With the Blue Jays being somewhere between the end of a rebuild and the start of an era of contention, Ross Atkins aced this year’s trade deadline.
It has been an exciting last couple of days for the Toronto Blue Jays, who made several moves to bolster their roster ahead of yesterday’s trade deadline. First they traded for Daniel Vogelbach and Taijuan Walker a few days ago in separate moves with the Mariners, and then Monday brought a trio of new additions. They started by shipping Travis Bergen to the Diamondbacks for Robbie Ray and cash, acquired Jonathan Villar for a player to be named later (it’s speculated that it’ll be Griffin Conine going to Miami), and lastly they nabbed Ross Stripling from the Dodgers for two more PTBNLs.
The flurry of moves comes as a bit of a surprise, at least if we’re looking back to a month or two ago. The 2020 campaign has brought all kinds of interesting surprises and variables, and through a combination of their own solid performance and the way the American League standings are shaping up, the Blue Jays are very likely to make the post-season this year. In fact, at the end of Monday’s schedule, Fangraphs has them listed at 75.1% favourites to make the playoffs.
The circumstances of the last few weeks put the front office in an interesting position. I think it’s fair to say that this is a bit of an unexpected surprise, especially as 2020 was supposed to be arguably the last year of their “rebuild” before truly transitioning into more of a contender status. However, the expanded playoff format has also helped their cause, and suddenly things have changed.
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To Ross Atkins and the front office’s credit, they’ve shifted their priorities and their game plan as the season has developed, and I think they’ve done it masterfully. Of course, we won’t know until the rest of the schedule has played out, but it would appear that they’ve vastly improved the roster, and hopefully given the team a better chance to compete, especially through some key injuries.
However, I feel like Atkins considered a few key points, and managed to address them all at the same time, which is easier said than done. I didn’t speak with the man so I’m just speculating here, but it’s not that hard to come to these conclusions.
First, even if almost anything can happen in 2020, the Blue Jays probably aren’t going to be serious World Series contenders. As I’ve already mentioned, they’re in an important end stage of the rebuild, and they have some extremely talented players in the upper levels of their minor league system. Maybe Atkins and company will decide to use some of them as trade pieces next year, or maybe even the year after, but now wasn’t the time to push all of their chips to the centre of the table.
However, that brings us to the second point, and that’s the value and importance of the experience of the playoffs and winning in general. Teaching this young core that the front offices believes in them will be helpful down the line, and giving them a chance to taste the post-season in 2020 could be huge for the long-term development of this team. That’s why adding to the roster was important, and they managed to do that with Walker, Villar, Ray, Stripling, and Vogelbach, giving the squad a decent boost. They saw an opportunity to take advantage of a buy-low rental market this summer, and did just that.
What makes the additions even more impressive is that it would appear the Blue Jays managed to hang on to most, if not all of their premium prospects. It’s been speculated that Conine as their #16 prospect could be headed to Miami as the PTBNL in that deal, but that’s a fair cost considering the circumstances, and it’s not expected that any of the other trades will include bigger names. Thankfully none of the trades from Monday or even last week included the likes of Simeon Woods Richardson, Alek Manoah, Gabriel Moreno, or any of their other high-end prospects. If that is indeed the case, that means that Atkins improved the roster while maintaining his top-tier MiLB system, and that’s a huge win. Chances are they would have had to tweak their 40-man roster ahead of the 2021 season anyway, so it’s also possible that Monday’s trades were a head start on that work as well.
Again, it’s tough to grade the front office before the rest of the season plays out, but right now I think Blue Jays fans should be very impressed with the work that’s gone on over the last little while. After years as a target for Blue Jays fans, the narrative may finally be changing about the work of Atkins and his team, and well it should.