Blue Jays could be a big presence at Trade Deadline

July 10th, 2024

The National League postseason picture remains a muddled mess with three weeks remaining until the Trade Deadline, but the American League standings are beginning to gain some clarity when it comes to potential buyers and sellers.

All but two NL teams entered Wednesday within 5 1/2 games of a playoff spot. In the AL, a half-dozen teams took the field with a deficit greater than that.

One of those clubs, the Blue Jays, could be a huge factor in the coming weeks. Toronto has a number of intriguing trade chips to utilize if it so chooses.

“I think they’re right on the edge,” one NL executive said. “If they decide to go that direction, they will make things interesting.”

The Blue Jays fell to 41-50 on Tuesday and face a 9 1/2-game deficit in the AL Wild Card race. Eight teams stand ahead of them in the chase for those three spots. Given his team’s minus-61 run differential and 5-14 record since June 17, general manager Ross Atkins knows it will take a big run over the next few weeks to stay in the race.

“We’ve dug ourselves into a hole and we recognize that getting back into the race is going to require a win streak and playing good baseball more consistently,” Atkins said. “There's still a little bit of time, but we recognize that’s running out. Right now we’re going day by day, inning by inning, and will be ready to pivot in either direction.”

Atkins declined to speculate on what the next few weeks might bring, but sources say the Blue Jays are prepared to sell if they are unable to turn things around in the next 12 days. They close the first half on the road against the Giants and D-backs before hosting the Tigers for three games after the All-Star break.

“I think that front office wants to win before they break up this group, and the window for them is closing,” an NL executive said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they give it one more run and possibly even add to their roster -- unless the bottom completely falls out over the next few weeks.”

If Toronto winds up selling, the question then becomes: What type of sale will the club hold?

The Blue Jays' impending free agents include infielder/DH ($13 million salary in 2024), outfielder ($10.5 million), left-handed starter ($10 million), righty relievers ($6 million) and ($2.15 million) and catcher ($5.2 million). Kikuchi, García and Richards figure to bring back the best returns of that group, and Toronto will likely need to pay down Turner’s and Kiermaier’s contracts in order to move them.

According to sources, the Blue Jays have told other clubs that they are willing to move players with expiring contracts, but those with control beyond 2024 are not being traded. The consensus among a dozen executives we spoke with is that the Blue Jays will attempt to move most or all of their rental players if they sell, working to add some prospects to a farm system that entered the season ranked at No. 24 by MLB Pipeline.

“I think they sell impending free agents, but nothing else unless they get blown away,” an NL executive said.

Toronto’s controllable players include some big names, such as first baseman ($19.9 million in 2024, arbitration-eligible in 2025) and shortstop ($12.083 million in 2024, $17.583 million in 2025), who are eligible for free agency at the end of next season. Right-handed starter is also signed for $22 million next season. Reliever will earn $10.5 million in 2025, while closer is earning $7.5 million and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter.

One executive suspects that the Blue Jays will “test the waters” on some of those players, but the exec stopped short of predicting that any of them would ultimately be moved.

Bringing back Guerrero, Bichette, Bassitt and Romano next season to join holdovers such as George Springer, Kevin Gausman and José Berríos would give Toronto a strong core for 2025 -- one that would presumably be strengthened by some offseason acquisitions.

“There’s some chance they run it back next year,” an AL exec said. “They should be so much better. It has to be extremely frustrating for them.”

Another executive wondered if that proverbial window is already closed. After all, since Guerrero and Bichette arrived on the scene in 2019, Toronto has not won an AL East title, and while the Blue Jays have earned three AL Wild Card spots in the past five seasons, they have not won a single postseason game during that stretch.

“There’s a strong argument that their current window is closed and they should roll forward whatever value Guerrero and Bichette have left,” an NL executive said. “The more interesting questions are when does their next window open and will their current regime be there to see it? Baltimore isn’t going anywhere, the Yankees and Rays are perpetually competitive and the Red Sox are looking like a sustainable winner. How does Toronto factor into the postseason anytime soon in that division?”

How ownership -- which just invested $400 million in ballpark renovations -- views the immediate state of the franchise could be the determining factor in the approach the front office takes over the next three weeks. The club’s confidence in being able to sign either Guerrero and/or Bichette might also be a factor, though it appears to be a long shot that either of them gets traded this month.

The Blue Jays have talked with agents for both players about potential extensions, sources said. Although the club has been unable to get a deal done with either, one source said it’s a “much smaller gap” than has been reported, leaving Toronto hopeful that it will be able to retain at least one of their young stars beyond 2025.

This core with Guerrero and Bichette was supposed to be the one that took Toronto -- which has one division title since 1993 -- to the next level, but it hasn’t panned out that way. Given the timelines of control for the young stars, it was easy to see the club headed toward this reckoning, though the hope was that it would have come with success in the preceding years.

“Any time you build a young core, you’re always on a ticking clock,” said one NL executive.

The only clock that matters now will continue ticking until 6 p.m. ET on July 30, at which time we’ll have a much better idea about the direction the Blue Jays are taking in 2024 and beyond.