It was the night of December 5, 1990 following the MLB Winter Meetings being held just outside of Chicago. According to legend, then Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Pat Gillick called his wife Doris to tell her he’d be home in a few hours.
"He then told her he had just traded Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. Doris Gillick was not pleased. McGriff was her favorite player, and Fernandez was a three-time All-Star. “Will you get home before you screw up the team any further?” she said."
Of course, that blockbuster trade is widely cited as having set the Jays on a trajectory to consecutive World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993. As per the Baseball Hall of Fame, “it was a deal that would prove to be the catalyst in Toronto’s rise to the top of the baseball world.”
"“We’ve won a lot of games the last few years but some people didn’t think we had much to show for it,” Gillick told the Associated Press. Within three years of the trade, the Blue Jays had two World Series titles."
At the time of the trade, Roberto Alomar was coming of an All-Star season as a 22 year old, with three years of ML experience. Tony Fernandez was a 29 year old, three time All-Star and four time Gold Glove winner. Fred McGriff had won a Silver Slugger award in 1989 and would go on to become an All-Star and win two more Silver Slugger awards as a Padre before he was traded mid-season in 1993, going on to star for Atlanta. Joe Carter would go on to become a five time All-Star for Toronto with two Silver Slugger awards. Not to mention, there were those two Word Series titles as well.
Could an Old-fashioned MLB Player for Player Trade Push the Blue Jays Over the Top?
“Sometimes you need a recharge and maybe making moves like that gives you a recharge,” Gillick told the New York Times at the time of the trade.
Do the 2021 Blue Jays need a similar recharge after going 45-42 ahead of the All-Star break with only 34% odds of making the playoffs? The team’s offence has been outstanding, tied for fourth in MLB on wRC+ at 110. However, despite the fourth best run differential in the AL at +72 on 444 runs scored (5th most in baseball), the bullpen has lost 19 games this season, tied for 25th worst in MLB with Colorado. As per MLBTR,
"They had four All-Star position players, three of whom started for the American League. They’re among the top 5 teams in runs scored and wRC+. The pitching has been less impressive, although the rotation and bullpen are both among the top 15 units in ERA. The Jays have had some ill-timed relief issues, though. A 6-10 record in one-run games (including a 2-5 mark in extra innings) has them just three games over .500 despite the AL’s fourth-best run differential."
What could an old fashioned blockbuster trade do for this team? They certainly have the pieces to make such a deal. Young MLB starters like Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., could be packaged in return for filling positions of more immediate need with comparable big league talent. Young MLB ready or almost ready prospects at positions of depth, like a catcher in Alejandro Kirk and a middle infielder like Jordan Groshans could be packaged as well.
It’s no secret that Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins has promised fans upgrades to the pitching and defence.
Could the Seattle Mariners match up as a potential blockbuster trading partner? Their GM, Jerry Dipoto, has a reputation as a deal maker. Their offence has been anemic, with the third lowest wRC+ in the AL at 89 and only 371 runs scored season to date (11th in the AL). While young studs like 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and 1B Evan Lewis have been injured, and top prospect Jarred Kelenic has struggled so far at the MLB level, their -50 run differential is currently the worst of any team within 5.5 games of the second AL Wild Card slot, whereas the Jays are the best at +72.
If the Jays were looking to improve at 3B and add pitching, could they pry away rentals like lefty swinging 3B Kyle Seager (+2 on outs above average and -1 on defensive runs saved at 3B versus Cavan Biggio’s -5 on OAA and -3 on DRS at 3B in 2021) and Closer Kendall Graveman (8 saves and a 0.95 ERA in 28.1 innings)? If they could add starting pitchers with control like Marco Gonzales (signed through 2024 for $30 million with a 2025 team option) and young stud Logan Gilbert (enjoying a breakout season as a rookie in 2021, going 3-2 with a 3.51 ERA in 10 starts) in return for a package built around Cavan Biggio, Alejandro Kirk, Jordan Groshans and Nate Pearson, would that makes sense?
Cleveland is only 4.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race, but has lost top of the rotation starters Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac to the injured list for parts of the 2021 season. Could the Blue Jays build a package around Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Cavan Biggio for switching hitting, All-Star 3B José Ramírez, who has team options in 2022 ($11 million with a $2 million buyout) and 2023 ($13 million)? He can mash against right-handed pitching with 16 home runs and 41 RBIs in 2021, and is an outstanding fielder with OAA of +4 and DRS of +3.
Could they also get young starter Cal Quantrill (4.23 ERA over 61.2 innings) and one of Cleveland’s stud closers in rookie Emmanuel Clase (11 saves and a 1.72 ERA over 36.2 innings) or second year reliever James Karinchak (9 saves and a 2.52 ERA over 39.1 innings with 68 strikeouts) if they added Alejandro Kirk and Nate Pearson to the package? Cleveland has continued to trade star players for younger talent with control, so this wouldn’t be outlandish.
The Blue Jays made a blockbuster deal with the A’s, trading infielder Brett Lawrie and prospects for 3B Josh Donaldson ahead of the 2015 season. Could they do it again for two time Gold Glover Matt Chapman (leading all MLB 3B with +16 OAA and +7 DRS) with a package built around Cavan Biggio or Lourdes Gurriel Jr., along with MLB ready prospect Alejandro Kirk and Jordan Groshans?
Chapman won’t be a free agent until 2024 and has averaged a bWAR of 6.9 per 162 games through his 5 year MLB career. Billy Beane may eventually step aside from his role as Executive VP of Baseball Operations in Oakland after attempting to merge his SPAC with Red Sox owner John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. David Forst is now the A’s GM, so could lightning strike twice? It is probably unlikely based on their stance to add before the July TDL.
With only two weeks left until the July 30th trade deadline, is it time for the Blue Jays front office to complete a blockbuster trade to shake things up going in to the second half of the 2021 season and beyond, to re-energize a team that has scuffled to a 45-42 record so far this year, despite a +72 run differential and four position player All-Stars?
Pat Gillick might agree with the concept.