TORONTO -- The Blue Jays officially have made their big splash, acquiring right-hander José Berríos from the Twins in exchange for No. 2 prospect Austin Martin and No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson.
The deal is the major addition that the Blue Jays have been targeting to upgrade their rotation, and another landmark move for an organization that’s spent the past two seasons moving from its rebuild into a competitive window that it hopes to stretch over multiple seasons.
The timing couldn’t be better, either, as the club returns home to Rogers Centre on Friday night for the first time in 670 days to kick off what it hopes will be a postseason run down the stretch. Following some smaller deals earlier in the season, including the acquisition of Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson from the Marlins, the Blue Jays also acquired Nationals closer Brad Hand on Thursday to boost the back end of their bullpen.
“This is a combination of things occurring over several years,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “The development and maturation of our young core, the opportunities we’ve had over the past couple of offseasons to add, and now our farm system being in a good place with a team that we’d like to help push to the next level. All of those things made some sense with the opportunity to acquire a talent that we’re very excited about.”
The appeal of Berríos is twofold for the Blue Jays, like any major trade needed to be for them at this Deadline. He boosts their postseason chances in 2021, as they look to make a run in the American League Wild Card race and potentially AL East, but this also takes care of one of the club’s biggest needs entering 2022.
Robbie Ray is a pending free agent, and with a 3.04 ERA over 118 1/3 innings, the 29-year-old’s incredible turnaround in 2021 is setting him up to be one of the market’s most attractive arms. The Blue Jays would like to keep Ray around, but money talks and 29 other clubs will have their shot when he reaches the open market.
Berríos gives the Blue Jays a solution in the No. 2 or 3 spot next season, his final of club control, and appeals to one of the Blue Jays’ most coveted traits, durability. The 27-year-old threw 192 1/3 and 200 1/3 innings in 2018 and ’19, respectively, his last two full MLB seasons, and is already up to 121 2/3 innings this season. The Blue Jays value not only the level of consistency that Berríos brings to his outings, but his ability to save the bullpen, which has been a weakness for the club most of this summer.
“We talk about it all the time. In order to be a Major League starter, it starts there. In order to get better, you need to do it a lot,” Atkins said. “To get those reps, you have to be durable. He always has been. I think there are a lot of pitchers out there who maybe don’t have his track record that can be as durable moving forward, but that is certainly an attractive attribute.”
In the meantime, this gives the Blue Jays a top three of Hyun Jin Ryu, Berríos and Ray, with young right-hander Alek Manoah sliding in as the No. 4. The final spot in the rotation will be between Steven Matz and Friday's starter, Ross Stripling, but this group is suddenly shifting into a strength for the Blue Jays after some inconsistencies earlier in the season.
“We’re thinking about next year, too,” reiterated manager Charlie Montoyo. “A guy like Berríos is one of the best starters in baseball, and now we have control over him next year as well. I think that was a great move. Ross Atkins deserves a lot of credit. It’s not easy to make those moves. I see what’s going on and it’s not that easy.”
The package the Blue Jays are sending to the Twins is substantial, though, and reflects just how highly they value Berríos. Martin was the club’s fifth overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, when the Vanderbilt star slipped to the Blue Jays. Splitting his time between shortstop and center field in Double-A this season, Martin has hit .281 with a .424 on-base percentage. His power hasn’t shown, with just two home runs, but the Blue Jays viewed Martin as a top-level, all-around offensive talent when they drafted him, and not much has changed.
Woods Richardson came to the Blue Jays from the Mets at the 2019 Trade Deadline along with Anthony Kay in the Marcus Stroman deal, and he has done nothing but improve his prospect stock since, developing into one of the most polished arms in the system despite being just 20 years old. The right-hander opened some more eyes in Spring Training, and while his 5.76 ERA through 11 starts in Double-A this season isn’t sharp, he earned a spot on the USA Olympic baseball team for the Tokyo Games.
Both prospects rank on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, with Martin at 16 and Woods Richardson at 68, and each could have made a push for the roster as soon as 2022, but these are the types of difficult decisions the Blue Jays will need to make as they look to jump from good to great.