Some way-too-early trade deadline planning for the Blue Jays

toronto-blue-jays-gm-ross-atkins-with-ceo-mark-shapiro

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, left, and team president Mark Shapiro, right. (Nathan Denette/CP)

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After 30 games, MLB teams are still gathering information on just about everything: the performance of their current players; the health of their existing roster; and the development of the minor-leaguers, whose season began just a couple of days ago. It goes without saying that May 7 is far too early to make any final assessments about MLB teams.

But if teams didn’t make some preliminary evaluations, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. And while front offices must use this time of year to set the minor-league season in motion and prepare for the amateur draft, improving the big-league team is always a priority for contenders. Regardless of the time of year, front-office executives obsess over the big-league roster and how to improve it.

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With that goal in mind, contending teams at least have internal discussions about what they might want to do at the trade deadline. For now, the majority of those talks are casual in nature, but over the coming months, they’ll lead to pro scouting assignments, trade inquiries and, eventually, deals.

So, what might that mean within the Blue Jays’ front office? Thirty games into the 2021 season, let’s take a way-too-early look at what team decision makers should be keeping on their radar…

INFIELDERS
The last time the same player started at third three times in a row was mid-April. Since then, the Blue Jays have been rotating three players through the hot corner in search of answers. Now one of those players, Joe Panik, is dealing with calf tightness.

Maybe a solution emerges in the coming months, whether it’s Cavan Biggio, who leads big-league third basemen in errors, Santiago Espinal, who can field but brings less offensive upside, or even a prospect like Jordan Groshans.

But it’s also imaginable that no one does enough to claim the job outright, in which case the Blue Jays will still be seeking answers in a couple of months. Considering that possibility, the Blue Jays should be monitoring potential trade candidates at the position, including Colin Moran and Kyle Seager, two veterans who bat from the left side, and Kris Bryant, whose bounce-back offensive performance might make him the most coveted bat of the summer.

STARTING PITCHING
If Nate Pearson returns to the rotation at some point in the next week or so, the Blue Jays would be reasonably well positioned for the short-term, especially since Steven Matz and Robbie Ray have been useful contributors behind staff ace Hyun-Jin Ryu.

But if the Blue Jays want to take their rotation from solid to great, looking outside the organization makes sense. Last winter the Padres completely re-made their rotation by trading for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, and while no one’s expecting that kind of transformation, there’s no reason the Blue Jays shouldn’t start their search with the best options available.

Short-term, an elite starter would make a difference down the stretch and into October. And ideally, that pitcher would have control remaining beyond 2021, allowing him to join Ryu, Pearson and Alek Manoah for multiple years to come.

Of course, the higher the Blue Jays aim, the more prospects they’ll have to surrender, so lesser starters should be assessed as well. Even a mid-rotation starter like Kyle Gibson (whom the Blue Jays attempted to sign two winters ago) or Andrew Heaney would have the potential to nudge the existing pitching staff forward in a few months’ time.

RELIEF HELP
To this point, Blue Jays relievers have been great, combining for a 2.40 ERA that leads MLB. Without this group, the Blue Jays wouldn’t be where they are now.

But let’s be realistic here. Not only is some regression coming for a group with a 4.07 xFIP, but injuries impact most teams over the course of the grind of a six-month season. Julian Merryweather’s throwing on flat ground now, so maybe he returns by mid-season, but still. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine scenarios where the Blue Jays aren’t in need of relief help.

With all that in mind, the team will want to explore what options exist. There’s tons of volatility in the relief market, but there’s also opportunity to find impact arms. And any team expecting to be playing in October needs as many difference makers as possible, so it can’t hurt to get an early read on who those pitchers might be.

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