Deal for hard-throwing Hicks puts Blue Jays' bullpen in prime position

July 30th, 2023

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have landed one of baseball’s best flamethrowers, acquiring reliever in a trade with the Cardinals, the club announced.

Toronto will send two young right-handed pitchers the other way, in No. 7 prospect Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein. To make room on the 40-man roster for Hicks, has been designated for assignment.

Hicks was one of the top players on the market this season, and certainly one of the best relievers available as contenders try to stack up their bullpens for a postseason run. The 26-year-old right-hander is in his final year of team control, making him a rental, but the Blue Jays were aggressive in acquiring Hicks after it became clear that he and the Cardinals would not reach an agreement on an extension.

Blue Jays get: RHP Jordan Hicks
Cardinals get: RHP Sem Robberse (No. 7 prospect), RHP Adam Kloffenstein

Hicks had a difficult start to the season with the Cardinals, but he has been one of baseball’s most dominant relievers over the past three months, lowering his ERA to 3.67 with 59 strikeouts over 49 2/3 innings. He has the potential to take Toronto’s bullpen to the next level, so here’s everything you need to know about the Blue Jays first -- but likely not last -- major deal ahead of Tuesday’s Trade Deadline:

A rare arm: What Hicks brings
“Rare” doesn’t quite capture it. Hicks’ four-seam fastball averages 101 mph, while his sinker averages 100.5 mph, making them two of the six fastest pitches in Major League Baseball.

Like triple digits? Hicks has thrown 373 pitches over 100 mph this season, which is comfortably the most in MLB. He can reach back for even more, too, as his 22 pitches over 103 mph ranks second in MLB this season. Hicks topped out at 104.3 mph this season, a number that only Jhoan Duran of the Twins has surpassed.

You’ll see Hicks use a sweeper as his primary pitch below 100 mph, which produces an incredible swing-and-miss rate of 58.6%.

What this means for Toronto’s bullpen
Just Saturday, the Blue Jays placed closer on the IL with lower back inflammation. Hicks has some closing experience, including eight saves this season with the Cardinals, and he now joins a back-end group of , and .

There will be a bullpen crunch around them, though, especially as the Blue Jays move to a six-man rotation on Tuesday against the Orioles to accommodate the return of . A six-man rotation means a seven-man bullpen, so Hicks’ ability to throw two innings at a time will come in handy.

Eventually, Romano will return and add to this bullpen crunch. In the short term,  is nearly ready to return from Tommy John surgery and should be rounding out his rehab with Triple-A Buffalo soon. The Blue Jays have more good relievers than they have bullpen spots, which is a luxurious spot to be in.

To date, Toronto’s bullpen has quietly posted the third-best ERA in MLB at 3.65, also ranking in the top five in walk rate and strikeout rate.

Beyond Hicks, Swanson, García, and Mayza, has been excellent this season. has hit the ground running in Toronto while has excelled and has shown significant upside between his tough outings.

So, there will be some difficult decisions ahead to solve what is, ultimately, a great problem for the Blue Jays.

What it cost
This deal wasn’t cheap, nor should it have been.

Robberse is a fascinating development story, signed out of the Netherlands before growing into one of the top arms in Toronto’s system. The right-hander owns a 4.06 ERA in Double-A this season, and he seemed due for a taste of Triple-A soon. Kloffenstein, meanwhile, was making good on a repeat of Double-A, posting a 3.24 ERA.

What Robberse and Kloffenstein represented was the potential of some controllable, in-house starting rotation depth next season from Triple-A. That’s been a weakness for the Blue Jays, which they’re fortunate hasn’t been exposed often due to a healthy rotation, but this is the cost of doing business near the top of the market.

Robberse and Kloffenstein could both develop into big-league starters -- Robberse in particular, with his athletic delivery and improving physical build -- but the Blue Jays are trying to win now, in 2023, and Hicks has the potential to make a good bullpen truly great.