Toronto Blue Jays: Trade Deadline Moves Disappoint

The MLB Trade Deadline has passed, and in what must be termed as a disappointment, the Blue Jays made only a few acquisitions, trading for pitchers Anthony Bass, Zach Pop and Mitch White, along with utilityman Whit Merrifield and yet another 2B prospect in Alex De Jesus.

The Yankees added LF Andrew Benintendi, starter Frankie Montas, CF Harrison Bader and relievers Scott Effross and Lou Trivino.

The Astros added 1B/OF Trey Mancini, starter Jake Odorizzi, reliever Will Smith, catcher Christian Vazquez, and will see starter Lance McCullers Jr. return from injury shortly.

The Twins added starter Tyler Mahle, closer Jorge López and set-up man Michael Fulmer.

On July 20th last season before a rainout in Boston, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins repeatedly said that the Blue Jays had “earned the right” to more additions [at the Trade Deadline] by “staying focused on what they can control with a lot of challenges put in front of them.” He would soon acquire top-of-the-rotation starter Jose Berríos in a blockbuster trade for top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson on the deadline day. 

As Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi wrote at the time,

The needs for the Blue Jays are well-defined, as they have been for the past two months. More leverage arms for the bullpen, perhaps a starter, maybe a third baseman – preferably one that hits left-handed – who provides above-average defence, all in the service of run prevention…

Indeed, Atkins noted in the same press conference that the Blue Jays had “shifted towards the winning cycle,” and would be looking to improve their major league team at the MLB Trade Deadline, with run prevention an obvious priority.

That followed his June 20, 2021 press conference, when Atkins also identified run prevention as the organization’s primary need, with the bullpen top of mind. Toronto’s GM identified “strike-throwing” as a big need for the major league bullpen.

And during his season-ending chat with media last October 6th, Atkins mentioned a lack of diversity in the batting lineup, and how the Jays were better with left-handed hitters Cavan Biggio and Corey Dickerson in their right-handed heavy lineup. “It’s not just that they’re left-handed, but how we are attacked and potentially the pitchers that are used is different,” the GM said. “Secondarily, we feel it’s important to have balance and not just the same type of hitters up and down your lineup.”

Blue Jays 2022 Trade Deadline Moves Disappoint

Fast forward to the August 2nd MLB Trade Deadline yesterday and many of those same “needs” remain. The Jays’ front office failed to acquire any high leverage arms that could help with setup and late innings work unless Anthony Bass can rediscover some of his killer instinct from 2020.

They missed out on all of the effective starting pitchers that were available on the market. And they failed to add a left-handed bat to strengthen the bench, instead trading for the reportedly unvaccinated, right-handed hitting utility IF/OF Whit Merrifield from Kansas City, in what may be a signal that the team is concerned about CF George Springer’s elbow, and possibly headed to the IL?

Perhaps this same front office felt that this current 2022 edition of the Blue Jays, with the third best record in the AL, had not “earned the right” to more additions?

As Andrew Stoeten notes in his blog ‘The Batflip’, “… not only would doing little-to-nothing send the wrong message to the team, and the wrong message to the fans, it would also be a terrible business move!”

So are they really serious about wanting to make this 26-man roster better if they can?

Were the Jays serious about acquiring a generational talent like 23-year-old superstar and left-handed hitting OF Juan Soto?  The Padres paid up for him along with switch-hitting 1B Josh Bell.

While the Soto trade may be the biggest deal in the history of the Trade Deadline, with a haul of prospects sent to Washington that the Jays would never have been able to match with their bottom third farm system, there were other players who fit the Jays’ primary needs.

AL East Playoff Contenders All Improved

The three best starting pitchers on the market in Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas and Tyler Mahle? Acquired by the Mariners, Yankees and Twins, respectively, which are all teams the Blue Jays could face in the postseason. Former Jays farmhand Noah Syndergaard went to the Phillies.

Left-handed OFs Andrew Benintendi and David Peralta? Switch-hitting OF Robbie Grossman? Acquired by the Yankees, Rays and Braves, respectively.

And those strike-throwing relievers to help out with run prevention? Baltimore closer Jorge López and Tigers set-up man Michael Fulmer were both acquired by the Twins while Cubs swing-and-miss rookie sidearmer Scott Effross went to the Yankees, and Atlanta’s former closer Will Smith was acquired by the Astros; all of them were acquired by AL clubs with deep playoff run aspirations. In addition, Angels closer Raisel Iglesias was traded to the Braves, while Brewers Josh Hader went to the Padres for Taylor Rogers in a flip of closers.

Anthony Bass and Zach Pop are not prototypical high leverage relievers

Since signing with Miami after pitching for the Jays in 2020, Bass has 35 holds, zero saves, seven blown saves (including three this year) and 11 losses. He’s blown every save opportunity he’s had for the past two seasons.

He’s also a very different pitcher. With the Jays in 2020, he’d used his 95mph sinker 53% of the time and his 86mph slider for 39% of his pitches. While his velocity is unchanged since then, he now features the slider 57% of the time and the sinker 28.5%, with a 95mph four-seam fastball for 11% of his pitches.

While he’s been striking out 26% of batters faced this season versus only walking 5.8%, he’s had success (1.41 ERA, 2.06 FIP over 44.2 innings) as a middle innings arm, not as high leverage, late innings shut down reliever like Gregory Soto, Joe Jiménez or Tanner Scott.

Pop, a 25-year-old right-hander who hails from Brampton, Ontario, has one hold and zero saves over that period. He’s only striking out 17% of batters faced this season but has also only walked 2.4% of them. That’s led to a 3.60 ERA and 2.82 FIP over 20 innings pitched.

https://twitter.com/pitchingninja/status/1540815860067082240?s=21&t=pN8YRSMi_z2f3f-i5XwHEw

The Blue Jays also added 27-year-old Dodgers swingman Mitch White, who was the de facto sixth starter for Los Angeles this year; starting 10 of the 15 games he appeared in, and tossing 56 innings with a 3.70 ERA and 3.95 FIP. He cost the Jays RHP Nick Frasso and recently signed international free agent LHP Moises Brito. The Jays also received the Dodgers’ #19 prospect, 20-year-old 2B Alex De Jesus.

Compared to the Trade Deadline moves by their potential AL playoff peers, Blue Jays fans might be left wanting

Frasso’s been throwing 98-100mph for Vancouver in High A after being promoted from Dunedin in June, where he posted a 0.70 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and an almost five-to-one strikeout to walk ratio in seven starts. So the Jays traded away a power arm for White who throws low- to mid-nineties.

The best that can be said of these three newly acquired pitchers is that they are all an upgrade over Anthony Banda, who was designated for assignment (DFA’d) in a corresponding move, as well as LHP Andrew Vasquez (claimed by the Phillies off waivers), and Jeremy Beasley (traded to the Pirates for cash considerations). And while Bass comes with a $3 million team option for 2023, Pop and White will be under team control through the 2026 and 2027 seasons, respectively.

The fact the Jays had to trade their 4th best (and the #82 MLB) prospect in Jordan Groshans for Bass and Pop (and a PTBNL) – when the Phillies were able to acquire Cubs closer David Robertson for their #25 prospect, pitcher Ben Brown; and the Twins dealt for set-up man Michael Fulmer from the Tigers with for an AA pitcher not in their top 30 prospects – only adds salt to the wound.

Claiming they’ve added “years of control” is a fallacy based on previous trades for Brandon Drury, Billy McKinney, Socrates Brito, Alen Hanson, Derek Fisher, Anthony Kay, and Julian Merryweather.

Robertson and Fulmer are exactly the type of high-leverage bullpen arms the Jays needed. And if the front office loved Bass’ arm so much, why did they not make a bigger effort to resign him after the 2020 season?

Merrifield to be vaccinated?

A two-time All-Star with the Royals, 33-year-old Whit Merrifield may be an insurance policy if the Springer elbow injury proves more serious. He can play 2B, RF and CF, and he’s under team control for two more seasons including an $18 million mutual option for 2024. But will he get vaccinated in time to help the Jays?

His slash line has tumbled this year to a lowly .240/.290/.352/.643, so let’s hope a change of scenery helps get him back on track. At this stage, the best result may be that he fills in for an injured Springer, but is he needed at 2B when the platoon of Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio has been so effective of late?

Does his right-handed bat displace the lefty bench bats of Bradley Zimmer and Zack Collins? It’s certainly a better bat but is still right-handed.

Honestly, there are more questions than answers with this trade, especially given he cost RHP Max Castillo, who’s been effective with the big club, and #16 prospect Samad Taylor.

A Disappointing Day for Blue Jays fans

No doubt Jays fans will hear in the coming days, weeks and months how the team was “in” on Juan Soto, Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas, Noah Syndergaard, Raisel Iglesias, Andrew Benintendi and others. Just like we heard at the end of last season how they were in on Guardians All-Star 3B José Ramírez.

But the teams ahead of the Jays in the American League – the Yankees and the Astros – both had much more productive trade deadlines this year, as did the AL Central leading Twins. Wild card contenders Tampa and Seattle also made significant additions.

Are Anthony Bass, Zach Pop, Mitch White and Whit Merrifield enough to make the Jays more competitive for a playoff push? Are they a better World Series contender after today? Or do they still need more swing-and-miss strike throwers for high leverage relief situations? Better starting depth at the back of the rotation?

And better left-handed bench bats to improve the diversity of the batting lineup? With 60 odd games left until the playoffs, these Trade Deadline deals create more questions than answers.