Blue Jays: Selling rentals will be easier said than done

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - JUNE 29: Robbie Ray #38 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Sahlen Field on June 29, 2021 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - JUNE 29: Robbie Ray #38 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Sahlen Field on June 29, 2021 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images) /

It’s possible that the Blue Jays end up as sellers ahead of the July 30 trade deadline, but moving on from their rental players will be easier said than done.

Any time you see the Blue Jays lose a few games in a row, as they’ve done this week, you’re bound to see some fans on social media talking about how it’s time to give up on the season. With that idea comes the notion that Ross Atkins should be preparing to sell off a few of his valuable veterans rather than being a buyer ahead of the trade deadline. As far as rental players go, the Jays have a pair of valuable ones in Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray, and I can understand the argument for looking to get some value from them before they potentially depart for nothing.

However, that’s where the situation gets a little more complicated, and the concept of trading them is far from a given even if the Jays lose every game for the rest of the month.

If either player were to be traded, my guess is Semien would be more likely. The 30 year old bet on himself by signing a one-year deal with the Blue Jays last winter in order to re-establish his value, and that he’s done in spades. He should be in line for a big money, multi-year pact in free agency, but he will also have to compete with a busy market for elite middle infielders that could include Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and more. Even then, Semien should be in line to receive nine figures somewhere around the league.

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The Blue Jays may very well receive an offer they can’t refuse for California native here in July, and if their own playoff chances are too grim by the end of the month then I’ll understand if they accept. However, the Jays have the luxury of knowing they can always give Semien a one-year Qualifying Offer. That’s only possible because the Oakland A’s elected not to make that offer to Semien last winter, as players can only be given the QO once. To be fair, he almost surely would have signed it at the time, and took slightly less for a similar scenario with the Blue Jays. At the time Oakland wasn’t sure they wanted to pay him 18.9 million if he accepted, but in hindsight that was clearly a mistake by the A’s. In a worst case scenario, the Blue Jays will get a compensation pick after the first round for Semien if he signs elsewhere.

When the Blue Jays re-signed Robbie Ray to a one-year, eight million dollar deal at the beginning of the last offseason, both sides felt they were on to something with the partnership. It turns out they were right, as Ray has found the form that made him a 2017 NL All-Star, and he’s arguably even better than he was back then. The 29 year old heads into his Sunday start as arguably the best starter the Blue Jays have had in 2021, posting a 3.36 ERA and a 1.110 WHIP over 16 outings that cover 93.2 innings. He’s still a dominant strikeout pitcher with 119 K’s over that time, but he’s found a new level of control as well, walking just 23.

It’s been a best case scenario for Ray in 2021, and it looks like he made the right decision to return to the Jays and keep working with Pete Walker. He’s been so good in fact, that you could argue that he should be given a Qualifying Offer of his own at the end of the year. That figure was 18.9 million in 2021, and though it will rise a little for next season, I don’t think it’s out of the question that Ray could receive that kind of rate, especially on a one-year deal.

Assuming that Ross Atkins and his team are thinking the same way, they’ll have to evaluate any trade for Ray against what they believe they could get in next year’s draft. They should be able to receive a better trade package for him than the value they’d get from a single draft pick, but that’s not the only part of the equation here. The Jays may not want to trade him at all if they’re planning on trying to re-sign him, and I very much hope that’s part of the plan. There’s always the argument for trading him for a return and then trying to re-sign him to have your cake and eat it too, but you don’t necessarily want to risk Ray enjoying another organization before he becomes a free agent.

Mid-term report card at the All-Star break. dark. Next

For what it’s worth, I’m nowhere near ready to throw in the towel on this season, and I think the Blue Jays will end up as buyers ahead of the trade deadline. That said, I’m realistic enough to recognize that things could go in the other direction before the end of the month, and I’m sure that Atkins and his staff acknowledge that as well. Hopefully they’ll be in the playoff race and trading guys like Semien and Ray won’t be something they have to consider but either way, it’s going to be a very interesting July.