A way-too-early 2023 trade deadline prediction for the Blue Jays
By Nigel Clarke
The Toronto Blue Jays have come smoking out of the gate in 2023, equaling the best record in franchise history through 27 games. So why, with the team playing so well, is it a good time to talk about making changes at the trade deadline?
Well, first of all, because the Jays play in the toughest division in professional sports – note that the best start in franchise history has not even landed them in first place thus far. Any team hoping to compete in the AL East must constantly be looking for ways to improve if they want to keep up.
More than that though, if the Blue Jays’ moment has arrived, well, moments can be fleeting, particularly with Matt Chapman’s impending free agency, and the homegrown core of Guerrero, Bichette, and Manoah still not signed long term.
That’s why the Jays front office should, and almost certainly will, look to swing big at the trade deadline this year in an effort to put the team over the top.
So, who might they target?
There is at least one perfect candidate staring them right in the face, one worthy of a way-too-early trade deadline prediction …
A way-too-early 2023 trade deadline prediction: The Blue Jays reunite with Liam Hendricks
First things first, this is not an indictment of the Blue Jays bullpen.
Yes, it has at times appeared to be the Achilles heel of an otherwise loaded team, but regular readers may recall that at the start of the year, I urged Jays fans to consider the sneaky upside lurking throughout the organization. With the rise of Zach Pop, Nate Pearson reappearing with his triple-digit fastball, and the ongoing dominance of Erik “The Swan” Swanson, this upside is already emerging.
But if there’s one thing we learned from the Houston Astros’ run to the championship last year, or, for that matter, from the Jays’ own inability to protect an 8-1 lead in the playoffs, it’s that a deep stable of dominant bullpen arms is something of a prerequisite for success in the modern game.
Enter Liam Hendriks.
Jays fans may remember Hendriks as the fresh-faced middle reliever who pitched for the team way back in 2014 and 2015. Since becoming a full-time closer in 2019, first with the Oakland A’s and now the Chicago White Sox, Hendriks has been no less than one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Across 226 appearances from 2019-2022, the Australian pitched to a 2.26 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with an astonishing 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, while racking up 114 saves and making three consecutive All Star games.
What has he done in 2023? Only score the greatest victory of his life, defeating an opponent far greater than any baseball team.
On January 8th of this year, Hendriks announced via Instagram that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He would begin chemotherapy the next day.
On April 5th, Hendriks posted a video of him ‘ringing the bell,’ signaling the completion of his treatment, and then, on April 20th, he would provide the announcement the entire baseball world was waiting for – “It’s official. I’m cancer free.”
Barely one week later, Hendriks was back on the mound, looking as dominant as ever while striking out four in an extended Spring Training appearance. He is expected to begin a minor league assignment next week, and, if all goes well, return to the big leagues shortly thereafter.
While any return to the baseball field will surely be cherished, unfortunately for Hendriks, his White Sox have melted down in his absence, losing, as of this writing, ten games in a row and falling 14 games under .500.
Murmurs out of Chicago are now suggesting that the team could be preparing for a full tear-down and rebuild. If this is the case, then the 34-year-old Hendriks and his $15M club option for 2024 will likely be one of the first guys moved for prospects.
We know that the Blue Jays had an interest in Hendriks during his 2021 free agency, when the team famously took him on a tour of their fabled player development complex in Dunedin before he ended up signing with the White Sox. If and when Hendriks becomes available, it seems obvious this interest will quickly rekindle.
This time, however, the potential of a Swanson-Hendriks-Romano wrecking ball in the late innings will prove to be too enticing, and the Jays will find a way to get a deal done.
You heard it here first. The Blue Jays will trade for Liam Hendriks in 2023.
Jays fans may now begin salivating at the prospect of having the best bullpen in baseball.
Do you think Liam Hendriks is the guy? Or is there another target the Jays should be focusing on? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.