Evaluating trade options for struggling but talented Blue Jays team

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Robbie Ray spoke with Arash Madani about why the team doesn't need to panic and just needs to stay the course.

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays’ recent struggles have made the need for help on this roster clear for all to see. And as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, the Blue Jays hope to add talent, creating an intriguing tug of war between Toronto’s front office and the team executives elsewhere who seek to turn a string of blown leads to their own advantage.

As anyone who watches the Blue Jays can tell you, this team needs bullpen help. The acquisition of Jacob Barnes, an out-of-options right-hander who had a 6.27 ERA in 19 games for the Mets, doesn’t change that. And with that need in mind, the front office continues exploring deals for relievers.

Finding the right bounce-back candidate could provide manager Charlie Montoyo with some of the quality innings his bullpen has so clearly been lacking in recent weeks. Best-case scenario, Barnes proves to be just as important to this bullpen as Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit were in 2016.

But counting on that kind of resurgence from a pitcher who’s averaging one home run allowed for every nine hitters he faces is beyond dangerous, which is why the Blue Jays are also exploring the market for higher-tier relievers. From the outside looking in, Richard Rodriguez of the Pirates, Paul Fry of the Orioles, Kendall Graveman of the Mariners, Ian Kennedy of the Rangers and Ross Detwiler of the Marlins would all appear to be upgrades.

Yet non-contending teams have so far maintained high asking prices for the veteran relievers on their rosters, according to sources. And until the July 31 deadline draws closer, there’s little reason for them to move off that stance. With that in mind, bounce-back candidates like Barnes and internal options like Patrick Murphy and Tayler Saucedo are the ones getting chances for now.

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Eventually, it’s the job of the front office to make the most of this promising young core, high asking prices or not. Ultimately the goal is winning playoff berths and championships – not coming out ahead in every last trade.

But even if other teams might ask about Jordan Groshans or Nate Pearson, that doesn’t mean the Blue Jays will have to overpay. In fact, their own recent history at the deadline suggests veteran relievers should eventually be available for more modest prospect returns.

Consider the following trades, which included fringe pitching prospects performing well at the upper minors, low-level fliers and, in Forrest Wall, a former top prospect who had fallen on hard times…

• Joe Smith, 2017 – for Thomas Pannone, AA starter; Samad Taylor, rookie ball infielder
• Aaron Loup, 2018 – for Jacob Waguespack, AAA starter
• John Axford, 2018 – for Corey Copping, AAA reliever
• Seunghwan Oh, 2018 – for Forrest Wall, AA outfielder; Chad Spanberger Class A first baseman
• David Phelps, 2019 – for Thomas Hatch, AA starter
• Daniel Hudson, 2019 – for Kyle Johnston, A+ starter

If those trades hint at what’s to come, the Blue Jays won’t need to part with their top-rated prospects to add veterans to the bullpen. Applying that same logic to the Blue Jays’ current system, triple-A players like Zach Logue, Kevin Smith and Logan Warmoth appear to be more reasonable trade targets for non-contenders in the weeks ahead.

Yet regardless of what happens in the bullpen, there are other needs to consider as the deadline approaches. The starting pitching market currently looks weak, and as long as the Blue Jays hover near the .500 mark, it’s hard to see them parting with top prospects for rentals there, either.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Ever since the Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins front office took over, they’ve been methodical and systematic when it comes to building their roster. So even if Max Scherzer were to become available in a few weeks’ time (certainly not a guarantee as he’s likely to become the Nationals’ first Hall of Famer) it would be a major departure from the norm to see the Blue Jays make the kind of aggressive offer that would be needed to sway Washington’s front office – especially the way Toronto’s active roster is now struggling.

As ever, controllable players are a different story. If the Blue Jays can add someone who can help them now and in the future, the calibre of prospects available instantly climbs. For what it’s worth, Kyle Gibson and Yusei Kikuchi were both of interest to the Blue Jays two winters ago and have multiple years of control remaining.

And it’s not just the pitching staff the Blue Jays are looking to address. Alongside their search for arms, they have also been exploring ways to add a left-handed bat to their roster and increase the team’s offensive ceiling further.

For instance, Mike Ford was believed to be on their radar before the Rays acquired him from the Yankees. On paper, Joey Gallo, Kyle Schwarber and Corey Dickerson are possible fits for a team that could use some power to reinforce the lineup and bench.

So far, the Blue Jays have yet to make a trade of much significance. And if they wait too long, they risk falling further in the standings and having to consider the extremely unpleasant prospect of listening on their own pending free agents such as Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray.

That’s not where this team is at, though. For now there are still many open pathways for a front office with lots of work to do. Over the next six weeks, the one they choose will determine how much help the current roster gets.

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