TORONTO -- Over the past year, Matt Chapman’s gone from one extreme of the competitive cycle to the other and back again.
Last July, his Oakland Athletics were buyers at the trade deadline for a fourth straight season before tearing down their roster -- the difference-making third baseman among the subtractions -- once the lockout ended. With the Toronto Blue Jays, he’s back on a club looking to augment ahead of the Aug. 2 cutoff, curious as everyone else about what comes next.
“I feel like this is what I’m used to,” Chapman said before hitting his 19th home run in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Friday night. “If your team is in it, you should try to make yourself a little bit better because everybody else is doing that. We want to win and our goal is to win a World Series, so that’s exciting.
“I saw the Oakland thing coming, I just didn’t know when, and grateful that I came here and grateful that it happened at the beginning of the season. Getting traded in the middle of a season is probably a cluster of things. I’m happy, I’m settled and whoever we get, we’re going to be excited to have.”
Intrigue continued to build Friday about exactly who the Blue Jays just might get.
One line of thinking is that adding a top-flight leverage arm or two to the bullpen remains their biggest area of opportunity, both strengthening the depth behind closer Jordan Romano and fortifying the bridge to him.
But while George Springer leaving Thursday’s 5-3 win early with right elbow discomfort raised concern about the club’s lack of centre-field depth, a more alarming reminder of how tenuous the rotation is came in the sixth inning Friday when Alek Manoah was forced from his outing after a Jonathan Schoop comebacker mostly caught muscle around his right elbow.
The all-star righty doubled over in pain and circled the mound, waiting for the sting to ebb before a hushed gathering of 28,046. Head trainer Jose Ministral ran out and after an extended discussion, Tim Mayza was called in from the bullpen.
“(Ministral) asked where it got me, I showed him, he was like, 'Does it hurt?' And I said, 'I think it was more just the initial shock,'" recalled Manoah. "I said, 'Did we get the out?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'OK, let me throw a couple more,' and he said, 'Are you crazy?' I said, 'No, I just want to keep pitching,' and he said, 'I think this is a good time for you to get out of here.'”
X-rays on Manoah later came back negative and he was diagnosed with an elbow contusion, a major exhale for the Blue Jays. They don’t yet know if he’ll be ready to make his next start, but that he felt well enough to lobby Ministral to stay in the game is a promising starting point.
“We’ll see how everything feels tomorrow and go from there,” said interim manager John Schneider.
As worrying a moment it was, overreacting isn’t a sound way to run any business.
But given the internal debate the Blue Jays are having on how to best support the club, the rotation is probably the area most exposed if there’s an injury, or if Yusei Kikuchi’s promising outing Thursday turns out to be more blip than bounce-back.
For that reason, anteing up for an elite starter may very well be the wisest course of action, even if that task became much more difficult after the Seattle Mariners acquired ace Luis Castillo late Friday night.
The Cincinnati Reds extracted four prospects, including the Mariners’ Nos. 1, 2 and 10 according to Baseball America, in the deal, underlying the prohibitive cost of starting pitching in a market that’s now far thinner.
Frankie Montas of the Oakland Athletics and perhaps Pablo Lopez of the Miami Marlins remain in play, and there may be an opportunity for a creative outfielder-for-Jose Urquidy framework with the Houston Astros.
The path forward for the Reds with Castillo was clear, but Montas’s recent shoulder inflammation may muddy the waters for the A’s, while the Marlins’ plans are less defined, with one source suggesting they want “a ton” for Lopez to sway their decision.
A high price tag is more than justifiable but one of the key challenges for buyers at this time of year is identifying what’s real and what isn’t, lest they spend days chasing their tail dealing with a team simply trying to gauge value, or land a monster return.
The Los Angeles Angels may be Exhibit A in that regard with Shohei Ohtani, who would be an obvious focus for any contender if not for the skepticism on whether he’ll get dealt or not.
A deal of that magnitude is difficult to pull off in such a tight timeframe -- consider the runway the Washington Nationals built into the Juan Soto sweepstakes -- making it risky to invest manpower into an Ohtani pursuit when hours are finite and the Angels’ intent unclear.
Ohtani is, obviously, the dream add, even more so than Soto, but the Reds were clearly selling Castillo and the Blue Jays don’t really have a sixth starter should they need one for the rotation.
Rookie Max Castillo has impressed in a small sample but he’s thrown only 12.1 innings since July 7, just two of them in the past two weeks. To suddenly think he’s going to carry five frames or more every five days is really pie-in-the-sky scenario-planning.
As a general rule, relievers are volatile and the Blue Jays have been and remain largely reluctant to divert significant resources, both in dollars and prospect capital, toward them. That suggests they’re likelier to target bullpen rentals to minimize the spend and avoid the year-to-year risk.
In that way, David Robertson or Daniel Bard, say, would seem more likely than David Bednar or Gregory Soto, although there’s believed to be a clear interest in the fire-throwing lefty.
The Tigers showcased relievers all along the scale in closing out their win, with the nasty Joe Jimenez (one-plus season of contractual control) handling the seventh, pending free agent Michael Fulmer working the eighth and Soto (three-plus seasons of contractual control) the ninth.
Six of the 10 batters they faced struck out, the kind of relief the Blue Jays need.
“Our lineup stacks up against anybody in the league and they threw some really good arms,” said Schneider. “Everyone knows that's a good bullpen.”
If the price is right the Blue Jays would gladly have one or two of them cross the diamond this weekend, but the Tigers would be wise to play things out to the wire and see if need causes a desperate club to overpay, perhaps even grossly so.
If that’s what it’s going to take, there’s a case to be made for focusing resources on an elite starter as injury risk aside, the Blue Jays must also be mindful of the workloads on Manoah and Ross Stripling.
With another 5.1 innings Friday, Manoah is now at 126 innings, four frames away from eclipsing the career high he established last year, while Stripling, at 78.1 frames, is within range of the 101.1 innings he logged in 2021.
Protecting them while also guarding against injury and potential Kikuchi volatility certainly seems necessary.
As those considerations play out in the background, all the Blue Jays players can do is take care of business when they’re on the field and consider the possibilities when they’re not, free of the stress and anxiety of players on selling clubs right now.
“I enjoy this time of year because it's win now and that's all I really want to do, win,” said Chapman. “It's fun to think about who you could get and what's going on. But it seems like a lot more teams are adding than subtracting this year, so it could be anybody's ball game. I've learned that this team is committed, the front office knows what they want to do and I think they're kind of evaluating right now. But this team right now, we’re good enough to compete with anybody. Anything we get makes us that much better.”