After shooting a ball down the first-base line and into the right-field corner in the third inning, a trademark hit for Bichette, he was rounding first base at full speed when he decided to put on the brakes. As Bichette stopped running, he reached down to grab his right knee and was in obvious pain.
“We’re still kind of gathering information to see what we’re going to do next,” said manager John Schneider. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Rogers Centre fell dead silent as Bichette, noticeably limping, slowly left the field with a Blue Jays trainer and Schneider. The loss in a key game against division rivals takes a back seat now as Toronto awaits further diagnosis on its shortstop.
“He’s our best player,” said starter Chris Bassitt. “Obviously, we’re waiting a lot more anxiously than you guys are.”
Bichette is the player Toronto can least afford to lose in the middle of a postseason race, and this happening in the middle of its biggest series of the season to date only adds to the worry. Not only is the 25-year-old an offensive force, batting .321 and easily leading the American League with 144 hits, he’s also a near lock to play every day. With Bichette playing 159 games each of the past two seasons and nearly every game thus far in 2023, the Blue Jays have rarely needed another shortstop.
Santiago Espinal took over for Bichette the rest of the way, and he is a good bet to be back at shortstop on Tuesday, but there’s no simple answer to replacing Bichette’s production.
With the Trade Deadline looming at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Blue Jays will have to move quickly if there’s any reason to fear that Bichette will miss a significant chunk of the last two months of the season.
How this impacts the Trade Deadline
It all depends on the diagnosis, but the Trade Deadline won’t wait.
If Bichette’s injury is serious, the Blue Jays will be looking at a trade market with limited options. Across the board, this isn’t a deep market for hitters, and that list shrinks even more when you narrow it down to shortstops.
Tim Anderson of the White Sox is a big name, but the 30-year-old is stuck in the middle of a dreadful season offensively. Coming off a Silver Slugger Award in 2020 and All-Star appearances in '21 and '22, Anderson is batting .245 with just one home run and a .578 OPS entering play Monday. He has a $14 million club option for 2024 with a $1 million buyout.
The Cardinals’ Paul DeJong is another option at shortstop, and while he’s enjoying a better season with a .233 average, 13 home runs and .710 OPS, the 29-year-old hasn’t quite gotten back to the level he played at in his early years with St. Louis from 2017-19. DeJong has a $12.5 million club option in ‘24 ($2 million buyout) and a $15 million club option in ‘25 ($1 million buyout).
In just the past week, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons have used Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Ernie Clement, Mason McCoy and Rafael Lantigua at shortstop. Everyone gets a turn.
Martinez and Barger, the Blue Jays’ No. 4 and No. 6 prospects, represent the most upside. But like most of these options, they lack experience. Both are splitting time between shortstop and third base, with Barger mixing in some right field. Given that the 21-year-old Martinez earned his promotion to Triple-A two weeks ago, the 23-year-old Barger would be a more realistic option.
Barger was one of the stars of Spring Training for the Blue Jays, but after a slow start and an elbow injury that cost him nearly two months, he’s catching back up. He has looked much better of late, but like most of these options, Barger would make more sense in a reserve role for a stretch run rather than seeing immediate, regular reps at shortstop for a playoff team.
In terms of true shortstop prospects, Toronto’s closest is Leo Jimenez down in Double-A, a strong defender with an .818 OPS. The 22-year-old is ranked as the Blue Jays’ No. 19 prospect and is due for a significant jump when MLB Pipeline’s rankings update soon, but turning to a young player from Double-A isn’t the most reliable plan.
Bichette is a player who can’t simply be replaced, which is why the coming hours will be anxious ones in Toronto.