The Toronto Blue Jays continue their four-game series at home against the Tigers, who have selected the contract of former Jays reliever Derek Law to replace Friday’s starter, Bryan Garcia. While it’s all a bit complicated, could this signal a pending trade of one (or more) of their veteran relievers to the Jays?
As per MLBTR, “Detroit is temporarily working with an extra spot on the 40-man roster, as reliever Andrew Chafin is on the restricted list for this weekend’s series against the Jays. The Tigers will need to clear a roster spot to reinstate Chafin on Monday, but it’s very possible they make a trade that subtracts someone from the major league roster within the next two days.”
The Tigers were able to return Garcia, who is not on their 40-man roster, to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens without passing through waivers because of his virus substitute designation. But Law’s promotion is a different matter because he isn’t a substitute.
The Tigers have selected Law’s minor league contract to add him to the 40-man roster (and, in this case also to their active 26-man roster). This means they will have to clear a roster spot to reinstate Andrew Chafin from the restricted list.
Could Law’s Promotion Signal a Pending Trade of a Veteran Reliever, potentially to the Toronto Blue Jays?
While Law has performed well for Toledo this year (3.23 ERA over 39 innings, striking out 27.2% versus walking only 6.2% of batters faced), it’s unlikely the Jays are pursuing a reunion with him (especially after his performance earlier today). What’s more interesting from a Blue Jays perspective is who else might be traded to reinstate Chafin?
It’s unlikely the Jays will pursue an unvaccinated reliever for the stretch run who could only pitch for them in the US until he’s been fully vaccinated for 14 calendar days before entering Canada. This leaves veteran reliever Michael Fulmer and still arbitration-eligible Joe Jiménez as potential trade targets. Fulmer is a pending free agent after this season, while Jiménez will be a free agent after the 2023 season.
A more expensive target might be Tigers closer Gregory Soto, who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and isn’t a free agent until 2026. Detroit isn’t known to skimp on salary though, and with a $138 million 2022 total payroll, they’re not in a situation where they have to dump building blocks for the future.
With Rockies closer Daniel Bard signing a two-year, $19 million contract extension with the Rockies, the urgency to add some relief help to the Blue Jays bullpen has only increased.
Jays Bullpen Needs Help
The Jays’ bullpen ERA of 3.91 ranks 17th in MLB, but their fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 4.23 (25th in MLB) is much worse, suggesting that the strong infield defence behind them of Matt Chapman and Santiago Espinal has made them look better than they are. Add in the 17 blown saves, which ranks them 26th, and there’s clearly a shortage of arms manager John Schneider can use in high leverage relief situations. With dismal depth options in the minors like Jeremy Beasley and the ongoing injury woes of hard throwers like Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather, it’s time for the Blue Jays front office to reinforce this team’s bullpen.
MLBTR lists Fulmer as the 15th best player in terms of both “likelihood of being traded and value to an acquiring club.” The 2016 Rookie of the Year has pitched to a 2.77 ERA and 3.27 FIP over 39 innings of relief this year, with two saves and a 0.7 fWAR. According to Statcast, the righty is very hard to barrel up, ranking in the top 99th percentile of pitchers in terms of barrel percentage against.
His 80th percentile whiff rate, striking out 23.2% of batters faced, also suggests he’s the kind of swing and miss arm the Jays need. With a wicked 90mph slider (64.3% of his pitches), 94mph sinker (14.7%) and fastball (12.7%) repertoire, he also offers a different look than other Jays set-up relievers like Adam Cimber, David Phelps, Yimi Garcia and Tim Mayza.
That’s all impressive value for a 41-61 Tigers team in 4th place in the AL Central. The 29-year-old is making $4.95 million this year, which leaves about $1.86 million owed on his contract.
Right-hander Jiménez places 33rd on MLBTR’s list of likely trade deadline candidates. He still has another season of team control which makes him more expensive to acquire. He’s pitched to a 3.00 ERA and 1.91 FIP over 39 innings, with a save and 0.9 fWAR.
The 27-year-old will be entering his final year of arbitration this offseason and will be due a decent raise from the $1.79 million he’s currently making, with ~$674,000 or so still owed to him this season.
What the Jays should love about Jiménez is his high percentile rankings on whiff percentage (83rd percentile), chase rate (92nd percentile), and strikeout percentage (98th percentile). He features a 96 mph four-seam fastball 62.8% of the time, coupled with a wipe-out 85mph slider (31.5% of his pitches) that leads to him striking out 35.3% of batters faced versus only a 5.1% walk rate. It’s an excellent power arm combination that the Blue Jays should be salivating over.
Should Soto be made available, he’d return a strong prospect haul to Detroit.
With a 2.36 ERA and 19 saves over 34.1 innings, the 27-year-old, two-time All-Star lefty would slot in nicely in a set-up and late innings relief role with Toronto. What’s not to like about his 25.5% strikeout rate versus 10.3% walk rate? But given he won’t be a free agent until 2026, that’s less likely.
MLBTR ranks him 37th on their list of potential trade deadline candidates and puts him in a group with other pitchers controllable beyond this season, including Jiménez, Scott Barlow, Anthony Bass, Joe Mantiply and Kyle Finnegan. As MLBTR notes, “they’re all good but not elite late-game arms on teams unlikely to make the postseason in 2022. It’s easy enough to envision their teams selling relatively high on anyone in this tier, with Barlow and Jimenez probably the likeliest to move.”
Your Move, Ross Atkins
Given the Jays brass have four games to directly scout these Tigers relievers here in Toronto, they should have a good sense of how these players might contribute to the stretch run and a playoff push this season.
GM Ross Atkins must be working the phones hard given potential AL playoff peers New York (Andrew Benintendi) and Seattle (Luis Castillo) have made splashy acquisitions in the past few days. He has until August 2nd to complete trade deadline deals, but with the Tigers already here in town, now is the time to acquire what look to be available relief arms that could add value as we head down the stretch. Let’s go!