The Blue Jays went into July needing some help in the bullpen given the up and down struggles with the pitching corps as well as some injuries to key members early in the season like Julian Merryweather, Kirby Yates, and David Phelps.
Ross Atkins first acquired Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards early in the month before trading for Brad Hand and Joakim Soria at the trade deadline to help solidify the pen.
Cimber and Richards have been solid so far since joining the Blue Jays and while Soria missed some time on the IL, his veteran presence and recent outings are strong. Hand is the one struggling right now, failing to get outs and giving up some key runs late in the game that has handed the club a few different losses. The most notable is the walk-off walk he allowed against the Seattle Mariners earlier this month.
While the Blue Jays were active at the trade deadline, one relief pitcher they should have looked at acquiring is right-hander Kendall Graveman.
While the trades are a great step in the right direction, there is one relief pitcher the Blue Jays should have gone after at the deadline who could have made a real difference down the stretch. Not only is he pitching well right now, but he is also a former Blue Jay prospect.
A former starter turned closer, Kendall Graveman has been great this year, starting off strong with the Mariners before being traded to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline. It was shocking that Graveman was available given that the Mariners are in the playoff hunt via the Wild Card, similar to the Blue Jays. The pitcher was traded to Oakland back in 2014 in the package deal for Josh Donaldson.
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This season, Graveman is throwing to a 1.00 ERA through 41 appearances across both squads, striking out 48 batters with only nine walks while compiling 10 saves. A key member of the Mariners bullpen prior to the trade, the right-hander is now one of the more reliable arms in the Astros relief corps, pitching to a 1.50 ERA through 11 outings with five holds.
The one difference between acquiring Graveman versus the other pitchers the Blue Jays went and acquired is the trade capital required to complete the trades. Hand did cost the Blue Jays 19th ranked prospect catcher Riley Adams and Rowdy Tellez was needed to complete the Richards deal, however, the club could afford to trade both given the depth the Jays have at the catcher position and with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. entrenched at first base.
The Mariners acquired INF Abraham Toro and RHP Joe Smith in exchange for Graveman, two major league players with Smith providing support in the bullpen while Toro has five more years of contract control, so the Blue Jays may have had to add another player or two down in the minors to get the deal done compared to the trade they made with the Nationals, Brewers, and Marlins.
Having Graveman in the bullpen would have been a huge asset for the club, and while fans were clamoring for the front office to acquire Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel (who would eventually be traded to the Chicago White Sox and is struggling as of late), Graveman is a more suitable option that doesn’t hurt the future pocketbook and still is productive on the mound, another strong righty who can be used in the high leverage situations. Similar to Hand, he is a rental player who will be eligible for free agency this upcoming off-season.
While we can’t go back in time in redo trades, this one falls into the category of “shoulda woulda coulda” and now the club is on the outside looking in for a playoff spot as the schedule creeps towards the start of September.
The Blue Jays were not actively linked to Graveman at the trade deadline but considering how well he was pitching and that he was apparently available, he may have been a difference-maker going down the stretch. To be fair, nobody could have predicted that Hand would have struggled as he has, but Graveman was a top arm and now he is helping the Astros on their way to clinching the AL West.
While the lack of offense has been the highlight lately as the club is struggling to score runs with runners in scoring position, having Kendall Graveman in the bullpen would have been added boost over their current arms.