Blue Jays: How to make a lineup upgrade make the most sense

Jul 4, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; The Toronto Blue Jays dugout greets designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) after he scored on am RBI single hit by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (not pictured) n the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 4, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; The Toronto Blue Jays dugout greets designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) after he scored on am RBI single hit by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (not pictured) n the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s next to no debate about the need for pitching upgrades for the Blue Jays, but do they really need to find another bat for the lineup? I think that’s a pretty fair question these days.

In a perfect world, the Blue Jays would be able to find a left-handed batter to break up their string of talented right-handed hitters, and it’s something that Blue Jays fans have been talking about for quite a while. I’ll admit that I’d still love to see this kind of upgrade for the roster, but I’m not sure that it needs to be a very big priority at the moment, at least relative to the issues with the pitching staff.

On the plus side, the Blue Jays have been getting solid production from a pair of their own left-handed hitters in Cavan Biggio and Raimel Tapia. Biggio has slashed .364/.500/.545 over his last seven games, and .287/.426/.494 over his last 30, really turning a corner since returning from the Injured List earlier in the year. As for Tapia, he’s slashed .295/.323/.474 over his last 30 games, and has found a way to make a nice contribution to his new team after a slow start to the year.

On top of the solid production from those two, the Blue Jays have a pretty lengthy lineup and already have a challenge to get all of their productive hitters to the plate with regularity. For example, here’s a lineup that the Blue Jays could use on any given day, and who gets left out in this case.

1- George Springer (CF)
2- Bo Bichette (SS)
3- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (DH)
4- Alejandro Kirk (C)
5- Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
6- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF)
7- Matt Chapman (3B)
8- Santiago Espinal (2B)
9- Cavan Biggio (1B)

Bench- Tapia, Gabriel Moreno, Bradley Zimmer, Zack Collins

A set-up like this is common enough, and the Blue Jays would be sitting two players that have been fairly productive lately, which in this case would be Moreno and Tapia. The log jam has the potential to become even greater once Danny Jansen returns to the active roster, which could happen as soon as later this week.

With the emergence of Alejandro Kirk as an elite hitter, I’m not sure there’s room to look for just any ol’ left-handed bat. In my mind, there’s really only one way it makes sense, at least with the current state of the depth chart. For what I’ve got in mind, the Blue Jays could balance the short and the long-term as they look for a solution, and that’s not going to be easy to do.

What do I mean by that? I think the Blue Jays may need to get creative if they’re serious about shaking up their lineup, and that could include trading a popular player like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez. You’re not going to trade either of those guys unless the right return is coming back, but both sluggers are due to be free agents after the 2023 season, so there’s some logic here that I’ll explain further.

The reason I’m picking on the corner outfielders is because of their respective contract situations, and also because it’s hard to see a fit at other positions across the active roster. George Springer isn’t going anywhere in centre field with 4.5 years left on his contract. Matt Chapman signed a two-year contract before the season began, and I have a hard time seeing him moved this year either. Santiago Espinal has established himself as an important piece of the puzzle, and I feel like there’s no need to explain why Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and even Alejandro Kirk aren’t going anywhere. That leads me back to the corner outfielders, even if I’m fond of them both.

Again, I’m not saying this is going to be easy to put together, but I’ll give you a couple of examples of the kind of trade that would make some sense to me. For example, would the AL Central leading Twins be interested in a swap around one of the two Blue Jay corner outfielders in exchange for Max Kepler? It’s a long shot, but stay with me here.

The rationale for the Blue Jays is pretty simple. Kepler would give them a solid outfield corner bat from the left side with an additional year of contract control, as he won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. He’s a few years removed from his best season in 2019 when he slashed .252/.336/.519 with 36 home runs and 90 RBI over 134 games, but he’s still been a pretty productive hitter this year, and he’s only 29. Would this be a worthwhile swap for the Blue Jays? As much as I wouldn’t mind seeing Kepler in Toronto, I’d hesitate to make a trade that includes Hernandez or Gurriel Jr., and there’s no guarantee the Twins would be interested anyway.

If I was really turning this into a trade session on MLB the Show, a match I like would be between the Mets and Blue Jays. That said, I don’t think Brandon Nimmo’s expiring contract makes much sense, and I don’t think the Mets are going to trade Starling Marte or Jeff McNeil. I’m also nowhere near high enough on a guy like Dominic Smith to consider that option either. Moving on.

I honestly spent more time than I care to admit looking over MLB rosters and trying to find a fit for this idea that isn’t too outlandish. Other than Kepler, the closest thing I could come up with would be making a call to the Angels about Jared Walsh, although that’s certainly a stretch as well. First of all, Walsh profiles better as a first baseman even if he can play in right field as well. Secondly, I’m not sure the Angels would be willing to trade him given that he has three more trips through arbitration after this season before he’ll be a free agent after the 2025 campaign. My rationale for even suggesting such an idea is that the Angels are likely feeling the “win-now” pressure with another potentially wasted season of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and maybe they’d see it as a worthwhile to sacrifice two seasons of Walsh for a chance to acquire someone like Hernandez. Given their 37-44 record and 4th place standings in the AL West, that’s a pretty big “if”.

After pouring over the MLB rosters and looking for a match, the conclusion that I’ve mostly come to is that the Blue Jays may not find that elusive left-handed bat that they’ve coveted for a while now. To be fair, if Biggio and Tapia can keep up the kind of performance they’ve had lately, it’s not exactly going to be a huge need anyway. In a perfect (fantasy) world, the Blue Jays might be able to trade for someone like Ohtani, or even Juan Soto, but I don’t think that’s being very realistic at all. There’s a big part of me that expects a significant move from Ross Atkins and the front office, but the more I think about it, the less I think that boost will come to the lineup.

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I’m sure that the Blue Jays will be busy working the phones ahead of the August 2nd trade deadline, but I would expect that their main focus will be on improving their pitching staff, likely both in the rotation and the bullpen. As much as I’d love to see a significant left-handed bat added to the lineup as well, I’m having a hard time figuring out who the Blue Jays could target, and where they’d fit into the picture.