MLB Insider suggests Blue Jays could be surprise sellers at 2024 trade deadline

If the hitting doesn’t come around soon, we cannot discount the possibility that the Blue Jays will be out of the wild card playoff race come July.
Toronto Blue Jays v Los Angeles Angels
Toronto Blue Jays v Los Angeles Angels / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

With less than three months until MLB’s July 30th trade deadline, we’re seeing some early projections on which teams might be sellers, and which players might be available. MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) suggests the Blue Jays might end up as surprise sellers. While he simply details what it might look like, we cannot rule out that possibility.

With the Blue Jays underperforming at 15-18 (.455), and already 6.5 games back of the younger, cheaper and more talented Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, and 4.0 games back of the Minnesota Twins for the last Wild Card slot, they will have to turn things around in short order to keep up.

The Blue Jays are one of the top defensive teams in baseball, ranking second in MLB with 25 defensive runs saved above average (DRS) according to FanGraphs. However, they rank 26th in runs scored with 114, 22nd in home runs at 28, and 21st on OPS at .669. The team ERA ranks 24th at 4.37, with a 4.56 FIP (28th). Translation: they have just not been very good out of the gate this season.

If they can’t dramatically improve on a league-worst batting average (.193) and OPS (.555) with runners in scoring position, we cannot discount the possibility that the Blue Jays will be out of the wild card playoff race come July.

If that is the case, then the front office might have to waive the white flag and move some of their noncore players. Of course, that would be conceding failure.

Rosenthal writes, “The Jays continue to underperform. Their payroll is a franchise-record $225M. Their farm system is meh. And with many of their big names approaching free agency, the team is at a crossroads.” Compare that with the Orioles, who have the top ranked farm system, a roster that is — on average — a full year younger than Toronto’s, and only a $101M payroll. Something has to give.

Rosenthal concludes, “Their free agents after this season include Yusei Kikuchi, Justin Turner, Kevin Kiermaier and Danny Jansen (ed. note: plus Yimi García and Trevor Richards) — mostly complementary parts. But their free agents after 2025, hoo boy. Chris Bassitt. [Bo] Bichette and [Vladimir] Guerrero. Jordan Romano and a number of other [high leverage] relievers” including Chad Green, Tim Mayza, Erik Swanson and Génesis Cabrera.

Payroll implications that could lead to the Blue Jays becoming sellers?

The other consideration — should the Jays fall further back in the standings — will be payroll. The current projected Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) payroll of $248M per Spotrac means Toronto would pay luxury taxes for a second consecutive season. They’re currently projected to be $11M over the luxury tax threshold of $237M for 2024, which would trigger a $3.2M penalty.

Assuming they fall out of the wild card race, the front office could look to reduce their CBT payroll — based on the average annual value of each player's contract, plus any additional player benefits — below the $237M threshold before the end of this season when the tax is calculated. That would allow for a reset of the penalty level from the current 30% tax they’re projected to pay on overages in 2024.

The easiest way to do that is to trade away more in salary than you get back in return, as evidenced by the deals made by teams like the New York Mets at the trade deadline last year, when they moved out seven veteran players, including starters Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, in what was effectively a salary dump.

The Los Angeles Angels, who’d been buyers at the trade deadline last year, ended up waiving five veterans in what was very clearly a big salary dump to get under the luxury tax threshold before the playoff waiver deadline last August 31st.

They’d placed them on outright waivers on August 29th to encourage teams in playoff races to claim them, given any player who is on a team’s 40-man roster or 60-day injured list as of 11:59 p.m. ET on Aug. 31 is eligible for the postseason.

Whether or not general manager Ross Atkins can be trusted to handle another rebuild in his ninth season as GM is a question for another day, but for now we can only hope the Blue Jays turn this ship around and get back into the postseason picture. The line between being buyers or sellers at the trade deadline is a fine one, especially given the expanded three wild card team playoff format is designed to create more buyers at the deadline.