It’s been a forgettable month of May for a Blue Jays team that is playing bad in all aspects of the game right now. The 9-17 record in May reflects just that. If this negative trend continues and the Jays keep falling back in the wild-card race, the Blue Jays will undoubtedly sell at the 2018 trade deadline.
Josh Donaldson’s comments after the 8-1 loss against the Angels last Thursday afternoon were very straightforward: “Hitting, pitching, fielding, running bases, all of it, we have to do that better”. It’s an obvious statement but failing at those four aspects is the perfect recipe for failure. If that doesn’t change and the number of losses increases, the Blue Jays will sell at the 2018 trade deadline.
Things can turn around quickly in baseball, however. Getting back a healthy Marcus Stroman, along with career norm production from Kendrys Morales who’s been hitting better lately, with more regular performances from a rotation that can be very good, could really boost this team and put it back in contention which would make buying at the deadline the possible approach.
If the Blue Jays sell, who leaves Toronto?
The most obvious one is Josh Donaldson. The 2015 American League MVP is the most valuable Blue Jay and by trading him, the Blue Jays could get a decent return. The return would have been much greater if they traded him in the 2017 deadline or in the offseason, but the plan was to remain a competitive team, a status you immediately lose when trading away your best player.
However, Donaldson’s value has taken a big hit this 2018 season due to several health issues and simply performance. His shoulder issue from spring training that carried into the start of the season and then saw him hit the DL for more than three weeks, has had the biggest impact on his market. His health issues were capped off by left calf tightness which saw him exit the game on Monday afternoon against the Red Sox. According to Donaldson however, it doesn’t seem like a serious injury.
Adding on those issues, he hasn’t been hitting like the ‘Bringer of Rain’. His .234 average and five home runs in 137 at-bats reflect just that. It should be considered though that Donaldson also got to a slow start in 2017 and then turned it around in a hurry in the second half of the season which gives an indication he could very well end up putting his usual numbers. The problem is, if the Blue Jays want to sell at the deadline, Donaldson’s value should preferably be at its usual or at least at a higher point that now, which means June and July will be key for Donaldson’s stock to increase and perhaps allow the Blue Jays to get a fine return in a potential trade.
The Braves, Phillies, Cardinals are potential trade partners for Josh Donaldson.
The Blue Jays rotation has surprisingly been Toronto’s weakest aspect in this mediocre 2018 season. However, J.A. Happ has been one of the positives this team has seen in a very inconsistent year for Toronto. The 35 year old leads the American League in wins with seven, tied with six other starters, and has a very respectable 3.84 ERA. He’s also on a career-high 10.8 strikeouts per 9 innings.
Also, Happ is set to hit free agency at the end of the season so he’s an obvious trade chip if the team has no chance to make the playoffs. On top of that, pitchers bring a great return in trades even when they are a rental. If Happ maintains his current level, his stock at the trade deadline will be high, and contenders will certainly be willing to give up good young players in return.
Blue Jays have the Francisco Liriano trade as an example from last years deadline. Liriano had an ERA above five and was a free agent at the end of the season. The return wasn’t expected to be great, but Ross Atkins managed to get a fine young player like Teoscar Hernández in return who is now an everyday player for the Blue Jays. The Rangers, for example, got top prospect Willie Calhoun in return from the Dodgers for a Yu Darvish rental in last years deadline.
The 37-year-old is also a free agent at the end of the season and is another obvious trade chip. Curtis Granderson is having a decent season so far with four home runs, 16 runs driven in with a mediocre .242 average but an excellent .382 on-base percentage along with a respectable .801 OPS in 124 at-bats.
Although the returns for rental bats at the deadline aren’t very valuable like we saw in the JD Martinez trade from the Tigers to Arizona last season, there’s really no point in keeping a 37 year old pending free agent who the team doesn’t plan on signing back in the offseason with several top prospects like Anthony Alford on the verge of being MLB ready and Dwight Smith Jr, currently with the Blue Jays, playing well. Simply put, anything you can get in return would be a plus in this case for a selling team.
John Axford, Tyler Clippard, and Seunghwan Oh have been pleasant surprises for the Blue Jays. Both Axford and Clippard were signed to minor league deals and Oh was signed to a one-year 1,75 million contract with a club option for 2019. In last year’s trade deadline the Blue Jays traded Joe Smith who was very effective for them to the Indians and got second baseman Samad Taylor along left-handed pitcher Thomas Pannone, who is ranked 13th and 26th respectively in Toronto’s top 30 prospects. If the Blue Jays sell in the deadline, they have three potentially valuable trade chips in the bullpen.
Who could the Blue Jays target if they get back in the race?
If the Blue Jays manage to improve in the next two months and somehow get back into contention the Blue Jays would have to cover several needs in order to take it onto the next level and make a potential playoff run. As things stand right now, however, this seems like a longshot, but as mentioned previously, things can turn around in a hurry in baseball.
It’s hard to see the Blue Jays acquire a rental player, as it simply doesn’t fit Ross Atkins profile. Players under control for at least one more year are the kind of players who the Blue Jays would most likely target if they were to be buyers at the trade deadline.
Late inning relief
The first need that comes to mind is a replacement for Roberto Osuna. Nobody knows when Osuna will return as his administrative leave keeps being extended by Major League Baseball, and Tyler Clippard has struggled at the closer’s role, while Ryan Tepera has now taken over it. Although whether Tepera is capable of closing games regularly successfully is something that’s yet to be seen, the Blue Jays have lost their best bullpen arm with Osuna’s absence and a late-inning option for the bullpen is definitely something they will eventually need if they want to make a playoff run.
One possible option for this potential need is Jared Hughes from the Cincinnati Reds. The 32-year-old is having an excellent season so far with the rebuilding Reds posting a 1.19 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP in 30.1 innings pitched. He has also saved four games. He’s under team control until 2019 with a club option for 2020.
Another option which fits the plan of acquiring players with team control is Shane Greene from the Tigers. Greene is currently the closer for Detroit and has 13 saves with a 4.07 ERA. He had a fantastic 2017 season posting a 2.66 ERA in 71 appearances. He has two more years of arbitration after this one.
The premier option for this potential need, however, is Padres closer Brad Hand. Although acquiring him would require a big return in terms of prospects for the Padres, he would take over the closer’s role, and in the case, Osuna’s legal issues are rectified he could serve as the lefty reliever the Blue Jays have been needing for some time, or as a setup man. The Blue Jays would suddenly have an extraordinary bullpen.
Hand is once again having a great season with the Padres with a 1.93 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched along 16 saves. He’s also under team control until 2020, with a club option for 2021. The Blue Jays have reportedly shown interest in Hand this past offseason. Jon Heyman reported Toronto’s interest in the All-Star closer back in December 2017.
These are just three interesting options but there are many more. This need really depends however on Osuna’s case and if Axford, Oh, Clippard and Tepera continue to have a fine season like they’ve had so far.
Improve the lineup
May has been a bad month in all aspects for the Blue Jays but the lineup has been the worst in the American League in the month of May. However, this need simply depends on several bats who are supposed to be the strengths of the lineup but have not been anywhere close to that. Those bats are, Devon Travis, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and of course, someone that’s been overly criticised this season compared to Travis and Martin, Kendrys Morales, who is slowly silencing all the critics by batting .421 in his last seven games. If those four get it going like they can, and they have shown signs of doing so, then it’s a whole different story for this lineup, and the need of improving it could be erased.
Something that must be pointed out is the middle of the infield production the Blue Jays have gotten over the last couple of seasons. The Blue Jays could improve it instantly with one of these options.
Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett has had an extraordinary first two months of the season. His .347 average currently leads the National League to go along 10 home runs and 38 RBI’s. The 28-year-old would be an instant improvement for a Blue Jays lineup that has the worse middle infield production in baseball. Although the Reds would probably ask for a big return, Gennett is under control for one more season after this one and the Blue Jays could definitely express some interest to improve the middle infield weakness of the last two seasons.
The Royals are rebuilding and the player they could get the most for is Whit Merrifield. He’s under team control until 2022 earning the minimum until next season. The 29-year-old is primarily a second baseman but he has played in all three outfield positions, third base, and first base in his career. He could bat at the top of the lineup as he brings speed, and good average and OBP. This is a longshot, however. According to Jon Heyman, the Royals are open to anything but it’s obvious that if they trade Merrifield, it’d have to be a premium return.
If the Blue Jays eventually get back in the playoff race the pitching, especially the rotation will have to be better in the second half of the season to maintain the team in contention status.
This potential option depends on whether the Twins sell or buy at the deadline. They’re six games under .500 just one below the Blue Jays, so they’re in a very similar situation as their plan was contending but the first two months haven’t been great.
If it turns out the Twins sell and the Jays buy, Kyle Gibson could give the Jays rotation some needed stability not only in 2018 but for 2019 too as both JA Happ and Marco Estrada hit free agency at the end of the season and Gibson is under team control for one more year. Therefore, acquiring the right-hander would put the Jays in a more comfortable position with their rotation heading into 2019. He has a 3.57 ERA in 11 starts this season with the Twins, increasing his value after a bad 2017 season for the 30-year-old. The asking return by the Twins could be expensive considering he’s having a fine season and he’s under team control for one more year. A move like this would only come if the rotation is still struggling or if there’s some injury.