TORONTO – One year and one day from his out-of-their-comfort-zone acquisition by the Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Berrios was back on the mound Sunday afternoon, driving his team to a 12th victory in 15 outings and another series win.
Sure, trading top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson hurt at the time, but to land one of the available crown jewels during last summer’s frenzy? Totally worth it, even with the ace right-hander’s non-linear season thus far.
Given the chance, nobody in the organization is undoing that deal now and the psychological lift the Berrios blockbuster provided is worth reflecting on as the Blue Jays headed into the home stretch ahead of this year’s Aug. 2 cut-off.
Berrios allowed one run in seven dominant innings, Matt Chapman hit a two-run homer while Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette added RBI doubles in a 4-1 win over the Detroit Tigers. The Blue Jays improved to 57-45, in possession of the first wild card spot and situated in a much better place than they were a year ago when they took the plunge.
“Last year, there was a lot of emotion and hype around coming home and the additions we made,” said interim manager John Schneider in comparing the situation last summer to this one. “Right now we're still a really, really good team, that’s playing really well right now. So, similar (situations) but you put a year of experience and a year of playing together with this group and I really like where we are right now.”
Added Berrios: “I came here for one purpose, for one reason and I've got (winning) in mind. That's why I extended my (contract) for seven more years. Everyone here (is working) to make that happen and to win a World Series.”
For that reason, the Blue Jays can’t suddenly go all conservative in a market that tilted further in the sellers’ favour when Seattle sent three top-10 prospects, including their Nos. 1 and 2, and another player to Cincinnati for ace Luis Castillo.
Compared to the cost for Berrios a year ago, the inflation was jarring, the deadline equivalent of the year-over-year change to your gas bill. The Blue Jays are fortunate enough to have a farm system that can afford the spike and it’s on them to augment in as responsible a manner as they can, no matter how much they dislike the prices.
One rival evaluator, breaking down their roster and chances, noted how this is a down year for the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, that the Mariners are desperate, that wild-card hopefuls Cleveland and Minnesota aren’t on the Blue Jays’ level.
“I hope they go for it,” he said.
To that end the Blue Jays’ focuses, according to another industry source, appeared to be on adding a starter and two relief pieces, with a lean toward the rental side.
Jon Morosi of MLB Network said the trade market for Oakland Athletics starter Frankie Montas was locked in on the Blue Jays, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals and the righty has another year left of contractual control, making him more expensive.
The Blue Jays and A’s know each other well from making the Chapman deal back in the spring and one tenet of trading at this time of year is to only use your top prospects if an all-star calibre player is coming back in return.
Montas, who recently returned from shoulder issues, is definitely in the upper tier of starters but his health is a question. He’d undoubtedly provide a major boost for their rotation, but there’s a case to be made that plowing mid-tier prospect capital into the bullpen might be more impactful.
The Blue Jays have been reluctant to make significant bullpen investments in recent seasons because of the volatility in reliever performance, but when push comes to shove in the playoffs, the ball is often in their hands when games are decided.
For that reason, David Robertson of the Chicago Cubs seems like a happy medium, offering both experience, in-season performance and rental status to keep the price more tolerable.
The Tigers have another rental on their radar in Michael Fulmer, but also some longer-term pieces that fit for the Blue Jays in Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez and Alex Lange. Each auditioned here this weekend and the sense on the other side of the dugout is that some of their players would remain in Toronto.
That didn’t play out and the Tigers will need to be tempted to surrender relievers with multiple years of control beyond this season, because if they’re soon to turn the corner, they’ll be looking for relievers like Soto, Jimenez and Lange to have in their bullpen.
The Blue Jays have most of what they need and are the finishing piece stage. Their current 12-3 stretch, on the heels of a 1-9 run, has highlighted what they can be when they’re at their best and a few more pieces will only make them all the more formidable.
Last year, “we had the confidence in who we were and we hadn't shown it yet,” said Bichette. “Now we know and everybody else knows what we're capable of. Defintiely we're in a better spot.”
Added Chapman, in discussing what he likes most about the team’s recent run: “We're not just hitting homers. We're not just going out there and striking everybody out. We’re playing defence. The pitchers are giving us a chance to stay in games. Bullpen's been able to come in and shut the door. We're just seeing a more well-rounded version of our team. Guys are stealing bases. We're moving around the bases fast. When you have a bunch of different ways to win baseball games, it's going to be huge because you're not going to go into October and just start slugging and just outhit people. That’s when pitching really shines.”
Indeed it does and the Blue Jays already have more than most in that regard. But a team can never have enough pitching and can always strengthen the bullpen, which even if the price is unpalatably high, is worth doing when their roster presents them with this type of opportunity.