The Blue Jays might’ve looked like a potential deadline seller just one week ago, but they’ve rattled off five straight wins to boost their record to 12-11. That, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet writes, has them back in the playoff picture and thinking about ways to add to the club with the Aug. 31 trade deadline looming. Specifically, general manager Ross Atkins cites starting pitching as an area of focus.
It’s been a rather inauspicious start to the year for the Toronto rotation, which ranks 19th in the Majors in ERA (4.93), 26th in FIP (5.34) and 24th in xFIP (4.84). Further complicating matters is the fact that prized pitching prospect Nate Pearson just landed on the injured list due to tightness in his right elbow after a pair of rough starts.
Lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu has been a solid presence atop the starting staff, giving the Jays five starts and a 3.46 ERA with terrific K/BB and ground-ball numbers. Beyond that, however, it’s been a struggle. Fellow winter signee Tanner Roark has battled uncharacteristic control issues and run up an ERA of 4.76. Pearson’s last two starts were ugly, and Matt Shoemaker has not at all resembled the 2019 form he showed prior to sustaining an ACL tear. Chase Anderson has been limited by an oblique strain and is still building up his workload (though he’s pitched well through 9 2/3 frames).
There’s some depth beyond that group down at the alternate training site, but none of Sean Reid-Foley, T.J. Zeuch or Sam Gaviglio can necessarily be relied upon to stabilize the rotation. The Jays plan to utilize left-hander Ryan Borucki as a reliever for the foreseeable future, per Atkins, which only further limits their in-house options.
The expanded postseason field might drive down the number of motivated sellers, but that should also drive up the number of buyers and create a market for the interesting arms that are out there. Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Taijuan Walker, Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Alex Cobb and perhaps Dylan Bundy (among others) could all draw varying levels of interest this year. Nicholson-Smith reports that Gausman was of interest to the Jays before he signed with the Giants this winter.
Given the big-picture status of the Blue Jays — a young club just now beginning to emerge from a rebuilding effort — it’s unlikely that they’d part with anything of particular significance for a short-term piece. It stands to reason that they’d be interested in low-cost rentals or in arms they could control beyond the 2020 season. The rental market, in general, seems unlikely to yield any major returns, given that acquiring teams would only be picking up a month or less in terms of regular-season control over said player (plus any possible postseason contributions).
Atkins also discusses the team’s defensive outlook, his thoughts on Teoscar Hernandez’s upside, Borucki’s future role and several other topics in a broad-reaching piece that Jays fans will want to take in. Nicholson-Smith also suggests that a bench bat with some pop could be a potential target for the Jays, which opens no shortage of additional possibilities as the deadline looms.
As noted earlier when looking at the D-backs’ hunt for bullpen pieces, it’s worth pointing out that any current fringe contender is, to a degree, at the mercy of their next week’s results. A substantial losing streak or additional key injuries could tamp down the motivation to make a win-now trade or even swing the pendulum in the other direction. One could also argue that that reality only increases the urgency to make a move proactively, but recent history suggests that today’s breed of front office will wait until closer to the deadline to gather more information before making a rash move. Perhaps that trend will be bucked in this atypical 2020 campaign, but we’ve yet to see a notable swap throughout the league.