ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Last summer, as the Toronto Blue Jays weighed their options ahead of the trade deadline, their record was 51-48 with playoff odds at 26.2 per cent. A justifiable case could have been made to go conservative, hoard prospects and wait for a better opportunity. They didn’t, acquiring Jose Berrios instead, electrifying their clubhouse and their fan base, and sparking a 40-23 finish that left them one game shy of the post-season.
That experience has carried over into 2022 and with less than 24 hours remaining before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, they stood in possession of the first wild card spot at 57-45, with playoff odds at 97.2 per cent according to Fangraphs. The year-over-year difference is clear to centre-fielder George Springer and underlines why this group has earned more additions.
“This year we understand what it takes to get there and we expect to be there,” says Springer. “Last year was let's just enjoy this ride and let's see what happens. Obviously, that's when we got Jose. He's been incredible for us. I know he would say he's had his ups and downs, but that's the game. I just think we're in a much different position mentally as a team, as opposed to saying, well, it'd be great to get there. We expect to be there. That's the biggest change.”
How that will impact the Blue Jays’ thinking in the final hours before the cutoff is unclear.
While rivals like the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays have all made additions to try and alter their field position, the Blue Jays have yet to strike. The expectation remains that they will, with their focus on adding pitching, according to industry sources. It is believed they have the ability and financial capacity for impactful moves.
One of those sources believes the Blue Jays were “neck-and-neck,” with the Yankees for right-hander Frankie Montas and reliever Lou Trivino. The inclusion of pitching prospects Ken Waldichuk and Luis Medina, ranked Nos. 5 and 9 in their system by Baseball America, likely tipped the scales in New York’s favour.
That deal was the third one made by the Yankees, who at 69-34 have an 11.5 game lead on the Blue Jays in the American League East and are eyeing the World Series. Before the deal, their FanGraphs odds of going all the way stood at 13.1 per cent, trailing the Dodgers (17.3%), Astros (15.9%) and Mets (14.5%).
Atlanta was next at 11.6 per cent followed by the Blue Jays at 6.8 per cent and while a couple of deals won’t necessarily alter that dramatically, more important is this question: how often will they have this type of opportunity before them?
The Blue Jays, as always, intend to be mindful of the future while chasing the present, but pivotal is that they know their prospects well and ensure they don’t trade the wrong ones.
Identifying that accurately isn’t easy as two years ago, no one would have dared to part with Nate Pearson, while now, because of the right-hander’s injuries and bad luck, it’s a different story.
Pulling off a deal without sacrificing their best pieces is the challenge and perhaps a reason why nothing has happened yet. But there’s a risk in overemphasizing future potential at the expense of present impact.
The bullpen is an obvious area of need and the Blue Jays could use starting depth, as well. They are believed to like David Robertson’s combination of experience and stuff, and as a rental, he fits their comfort zone. Prying him from the Chicago Cubs is the challenge.
A more complicated matchup is with the Detroit Tigers, and speculation on their end was that some of their players would end up crossing over to the Blue Jays side this weekend.
Their motivation is clear, concluding that what they did this year didn’t work and if nothing changes, well, nothing changes. At the same time though, unlike rental righty Michael Fulmer, who is on the Blue Jays’ radar, dealing away relievers with extended periods of contractual control like Joe Jimenez, Gregory Soto, Alex Lange or Will Vest could leave them looking for replacement arms down the road.
This recent depiction of trade talks from Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black reflects the dilemma facing the Tigers: “‘Hey, you guys have a Range Rover. We’ll take your Range Rover and we’ll give you our Honda Accord.’ And teams expect you to do that,” said Black. “Why would we do that? ‘How could you not trade your Range Rover?’ Because we might try to keep our Range Rover, rather than trade it for your Subaru.”
The larger point is that for the Blue Jays to get more than a rental, they’re going to have to sway the other side. Did the Luis Castillo deal create an inflationary effect so severe they won’t pay current prices? Are they simply waiting to see who blinks first to get the deal they want?
All Blue Jays players can do is wait to see what happens.
Springer remembers the deadline adds the Astros made on the regular and the boost they provided.
“They're huge,” he says. “Anybody that gets added in, whoever it is, I'm sure we've either crossed paths as a team before or know of what they can do. But at the same time, I think every guy in this room is completely content and extremely happy with the guys that we have in here. This is a playoff team as of now. That's what we believe. Anybody that gets brought in, whether it's now or not, we'll embrace it and still have the same mentality.”
In the event nothing happens, that’s the right thing to say, but for the front office, it would be the wrong thing to do.