MLB’s August 2nd Trade Deadline is more than a month away, but the Blue Jays are already showing early interest in Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network. Morosi further speculates that Kansas City’s bullpen arms may be of some interest to Toronto, whose crop of relievers currently sport the game’s 24th best ERA.
The Blue Jays for their part are hardly hurting on offense, as the team currently sports the best OPS in all of baseball. At the rate he’s producing, however, Benintendi and his .303/.368/.391 (116 OPS+) slash would be a boon to any lineup. The reigning Gold Glove winner may also be viewed as a more reliable candidate to man left field than Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has drawn more divisive reviews of his glovework in recent seasons.
A left-handed bat his been on the Blue Jays wishlist since last offseason, though to date the only left-handed hitters to grace the Jays lineup this season with some regularity have been Cavan Biggio, backup catcher Zack Collins, and light-hitting outfielder Raimel Tapia. A hypothetical Benintendi acquisition would represent a way to diversify the handedness of the Jays’ lineup, though doing so would likely relegate Gurriel Jr. to an overqualified bench role or indirectly infringe on Biggio’s playing time.
It’s worth noting that Benintendi wouldn’t be a lock to start every game for an acquiring team, as his platoon splits, particularly this year, have painted him as much more adept hitter against right-handed pitching. Acquiring Benintendi then, who is a free agent at the end of the season, would improve the team’s outfield defense, lineup balance, and bench in one shape or another for what figures to be a minimal prospect cost.
Kansas City may seem an odd fit for reliever shopping, as their bullpen has uncharacteristically struggled to worse run prevention numbers than the Jays’. The unit is led by one of the more unheralded closers in the league however, as right-hander Scott Barlow has posted a 2.36 ERA with strong peripherals dating back to last year (107 innings). The Royals are under no obligation to ship the 29-year-old Barlow anywhere, sought after as he likely will be, due to his additional three years of team control.
With a 13-game gulf between the second-place Jays and the first-place Yankees there’s likely little expectation that a modest outfield upgrade or bullpen improvement will be the driving forces behind a second half surge. Still, the team is currently nestled atop a tight Wild Card race, with Boston, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland no more than 3.5 games back and only three playoff spots to split between them. Any acquisitions the Jays make within the next month figure to help the club field a more competitive team come October and, more pressingly, stave off a number of clubs who are a hot-streak away from upending the Wild Card race altogether.