TORONTO – In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, Toronto Blue Jays executives have been consistent whenever they’ve been asked about their plans. In brief, they see themselves as contenders, want to augment their existing roster and view run prevention – GM speak for pitching and defence – as the likeliest path ahead.
And while it would be futile to attempt to predict the specifics of what the Blue Jays will do in these last few days ahead of July 30, it’s at least possible make informed guesses about the types of deals they’re likely to make. By listening closely to what the front office says, looking at what they’ve done in the past and checking in with sources around the industry, some hints are available.
Combined, they paint a picture of the kinds of deals the Blue Jays are most and least likely to make as the deadline approaches…
Top-ranked prospects for star rentals
Past deadline examples: Willie Calhoun for Yu Darvish, 2017; Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, 2016; David Price for Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and Jairo Labourt, 2015; Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, 2011.
2021 candidates for this type of deal: Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Trevor Story.
Verdict: Probably not.
On Tuesday, the Blue Jays were linked to Scherzer, a future Hall of Famer with dominant stuff whose ten-and-five rights allow him to control his own fate. And if you’re the Blue Jays how could you not check on a pitcher this talented. They should be making preliminary calls on Bryant, Baez and Story, too. There’s no harm in asking, after all.
But with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants also seemingly interested in the 37-year-old Scherzer, the price will be high, so unless the Washington Nationals happen to love the Blue Jays’ farm system, it’s hard to see a fit for this kind of trade. Who knows, the Nationals may be using the Blue Jays to boost their own leverage here.
Outbidding the rest of the league for a star rental can make sense if you’re a division favourite trying to increase your World Series odds. Or maybe if your core is aging the way the Blue Jays were in 2015.
It doesn’t make sense to part with top prospects when you’re on the fringes of the wild-card race hoping for the right to play a one-game series as the road team. Especially when you’ve got a young core in place for years to come.
And since this Blue Jays front office is measured in its decision making, it’d be a surprise if they part with a top prospect for a rental before they’re the ones leading the charge in the AL East.
Prospects for valuable controllable players:
Past deadline examples: Kendall Williams and Ryan Noda for Ross Stripling, 2020.
2021 candidates for this type of deal: Yusei Kikuchi, Kyle Gibson, Merrill Kelly, Craig Kimbrel, Richard Rodriguez, Trea Turner, Jose Berrios.
This category covers a lot of ground, so there’s no simple “yes” or “no” to be found here, but there’s no reason the Blue Jays shouldn’t be considering these deals. In fact, they completed one just last year, sending 2019 second-round pick Kendall Williams to the Dodgers for Ross Stripling.
With the likes of Kimbrel and Kikuchi potentially available this year, there are some difference-making players with team control remaining beyond 2021. And since they’re more than rentals, the Blue Jays would still benefit from deals like this even if their season ends sooner than they hope it will.
Of course, the prices for players with remaining control are going to be higher for that very reason. For instance, why would the Minnesota Twins part with Berrios when they can just as easily hold on and enjoy his pitching in 2022?
There’s less urgency for sellers in this market, which balances out the leverage and makes it all harder to predict, but any team looking to improve must stay involved on these players. Since the Blue Jays’ farm system includes plenty of highly regarded young players, they have the potential to bid on anyone they like. Where that leads is the really interesting part.
Lesser prospects for valuable rentals
Past deadline examples: Taijuan Walker for Alberto Rodriguez, 2020; Robbie Ray and cash for Travis Bergen, 2020; Jonathan Villar for Griffin Conine, 2020; Andrew McInvale with Joe Panik for Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson, 2021.
2021 candidates for this type of deal: Tyler Anderson, Michael Pineda, Jon Gray, Yimi Garcia, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin, Brad Hand, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte.
The Blue Jays’ playoff odds have dropped in recent days. And, yes, those losses are frustrating. At the same time, they still have a real shot to make the playoffs – 25.3 per cent according to FanGraphs and 38 per cent according to Baseball-Reference as of Tuesday.
One way to improve those odds without meaningfully harming the team’s long-term goals is to acquire rentals. It’s a little counter-intuitive because those deals only help in the short-term, but the cost is often lower for that very reason and it also preserves the Blue Jays’ flexibility heading into the winter.
So considering the depth of the Blue Jays’ system and the reality that only 40 players can get protected from the Rule 5 Draft this fall, the likes of Samad Taylor, Zach Logue and Kevin Smith are sure to draw interest from selling teams.
First and foremost, the Blue Jays must evaluate their own prospects accurately. Once they do, there’s the potential for some real traction on rentals between now and July 30.