At 42-44, the Toronto Blue Jays are the epitome of a bubble team. They sit 11 games out of first place in the American League East, yet just 5.5 games out of one of the two Wild Card slots in the AL.
With the trade deadline approaching, that bubble either needs to harden behind solid play or it needs to burst. Either way, the Blue Jays may need to make a choice as to which direction they will lean, and they may need to make that choice before a definitive direction is determined by game play.
In reviewing the Market Central tool on ESPN, that direction would apparently be as a buyer. The problem there is Toronto may need a few more pieces than a typical buyer would want to pick up at the deadline.
According to ESPN, Toronto needs to shore up at Starting Pitching, Second Base, and Third Base. Okay, I can give them that, as all three positions are definitely a weakness to this point. But how do you fill all three with a system that’s already been ransacked this past winter by trading away Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, Wuilmer Becerra, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Anthony DeSclafani?
First, let’s take a look at the needs:
This is Toronto’s single biggest need, whether they are buying or selling, as the team is currently sitting on four starters and have Todd Redmond slated to pitch on Sunday (which may still change). They need at least one capable starter for the remainder of 2013, but as Jon Morosi at FoxSports notes, they may be better served at shoring up the rotation for 2014, by adding someone that is not a 2 month rental.
That would take arms like Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco out of play, and would make Bud Norris, Cliff Lee, Kyle Lohse, or Yovani Gallardo, none of which are going to come cheaply. Toronto may be able to get a third team involved in a trade and package Josh Johnson in a deal to a National League Team (0.63 ERA, 10.0 K/9 in 2 starts against NL in 2013) and then flip prospects for one of the above, but that would require a lot of moving pieces and getting a high sell on the broken Johnson, not to mention creating the need for another starter.
This could be the more realistic positions for Toronto to buy at the deadline, should they drift in that direction. The platoon of Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio is obviously not getting the job done, with the pair making a combined $5.5 million this season while combining to contribute less than a replacement level player. The problem of course being that Toronto lacks that replacement level player.
Chase Utley of the Phillies has been discussed in recent days, but that seems like a pipe dream with a high cost as a rental. However, 28-year-old Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets may be more realistic. He’s under team control through 2016 and the Mets are rebuilding. With Anthony Gose struggling and Kevin Pillar seemingly passing him on the depth chart, could Gose become a flippable option for the Mets who lack a center fielder?
Now, this is the least likely position for the Blue Jays to do anything with. Yes, the team is having to run out the likes of Izturis or Mark DeRosa more than they would prefer to at this stage of the season, and they’d prefer not to have to play Edwin Encarnacion there at all if possible. However, I have to believe that Alex Anthopoulos still sees Brett Lawrie as their everyday third baseman, and he’s more apt to wait out his rehabilitation assignment than to overpay for a member of a class that includes Michael Young, Placido Polanco, Matt Dominguez, or Aramis Ramirez.
Needless to say, the Blue Jays have a tall mountain to climb regardless of which direction they choose to go. As much as I hate to agree with Morosi, they may be best looking at sensible options that will give them a glimmer this year, but will ultimately make them better for the 2014 campaign.