TORONTO – The risk management and use of financial might common to the Toronto Blue Jays’ pre-deadline deals last year showed up again in their first trade of consequence this summer, a trend likely instructive to their approach in the weeks ahead.
In adding righty Adam Cimber to bolster a bullpen in desperate need of help and outfielder Corey Dickerson who, if healthy, offers a power left-handed bat to come off the bench and start against tough righties, general manager Ross Atkins surrendered precious little.
Joe Panik, a veteran utilityman made redundant by the emergence of Santiago Espinal, and minor-league righty Andrew McInvale, a raw double-A power reliever unlikely to haunt his former team, went the other way.
Once salaries and the cash considerations are factored in, the Blue Jays take on roughly an extra $1 million, and that helped discount the purchase price. Given that Cimber comes with three more years of contractual control after this one, it’s a measured buy emblematic of the asset management this front office employed in 2020, as well.
As a refresher, the Blue Jays made four deals last summer without touching any of their top prospects:
• RHP Taijuan Walker from Seattle for rookie-ball OF Alberto Rodriguez
• LHP Robbie Ray and cash from Arizona for up-and-down LHP Travis Bergen
• RHP Ross Stripling from the Dodgers for rookie-ball RHP Kendall Williams and A-ball OF/1B Ryan Noda
• INF Jonathan Villar from Miami for A-ball OF Griffin Conine
Now, it’s possible one of those minor-leaguers in that group emerges and becomes a decent major-leaguer. But in finding ways to extract immediate big-league help without sacrificing any of their prospects likeliest to succeed, the Blue Jays are protecting their ability to replenish and renew their own core in the coming years.
The theory behind that is the steady production of elite prospects will allow the Blue Jays to be competitive sustainably, avoiding extended cyclical dips. But the limitation of such an approach is that it cuts a team off from the truly elite players who shake loose at the deadline and in the off-season, as they tend to cost multiple top-10 prospects.
The Blue Jays have hinted at making those types of deals when the time is right, likely when they’re looking for a finishing piece rather than to bolster in multiple areas the way they are now.
Cimber, 30, is the key piece in this deal and while not a conventional high-velocity leverage type, the sidearmer with a funky delivery and an 86.9 m.p.h. fastball routinely induces weak contact, sitting in the 96th percentile for avoiding barrels and 81st percentile for exit velocity.
He mixes a fastball, sinker and slider nearly equally, generating a groundball rate of 73.8 per cent with his sinker. That’s a weapon manager Charlie Montoyo can use as an emergency fire extinguisher with men on base, or to help get leads to closer Jordan Romano, strengthening a leverage group that right now also includes Tim Mayza and Tyler Chatwood.
“For sure he's going to help our bullpen a lot and what he does is give us a different look, so I'm really looking forward to getting him to the group,” Montoyo said. “And just like everybody else, he's going to get a chance to pitch in high leverage.”
Dickerson, currently on the injured list with what the Marlins called a foot contusion, is an intriguing add once he’s healthy, which may not be until after the all-star break. The 32-year-old, in the second year of a $17.5-million, two-year deal, also plays Gold Glove calibre defence (he won one in 2018) but his .706 OPS over 114 games with Miami is off his career mark of .816.
Montoyo was the third base coach with the Rays when Dickerson was an all-star there in 2017.
“I like the guy a lot,” Montoyo said. “He's a gamer. He's going to give us a left-handed bat off the bench, he can play left and he's going to be a good addition. As you know, we've got a right-handed lineup and if you add him, a left-handed bat like that is going to help us a lot.”
Once healthy and assuming no one else gets hurt, Dickerson creates a major glut in the Blue Jays outfield and that surplus may offer them other opportunities from which to trade.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has come up in trade talks the past two winters and is one possibility, while Randal Grichuk may be tougher to trade given his ability to cover for George Springer in centre field, if needed.
Panik did a nice job for the Blue Jays as the extra infielder after joining the club last spring but Espinal’s consistent contributions and strong defence was eating into his playing time.
McInvale, a right-hander pitching at double-A New Hampshire, was a 37th round pick in 2019. In 20.2 innings over 13 games, he had a 2.18 ERA and 28 strikeouts with a 1.21 WHIP.