are watching Pearson’s workload carefully after a 2018 season in which he logged just 22 innings. As such, it appears unlikely he’ll debut in the majors this fall.
And if the Blue Jays are waiting until next year anyways, why not keep Pearson in the minors for a few more weeks and secure a seventh year of team control? It’s not fair to Pearson to keep him in the minors once he’s ready for the next challenge, but under the current collective bargaining agreement, teams are incentivized to manipulate top prospects’ service time.
Those in-house arms should just be part of the solution, though. This off-season looks like an ideal time to add a couple of capable starters in free agency. Granted, that can be easier said than done in this market, but the Blue Jays have payroll flexibility and a need for arms. Now’s the time to start shopping for pitchers who can contribute on the next contending Blue Jays team.
A strong finish for Giles would open up the possibility of an off-season trade for controllable players. Until then he projects as the Blue Jays’ closer.
Beyond Giles, the Blue Jays have plenty of selection but few sure things. Because many of these relievers have options remaining next year, the team has flexibility here. With that in mind, they should look to add multiple major-league calibre relievers in free agency.
A strong position player core should position the Blue Jays to contend by 2021 at the latest. While most spots in the lineup are now spoken for, there’s room for the Blue Jays to add a high-upside bat at first base or DH.
On the pitching side, there’s far more work ahead. Maybe the Blue Jays will see some of their existing pitching depth break out, as Atkins predicts. In the meantime, the front office should be adding to both the bullpen and the rotation. Expect much of the off-season to revolve around this search.