Does Jordan Romano's injury change the Blue Jays' trade deadline plans?

Closer Jordan Romano was removed Friday after loading the bases in the top of the 9th with the same lower back discomfort he had in the All-Star Game. Does this change Toronto’s trade deadline priorities?
Los Angeles Angels v Toronto Blue Jays
Los Angeles Angels v Toronto Blue Jays / Cole Burston/GettyImages

For the second time this month - including the All-Star game - Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano was removed from a game after experiencing lower back discomfort Friday night at home versus the LA Angels. Manager John Schneider pulled him in the top of the 9th inning after Romano had loaded the bases with a 4-1 lead. Romano was clearly out of sorts and stretching his back, and was placed on the 15-day IL on Saturday.

Schneider said his closer’s back had “locked up” on him, and the team placed him on the 15-day IL with lower back inflammation, while recalling Nate Pearson from Triple-A Buffalo. Romano’s importance to the Blue Jays bullpen cannot be underestimated: he’s tied for third in MLB with Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase and Baltimore’s Félix Bautista at 28 saves, and carries a heavy load at the back of the bullpen, posting a 2.79 ERA in 42.0 innings with 51 Ks, 15 walks, and ERA+ of 150.

Yimi García was able to get the final out for his third save Friday in relief of Romano, but the injury could seriously impact the team’s bullpen plans just as we hit the stretch run. Other Jays relievers on the current 26-man roster with saves include Erik Swanson (2), Tim Mayza (1) and Nate Pearson (1). Adam Cimber - who saved 4 games in 2022 - is on the 60-day IL.

Does this change Toronto’s trade deadline priorities?

Given the trade deadline is next Tuesday, August 1st at 6:00pm ET, could the Romano scare affect general manager Ross Atkins’ plans? Chad Green appears to be progressing well in his rehab assignment, and could be back in late August. Nate Pearson had 4 strikeouts in 1.2 innings of scoreless work for the Bisons Thursday against the the SWB RailRiders, the Yankees’ AAA affiliate.

There are still a number of closers available based on MLBTR’s top 50 trade candidates list. While Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson are already off the board, Scott Barlow of the Royals, Jordan Hicks of the Cardinals, 2023 All-Star Josh Hader of the Padres, and Alex Lange and Jason Foley of the Tigers are all likely available. The Pirates are also reportedly fielding interest in their own All-Star closer David Bednar. Giovanny Gallegos lost the role in St. Louis, but might also be available.

Should Romano’s injury prove more serious, the Jays could use a closer-by-committee of Swanson, Pearson, Mayza and Garcia. Chad Green likely isn’t a solution coming off Tommy John surgery, plus he only has 11 career saves over seven seasons. Or perhaps hard throwing Yusei Kikuchi, who had one save last year, could help fill-in given Hyun Jin Ryu’s return to the Blue Jays rotation on Tuesday?

Of the trade targets listed above, Hicks and Hader are pure rentals and will be free agents after only another 20 or so innings this season. Barlow and Gallegos both have another year of team control, Bednar won’t be a free agent until after the 2026 season, and Lange and Foley are both controllable through 2027.

The price for these closers will obviously vary with the amount of control they have, so the Jays might be priced out on Bednar and Lange. Barlow has been terrible this month, with a 10.13 ERA over 8 appearances covering eight innings, with only three strikeouts versus eight walks. Reportedly the Cardinals are open to offers on Gallegos, who has a 3.77 ERA and excellent 5.2% walk rate in 43.0 innings pitched.

Hader has been outstanding this season for a bad Padres club, with a miniscule 0.95 ERA in 38.0 innings, with 24 saves and 58 Ks against only 20 walks. However, the 29-year old lefty is making $14.1 million this season, which might put him out of Toronto’s price range; the Blue Jays have already triggered the luxury tax with a $253 million competitive balance tax payroll for 2023.

Enter Jordan Hicks?

Jordan Hicks, however, has been outstanding since talking over from Giovanny Gallegos as the Cardinals closer on June 17th. Since then, he’s recorded 8 saves in nine opportunities over 13.1 innings, with a 2.06 ERA and 14 Ks against only 3 walks.

The 26-year old, who features one of the hardest 4-seam fastball in baseball at an average of 101mph, will be a free agent after the season. He mixes that elite heater with an 87.5 mph sweeper, an 86.9 mph slider that features 38.5” of vertical drop, and a 100.5 mph sinker to strikeout 31.2% of batters faced. Importantly, he’s only making $1,837,500 this season in his final year of arbitration.

According to the rumour mill, Hicks is being aggressively pursued by the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, and the New York Yankees. Given the Cardinals are also likely to move rental starters Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, and possibly switch-hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson, perhaps Toronto’s front office could complete all of their trade deadline shopping with a call to Cardinals GM Mike Girsch?

The Jordan Romano scare should point out the urgency of acquiring more MLB ready bullpen depth, not to mention starting pitch depth. With potential playoff difference makers like Hicks, Hader and Bednar available, all eyes now turn to Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office. Your move, Ross.