Blue Jays: Priorities to consider while improving the pitching staff
Now that the Blue Jays have won five in a row and have made up some of the lost ground from last week, we should put all that silly talk of “selling” away, at least for now.
According to Blue Jays’ President Mark Shapiro, he’s “very confident we will add pieces to help us win”. That’s a carefully worded statement, and far from a guarantee that the Blue Jays will be buyers ahead of the trade deadline, but it should be taken as a positive that Shapiro is making a public statement like this.
It makes sense now that the Jays are up to 38-35 and just 5.5 games back of the AL East division leading Rays (45-31). Of course, the division also features the Red Sox (44-31) and Yankees (40-34), so the Jays have some work cut out for them if they’re going to contend for the division or even a Wild Card spot. However, based on what we’ve seen out of this powerful lineup over the last five games, there are plenty of reasons to believe they’re in for a big second half.
If you’ve been watching this team through the first 73 games of the schedule then I don’t have to tell you where the front office’s priorities should be when looking for upgrades. At the beginning of the season it looked like the starting rotation would be the glaring weakness, and while it could still use another high-end option, there’s little debate about the state of the bullpen. Even after an effective last few games this is still a group that badly needs some help.
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The Blue Jays may get some internal boosts with the eventual return of guys like Ryan Borucki, Rafael Dolis, and Julian Merryweather, but even then it would be nice if Charlie Montoyo had another late-inning option or two. It’s unfortunate that they’ve lost both Kirby Yates and David Phelps for the season, as those two would fit perfectly for their needs. In a season where injuries have been common across baseball it can’t be an excuse, especially if they want to contend.
The good thing about the bullpen is it’s historically been a less expensive area to address in terms of trade value in return. The value of relievers is more understood these days, but it still shouldn’t take the same cost as it would to acquire a starting pitcher. Having said that, there are still a few things that I’m sure Atkins and Shapiro will keep in mind as they do their shopping.
Ideally they’ll be able to find a relief option that has more than just one season of control of his contract. With the way the roster build has shaped up they can afford to allocate resources to the bullpen beyond just this season, provided they get the right player of course. That may be especially important knowing that the likes of Yates, Phelps, Dolis, Tyler Chatwood, and more won’t be around next season unless they’re re-signed. The trade that Tampa Bay made earlier in the season would offer a fairly decent blueprint of controllable relief, at least in terms of value.
While the bullpen should be priority number one, we can’t assume that the starting rotation will keep up the production they’ve managed lately. Hyun Jin Ryu is a legitimate ace and I’m now a full-on believer in Robbie Ray, but there are question marks beyond the top two. Is this the real Ross Stripling? If so then they’ve found themselves a legitimate #3-4 starter who also happens to be under control for the 2022 campaign as well. As for Steven Matz, I’ll admit that he’s been far better than I expected this year, but consistency continues to be an issue for the southpaw, even if he’s a more than capable rotation arm most of the time.
Then there’s Alek Manoah, who has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jays since he made his MLB debut last month. The big righty has posted a 4.18 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP across his first five starts, spanning 23.2 innings. Unfortunately his last outing saw him get beat up a bit and eventually suspended as well, but he’ll make the start on Friday while he waits for the results of his appeal.
I’m a full-on believer in Manoah for the long-term, but I’m not sure the Blue Jays should count on him to be an impact starter for the rest of the year. The league is going to get a chance to adjust to him as they get more tape on the 23 year old, and it remains to be seen if the Jays are going to cap his workload at some point either. With all of that in mind, I think it’s important that the Blue Jays address the rotation as well, and since both Ray and Matz are on expiring deals it wouldn’t hurt if that new arm was under contract for an additional season or two either.
With more than five weeks until we get to the trade deadline at the end of July, it might be a while before the Blue Jays make an impact addition to the roster. Hopefully the current group can keep up the kind of performance that’s led to this latest five-game winning streak, and if so, don’t be surprised to see an aggressive front office. If everything goes according to plan, hopefully they can get some help for now, and for later.