The Blue Jays have already turned a rocky start into a legitimate playoff run in 2020, overcoming several key injuries and early inconsistencies with a young lineup that’s suddenly found its collective power stroke.
Sitting at 15-14 on Thursday, the Blue Jays have every opportunity to take one of the final playoff spots in the American League, and they’ve already been aggressive on the trade market, adding right-hander Taijuan Walker in a deal from the Mariners early Thursday to help solidify their rotation.
While they’ve still been healthier than some of their rivals, their current injured list includes star shortstop Bo Bichette, No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson and closer Ken Giles along with two key rotation pieces in Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton. Not only has Walker pitched well this season, but he’s worked deep into games, which is something the Blue Jays need more of from their staff.
General manager Ross Atkins still expects to be “extremely active” in exploring trade possibilities, which will remain focused on pitching depth and “run prevention”. With a clear path to the playoffs and their destiny in their own hands, this is Toronto's first time as a legitimate buyer since the playoff runs of 2015 and '16.
An important wrinkle to this year’s Trade Deadline is that teams can only trade players who are part of their 60-man player pool (assigned either to the big league team or the alternate training site). Clubs are permitted to include players to be named later in trades, however. Additionally, scouts have not been allowed to attend games in person, so all assessments of prospects have been done based on provided video and data and past knowledge.
Buy, Sell or Hold: Buy
The Blue Jays should still be buyers here, with pitching depth and positional bench depth their priority. The latter was addressed, in part, by the addition of first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach earlier this week. Vogelbach will act as a bench bat for the time being, and he’s expected to be deployed situationally against right-handed pitching.
Keep money in mind, too. It’s still unclear how the shortened 2020 season will impact '21 payrolls, but the Blue Jays should have flexibility with very few large contracts. They’ve done well taking money on in the past, and that tool could be very valuable again at this Deadline.
What they want
The short answer remains pitching, but that could take a few forms. With Walker in the fold, the Blue Jays now have four traditional (healthy) starters along with Hyun Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson. The return timeline of Pearson from right elbow tightness is critical, but the Blue Jays will target pitching help regardless.
So much of Toronto’s bullpen success is thanks to young starters in multi-inning roles, including Anthony Kay and Thomas Hatch. If the Blue Jays are confident they can get by without adding a traditional starter, those hybrid or piggyback setups can certainly work when deployed against the right matchup, so all types of arms could be on the table.
What they have to offer
A willingness to take on money is an underrated asset for the Blue Jays, but looking at their prospect capital, there’s a lot to like. The Walker deal was made for a player to be named later, meaning a player not currently in the club’s 60-man player pool.
The Blue Jays would need to find a deal they truly love to consider moving their top young arms, but they do have some position prospects that other teams have targeted in the past. Toronto has an excess of talent behind the plate, which is a rare luxury other club’s would love to share. Beyond Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in the Majors, the Blue Jays have No. 6 prospect Alejandro Kirk and No. 8 prospect Gabriel Moreno, both of whom are part of their player pool at the alternate training site.
Chance of a deal: 70%
The unique dynamics of a trade market in a 60-game season leaves the possibility that the Blue Jays stand pat after their first two deals, looking instead to their returning players as the final boost they’ll need, but that’s not Plan A by any means. This roster deserves the opportunity to make some noise in October and, given how they’ve looked on the days where it all comes together, they won’t be a comfortable matchup for anyone.