A pair of past Blue Jays trade deadline deals that have helped shape the 2023 team
By Edward Eng
Most of the time, when contending MLB teams look for deals at the trade deadline, many of them focus on those that could help them for their current playoff push and the postseason. What is often overlooked is that the players acquired in the deal are likely to be just rentals and may be gone after their contributions in the short few months after the trade. But once in a while, those players may come with term, or present the opportunity to have their contract extended so that they could be kept by the team to help them in future years.
The Toronto Blue Jays were fortunate enough to land two key players from trade deadlines in the past that didn’t become just rentals, and are currently providing strong contributions to the team’s success this year in 2023.
Last season, when the Jays were desperately looking for upgrades to bolster their chances in reaching the postseason, they were actively shopping for players at the trade deadline. However, when they ended up just getting Anthony Bass, Zach Pop, Mitch White and Whit Merrifield, many had thought they had quite a disappointing and underwhelming deadline, as none of them were believed to be big difference makers for the ballclub.
In particular, the Merrifield deal came out of left field, as many had thought the Jays were mainly focusing on acquiring pitching depth, which was their main weakness at the time. Not only that, but Merrifield was having his worst season in his career with the Kansas City Royals and at age 33, appeared to be approaching father time from his substantial regression in his stats.
However, after joining the Jays at the 2022 trade deadline, as well as carrying on into the 2023 season, Merrifield has been a revelation. He has reverted back to his All-Star form and has been a key contributor to the Jays whether hitting, running or fielding. He is currently hitting .271/.324/.364 on the season with 17 runs scored, one home run, 16 RBI, 10 walks, 25 strikeouts, and an impressive 12-for-13 in stolen bases. In addition, he has committed only two errors playing all over the field (second base and the outfield) in over 298 innings.
This solid production by Merrifield has helped strengthen the entire Jays lineup in 2023, whether cashing in runs or setting the table for those after him, as he usually hits in the middle to bottom part of the lineup, along with a hot Kevin Kiermaier and recently hot Brandon Belt. This has made GM Ross Atkins look brilliant in his surprising trade last season that is now paying dividends quite nicely.
Many people may just focus on the terrible season that José Berríos had last year and may have forgotten his pedigree as the Minnesota Twins’ ace starter for many years prior to being traded to the Jays in 2021. Not to forget, the Jays also gave up two top prospects in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson to acquire Berríos at the 2021 trade deadline from the Twins that year. The Jays definitely believed they weren’t gambling when they got the chance to acquire a bonafide front-end of the rotation starter, especially after giving him a seven-year, $131 million extension after the 2021 season.
Despite a horrid 2022 season and a similar start to the 2023 season, things began to turn around drastically for Berríos. In his recent five weeks, he has looked more like the Berríos of old, dominating hitters with his nasty slider and dealing with confidence, leading the Jays to four wins in six outings. In doing so, he has lowered his ERA that began in the double digits at the start of the season down to 4.70, to go along with a 1.28 WHIP with 44 strikeouts in 46 innings pitched. He has also brought his ERA+ back up to 91, after beginning the season well below 50.
Berríos has helped stabilize the Jays’ 2023 rotation, in particular with Alek Manoah currently struggling, to give them four active quality starters while Manoah works out his issues. If Berríos would have continued his struggles as well, the Jays starting rotation would be in a lot more trouble than they would be in now and probably wouldn’t have as much success to the start to the season than they have now.
Together, both Merrifield and Berríos will look to continue their strong play with the Jays and hopefully, the Jays will be able to find similar solid deals this year at the 2023 trade deadline as well.