Blue Jays should target left-handed relief in trade

Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) takes out relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) takes out relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Now that the Blue Jays roster is a lot healthier, they look like and are performing a lot more like a contender. With a fearsome lineup, a talented rotation, and some solid right-handed arms in the bullpen, seeking a lockdown, left-handed specialist should a priority for the Blue Jays before the trade deadline.

There are still a couple key pieces sitting on the DL in Aaron Sanchez and Steve Pearce, but otherwise the Blue Jays have been rolling lately, and a healthier roster is a big reason for the surge. The Blue Jays are 7-4 since the return of Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, and they’ve also had a boost in the rotation with both J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano coming off the DL as well.

As a result, we’re finally seen the team performing near it’s potential, and finally getting a chance to look at the team that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins put together this offseason. After a long and difficult offseason, and a putrid April, baseball is exciting again in Toronto, and the buzz is evident at the Rogers Centre.

Because of the turn around, even Atkins admitted that the Blue Jays are “focused on adding and winning” at the moment, a far cry from the early season calls for a tear down of the current roster. Granted they’ve still got work to do, but the optimism has returned around this club, and with the talent at John Gibbons‘ disposal, there’s good reason for it.

The lineup is downright scary when healthy, as evidenced by the fact that Devon Travis was still hitting 7th or 8th most nights, and hitting over .400 in May at the same time. Sure, you could have moved him up, but each player listed above him was there for a reason as well, and the team as a whole was clicking. Sometimes you just don’t fix what isn’t broken, and hopefully Travis can get back on the field sooner than later and continue his torrid pace.

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The rotation is talented and deep, and will be even more so once Aaron Sanchez can finally get healthy and back on the mound. Despite missing the 2016 AL ERA leader for the vast majority of the season, the current 5 starters are nothing to sneeze at. Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman have both been healthy and effective all season, and both Happ and Liriano are back and throwing well.

Joe Biagini has been a pleasant surprise in the rotation thus far, and in some ways it’ll be a shame to see him go back to the bullpen when Sanchez returns, assuming that’s the plan. It would make sense for his inning count for this season, but the big right-hander has likely solidified himself a spot in the 2018 rotation, and at least a very long look next spring.

The bullpen has plenty of talent as well, despite a few struggling pieces. When you add up the performances of Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes, it’s a pretty solid foursome from the right side. Adding Biagini back to the fold at some point only strengthens that depth further.

The Blue Jays really should look at adding a left-handed specialist prior to the deadline, especially if they’re serious about contending. Aaron Loup has been largely effective this year, but it’s difficult to imagine leaning on him in crucial playoff situations. J.P. Howell has not performed well since signing in Toronto, both in the spring and in limited regular season action. He’s back on the DL again as of Monday morning, and it’ll be interesting to see if he remains with the club once other pieces start getting healthy.

If the Blue Jays do pursue this avenue, there should be a few options available in the trade market. The Mets are starting to look like they could be sellers, and if so then it’s possible the Blue Jays renew their interest in Jerry Blevins, who they reportedly looked at this offseason as well. He has a 1.42 ERA in 19 appearances this year, and could be a significant add for a team that could badly use a lift from the left side.

His availability would hinge on the Mets record at the deadline, as would several other candidates. Others that come to mind could include former Jay Marc Rzepczynski of the Mariners, the Pirates’ Antonio Bastardo, or maybe Travis Wood from the Royals. This is all purely speculation and again would hinge on the records of the respective teams. Some of them have better records than the Blue Jays as of this writing, so there are a lot of variables at play.

Next: Blue Jays' bullpen: Sparkman to the rescue?

All I’m saying is if the trade deadline were this week and I were in charge of the Blue Jays’ front office, the number one focus would be on bringing in left-handed relief. A lot could change prior to the end of the July, but otherwise I really like the look of this team.