Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins bets his future on an underwhelming trade deadline

After backfilling for injured players, Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins seems to be betting big on a mean reversion from the underperforming bats of his stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer and Matt Chapman down the stretch, while also counting on the pitching holding up.
Arizona Diamondbacks v Toronto Blue Jays
Arizona Diamondbacks v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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Many Blue Jays fans were left asking, “that’s it?” as the 2023 trade deadline passed on Tuesday. The Jays added three players in three separate deals with the St. Louis Cardinals: relievers Génesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks, and shortstop Paul DeJong. Hicks and DeJong are both two month rentals, and could be seen simply as backfill players for the injured Jordan Romano and Bo Bichette?

Hicks certainly has an electric arm, and Cabrera has good stuff when he can control it. DeJong has made some great plays defensively, but is 0-for-6 as a Blue Jay and clearly not here for his bat. And with Baltimore racking up more hits in their 6-1 victory at Rogers Centre on Thursday than Toronto has for the entire month so far, the issue seems to be far deeper than the trade deadline adds.

While Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger and Teoscar Hernández did not end up changing teams, big bats did move at the trade deadline: right-handed Jake Burger has 25 home runs, and won’t be a free agent until 2029. Miami acquired him for their #3 prospect, 24-year old AA pitcher Jake Eder, who is coming off Tommy John surgery.

Switch-hitting Jeimer Candelario went to the Cubs for a couple of low level prospects, although 13 of his 16 home runs have come from the left-side. Tommy Pham, who Arizona acquired for a 17-year old playing in the Dominican Summer League, has an .813 OPS, which rises to .862 with 8 home runs in only 95 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.

How would any of those hitters look pinch-hitting against lefties instead of Santiago Espinal or Alejandro Kirk? Instead, could Davis Schneider be an internal answer?

Bet on their current players?

As Jeff Blair, co-host of “Blair and Barker” on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, noted to Tim Micallef at the end of this interview, the message from general manager Ross Atkins at the trade deadline seems to be that he’s betting on a big mean reversion from the underperforming bats of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, and to a lesser extent Matt Chapman.

Guerrero Jr., whose OPS of .782 this season is well below his career average .848 - not to mention his MVP-finalist season in 2021 when he had an OPS of 1.002 - clearly needs to put this Blue Jays team on his back and carry them without the injured Bo Bichette in the lineup.

Springer, whose OPS of .692 this year is 145 points below his career average of .837, also needs to improve in a hurry. He just broke out of a Blue Jays’ record setting 0-for-35 slump, and needs to get back to how he was hitting in May (OPS .834) and June (OPS .796).

Matt Chapman has an OPS of .800 thanks to a hot start in April, but that was .864 when he finished 7th in the AL MVP vote in 2018, .848 in 2019 when he was an All-Star, and .812 as recently as a the pandemic shortened 2020 season. He can clearly hit better, as evidenced by a smoking hot March/April start to the season, when he hammered 5 home runs with 21 RBIs while slashing .384/.465/.687/1.152. He also hit 4 homers in July with an OPS of .908; that has to continue.

Atkins is counting on the underperforming bats improving and reverting to mean down the stretch, but also expecting that Bichette, Whit Merrifield, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Belt and Danny Jansen will continue with their above league average OPS+ numbers, and that the pitching and defense will continue their strong run prevention with MLB’s 5th lowest pitching staff ERA of 3.82.