The Blue Jays look like they’ll be in the playoff hunt again this season, and the rental market might become an important factor, just as it did in 2020.
Looking back to last year’s trade deadline, the Blue Jays were surprisingly aggressive when it came to upgrading their big league roster. They brought in expiring contracts like Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker to bolster the starting rotation, Jonathan Villar to upgrade the infield mix, and also Ross Stripling, who still had another year of contract control, which is why he’s still a Blue Jay now.
While the Jays haven’t really been known to dive into the rental market a whole lot, last year proved that there’s a shifting philosophy in the front office these days. They saw an opportunity to get into the playoffs in 2020 and give their young core an important learning experience, and those extra pieces were pretty significant in getting them over the top.
And don’t be surprised if Ross Atkins and company use a similar strategy this summer.
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As I’ve watched this Blue Jays team over the last few weeks, they look like a group that is just a few “finishing touch” pieces away from being a legitimate World Series contender. A huge part of that equation would be simply getting to work with a healthy roster for the first time all year, but even then there’s an argument for a couple of smaller upgrades. In my mind, the rental market will work perfectly in 2021, for a variety of reasons.
To start with, let’s talk about what the Blue Jays could use for upgrades if they’re serious about competing in this year’s postseason. First and foremost is always pitching, and even if the Jays received solid early performances from Ray and Steven Matz, they could still use a #1-2 starter to join Hyun Jin Ryu at the top of the rotation. There could be several notable veterans that might be available, and someone like Max Scherzer and the last place Nationals would be a dream fit if the circumstances are right. The 36-year-old is having another fine season, but he also won’t be the only suitable option if the Blue Jays are ready to get aggressive.
Beyond the rotation, the second area I would address in the short-term might be behind the plate. Danny Jansen has more than proven himself as a defensive asset, but his slash line of .144/.214/.267 just isn’t going to cut it, even with the rest of the lineup being incredibly deep. They should get Alejandro Kirk back at some point early this summer, but asking the rookie to take over might be a lot for a potential contender as well.
Since they won’t need a long-term solution, the rental market would work very well in this case if they wanted a bit of an upgrade. Unfortunately there likely won’t be a lot of options, but someone like former Blue Jay Yan Gomes might work, who is also with Washington on an expiring contract. This wouldn’t be an urgent area that needs to be addressed, and with Kirk still developing and Gabriel Moreno getting closer to MLB-ready in Double-A this year, there’s no need to look for a long-term piece. All that said, hopefully Jansen can start contributing more on offence and the need can disappear.
Finally, there’s an argument for looking for a third baseman as well, even if Cavan Biggio has turned things a bit around after his ice-cold start to the year. I think there is still plenty of reason to believe in Biggio for the long-term, but it’s debatable if his best position is at third base, or if he’s not better off as the super-utility player the front office has long talked about.
This is another example of a short-term need, as Biggio could continue to improve and make the position his own, but more likely the Blue Jays have a pair of premium prospects in the minor leagues who will be knocking on the door sooner than later. Austin Martin has had a very nice start to his MiLB career so far this year, and Jordan Groshans is another exciting prospect who has shown up on plenty of Top 100 lists. Prospects are always a bit of a wild card, but I’m very confident that one of those two will at least get a chance at the job in 2022, which means a rental would work well at third too. With the powerful lineup the Blue Jays have around the diamond, it doesn’t have to be a former MVP like Kris Bryant, but it would be pretty fun if it was. It’ll be a situation to monitor as the season goes on, and a possible area that could be upgraded with a rental piece.
As always, the needs will be defined by the health and performance of the roster once the summer rolls around, and hopefully the Blue Jays will be working with a full deck of healthy players by then. Regardless, the rental market is probably going to be the way to play things again this season, at least as long as they can fulfill their potential and stay in the playoff race.