TORONTO – Down to hours remaining before Monday’s 4 p.m. ET trade deadline arrives, an interesting question is how transformative do the Toronto Blue Jays want to get in bolstering their roster for a run at the post-season.
The obvious need, even after the acquisition of right-hander Taijuan Walker on Thursday, is for another starting pitcher, as there’s still one more hole in their rotation, set to be covered by a bullpen day Tuesday.
But how far should the Blue Jays front office go in augmenting a relentless club that won for the 11th time in 14 outings Sunday, rallying past the Baltimore Orioles 6-5 on Teoscar Hernandez’s two-out, two-run walk-off single? At this stage of a careful rebuild, what kind of win-now pieces are worth adding in responsible pursuit of the club’s first playoff berth since 2015-16?
“What our club has done is we lose people, key people and somebody steps us and does the job. Losing Bo Bichette is pretty big, I never said it (that way), but that’s a good player,” manager Charlie Montoyo said in careful comments designed to not tip the club’s hand. “That’s what makes winning teams and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Adding another starter won’t be easy, as shown by Atlanta’s acquisition of lefty Tommy Milone from the Orioles, who also sent reliever Mychal Givens to the Colorado Rockies before the game in a pair of subtraction trades that pulled the chute on their 2020.
Milone is pitching well right now, but under normal circumstances is more of a depth/insurance type of add for a playoff favourite seeking to bolster itself. But as Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations, pointed out on a conference call, “there aren’t a lot of sellers. With the expanded playoffs, even those teams on the outside looking in, they’re close. There’s not a lot of inventory out there.”
Hence, there’s “a big market” for Texas Rangers starter Lance Lynn, according to one industry source, and while the Blue Jays have checked in on the righty, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a fit.
The Rangers are said to like the Blue Jays’ young catchers, but subtracting from that duo wouldn’t make sense without another complement add, and Jason Castro, the best option out there, is reportedly headed from the Los Angeles Angels to the San Diego Padres.
A second source wondered if they might build a package around Lourdes Gurriel Jr., whose name was bandied about in trade talks over the winter, while a third source said the Blue Jays have shown interest in Angels outfielder Brian Goodwin, a left-handed bat who can play all three outfield spots.
Lynn along with Dylan Bundy of the Angels, another trade candidate, are starters who come with one additional year of contractual control, which obviously raises the acquisition cost. Up the food chain, there’s the super-car possibility of Mike Clevinger, under control through the 2022 season with the requisite price tag.
Multiple top prospects in the Jordan Groshans/Simeon Woods Richardson vein, maybe with a big-league piece, too, would be needed to pull that one off, and it’s a reasonable to debate if now’s the time to make such a trade when the Blue Jays can add starters via free agency this winter.
At the same time, a case can be made that getting better defensively might make more sense, as the expanded rosters make a month of bullpen games — with Shun Yamaguchi capable of serving as the bulk arm — more feasible. Injured starters Nate Pearson and Matt Shoemaker are both throwing and while there isn’t enough time to stretch them out in a meaningful way over the remaining 28 games, they’ll deepen the bullpen soon enough, too.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, another member of the stripping down Angels, was reported as a possibility Saturday, while Orioles shortstop Jose Iglesias would be an interesting fit covering for Bichette, who added grounders Sunday to his careful resumption of baseball activities.
Goodwin, who has rated as an above average defender in advanced metrics during previous seasons although his results have been more mixed this year, would help shore up the outfield defence. But for more impact in that regard, Jackie Bradley Jr., of the Boston Red Sox, who dealt Mitch Moreland to the aggressively pushing Padres, would be a game-changer.
The difference plus defenders can make was evident again Sunday, when Iglesias beat out a two-out soft chopper over Anthony Bass’s head in the ninth, allowing Rio Ruiz to score to take the lead. A defender like Simmons or Iglesias aren’t guaranteed to have gotten the out, but would have had a better chance at it than Joe Panik.
That run put the Blue Jays down 5-4 but Cole Sulser surrendered a walkoff hit for the second time in the series. After Panik’s leadoff walk, Reese McGuire’s sacrifice bunt and Cavan Biggio’s pop out, Randal Grichuk and Travis Shaw both walked before Hernandez ripped a groundball through the 5-6 hole to secure an 11th win in 14 outings.
With 12 homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.001 OPS, the right-fielder is one of the key reasons the Blue Jays have gone from sellers the past three deadlines to buyers during this one.
“When I got here we had (Jose) Bautista, (Josh) Donaldson, (Russ) Martin, (Troy) Tulowitzki, (Kevin) Pillar, (Justin) Smoak, all those big guys, I got excited because I was going to a team that competes every time,” Hernandez, the key piece back from the Houston Astros in a 2017 deadline deal for Francisco Liriano. “But as soon as I got here, everybody was going out, they were trading every guy and there have been tough times. But we’re here now, I’m the oldest one, there’s nobody else here from 2017 on this team, and every (new) guy that gets here is one of us, and it feels like as soon as they get here, we get together and we’re going to stick together until the end.”
The Blue Jays are 6-0 versus the Orioles this season, despite Tanner Roark surrendering a 3-1 lead during a three-run sixth capped by Ryan Mountcastle’s second homer of the game, a two-run job. Rowdy Tellez’s two-out RBI single in the eighth tied things up 4-4 before Gurriel stranded men on the corners, with victory secured the next frame.
“You put the right pieces together for a team to win, the right attitude, you go out there expecting to win every day, play as hard as you can each and every game, do the little things right like we did today, and it pays off,” said Roark. “It shows with us. There’s no quit in us. We’re two games past the halfway point, which is pretty crazy to think about, but each game matters and now it starts getting down to even more that each game matters. Winning is the only thing that matters, go out there, play hard and you know what this team can do.”
Resiliency has been a trademark for the Blue Jays, who two weeks ago fell four games under .500 by blowing a pair of games to the Tampa Bay Rays while losing Bichette to a knee injury. There were seven late-game losses during that span, something coach Dante Bichette, Bo’s dad, says “usually take the heart out of a team, especially a young team if there’s two or three in a row.”
“We did have those early, tight games where we lost them late. This team just amazingly showed up every day after those tough losses,” Bichette continued. “And that’s been the key to me. When you walk around in that clubhouse, it’s like we’re panicking way more than they are. They really believe in themselves and you’re like, wow, they really believe in themselves every day. So all those tight losses early never fazed them and that’s why we’re in a position we’re in.”
Adding rather than subtracting, pushing for the present, rather than regrouping for better days down the road.