Blue Jays: Emerging youngsters could play veterans into an offseason trade

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 21: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates a victory with teammates against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on August 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 21: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates a victory with teammates against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on August 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

With the emergence of young players like Billy McKinney and Rowdy Tellez, the Blue Jays may take a slightly different approach this offseason.

One of the worst kept secrets in baseball is that the Toronto Blue Jays are rebuilding from the playoff team they put on the field in 2015-16. We’ve already watched plenty of franchise icons like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and others leave for new teams, and there are more changes yet to come.

Once the regular season ends it’s widely expected that John Gibbons will be through with his post as the Blue Jays skipper, taking another familiar face from the dugout. There will still be a few left behind like Russell Martin, Marcus Stroman, Devon Travis and others, but it’s possible that a few other established names around the Blue Jays could be on the move this winter, especially after the emergence of a couple young players.

First, the Blue Jays sent J.A. Happ to the Yankees for a package that centred around Brandon Drury. Unfortunately the utility man arrived in Toronto with an undiagnosed wrist injury, and we haven’t seen a lot of him since the training staff figured out that he was hurt. That hasn’t stopped the trade from paying dividends for the Blue Jays though.

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Billy McKinney, the other piece coming to Toronto in the Hall trade, has been one of the best players on the team since he arrived, and has likely played himself into the conversation for next year’s outfield picture. I don’t know that it’s fair to expect him to keep slashing .304/.371/.532, but he’s played well enough that he could be changing the dynamic of the Blue Jays plans in the outfield.

As things currently stand the Jays are set to bring back some combination of Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, and Kevin Pillar in the outfield next year, with minor league talent like Dwight Smith Jr., Jonathan Davis, Anthony Alford, and more set to push the organizational depth. Chances are, without McKinney’s solid play since his arrival, the Blue Jays would have rolled with a combination of the first three listed above as next year’s starters. However, knowing that McKinney could fill the gap and that Grichuk could slide to centre, the front office can put Kevin Pillar on the trade block this winter if they choose. As he gets older, more expensive, and his defensive numbers decline, that becomes a greater possibility.

McKinney hasn’t been the only pleasant surprise either, as Rowdy Tellez has taken the big leagues by storm since his September call-up. The sample size is incredibly small with just 27 at bats, but Tellez is slashing .407/.429/.778 with a home run and five RBI’s, including a go-ahead, pinch-hit single on Sunday against the Yankees.

You have to be careful about getting overly excited about September production, but so far Tellez has shown that he can handle big league pitching, even if we can’t expect him to keep this up. That said, he could be playing well enough to convince the Blue Jays that they could put Justin Smoak on the trade block this winter as well.

The presence of others like Russell Martin, Yangervis Solarte (if he’s not traded), and Drury would give Tellez some reasonable back-up at the position if they chose to go that route. They could also likely find a cheap alternative on the free agent market this offseason if they wanted greater depth at the position.

They don’t have to do anything with Smoak either, as his contract is set for a more than reasonable eight million next year, but the point is they might be able to consider it as a more realistic option because of Tellez’s strong showing. Again, it’s a very small sample size, but he looks like he belongs at this level.

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Maybe it all amounts to a hill of beans, as we saw the Blue Jays go out and sign Curtis Granderson last winter despite Teoscar Hernandez’s September audition, but it’s at least another option for Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro. Having options is never a bad thing, especially for a rebuilding club, and Tellez and McKinney are giving their new team just that with their strong play.