The Blue Jays' new playoff odds
There are two ways to look at the pair of jaw-dropping non-waiver Trade Deadline deals that brought the Blue Jays two of baseball's biggest stars in Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. Either the Blue Jays are a much better team than their 52-51 record would make it seem -- their run differential of plus-100 heading into Thursday night was the second best in all of baseball, after all -- and circumstances demand they go all-in this year, or they're the frustrating group that's suffered three losing months out of four and is just a game up on the fourth-place Tampa Bay Rays.
How you feel about the decision to mortgage some of the future in an attempt to win now is without question colored by what you think the Blue Jays' chances actually are of making 2015 a memorable year. Clearly, Toronto management feels it's the former, because they've cashed in six players, including highly touted pitching prospects Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman, to try to end the longest playoff drought in North American team sports. (Norris and Hoffman were each born in 1993, the last time Toronto saw postseason baseball.)
So was that a reasonable choice? Let's dig into the numbers. Toronto entered play on Thursday night (the first game after the Price deal had broken) seven games out in the American League East, or equally as close to the last-place Red Sox as they were to the first-place Yankees. Despite the acquisition of Tulowitzki, the MLB.com postseason probability numbers actually showed the Blue Jays' playoff odds had dropped from 46 percent to 37 percent between July 25 and 29, because they'd lost two of the three games played in that span and no talent acquisition changes playoff odds as much as actually winning and losing games can.
That brings up two questions: 1) How much can Price and Tulowitzki help; and 2) Was it worth it?
With Tulowitzki, the question is always health, though it's not like he's replacing an iron man in Jose Reyes. We'll use the respected Steamer projection system, which suggests that Tulowitzki will be worth approximately one win over Reyes for the remainder of the season (if that sounds low, realize that there's only a third of the year left, and Reyes is a perfectly respectable player). Price could add more, because he'll be taking the place of the very replaceable Felix Doubront (or someone like him), and should give the Blue Jays a nearly two-win boost.
Three wins, total, is an enormous figure in the Wild Card world. But that kind of accounting can be magnified when you look at the schedule. Toronto welcomes Minnesota, which has given back nearly all of its hot start with a 22-29 slide since June 1, for four games on Monday. The Blue Jays still play the Yankees 13 more times, starting with three in New York right after the Twins series. They even have another three-game crack at the Angels, should they get ambitious and attempt to get that AL Wild Card Game at home.
When the postseason odds update on Friday to include both the presence of Price and the effects of Toronto's 5-2 win over the Royals on Thursday, the Blue Jays' postseason odds are likely to jump to around 45 or 50 percent. Adding an ace pitcher and improved shortstop defense to baseball's best offense has a tangible effect; FanGraphs projections have Toronto's rest-of-season expected win percentage as one of the top five in the game.
There's no question that the Blue Jays upgraded their playoff odds, perhaps considerably so. As to whether it was worth it, well, that's up to you. Toronto now has maybe a 50/50 chance of getting to the AL Wild Card Game, which is essentially a 50/50 proposition in itself (whether the Blue Jays could start Price, or if the end-of-season rush was such that someone like R.A. Dickey or Marco Estrada would need to go, would have an impact).
Giving up literally decades of controllable years in the prospects they cut loose is a high price to pay for such a limited guarantee, especially if the prize of winning the AL Wild Card Game is a trip to Kansas City to face Johnny Cueto. You could look at that math and easily say no, the cost was too high, particularly when it seems Toronto surrendered as much or more than Detroit did to get Price last year.
But it's a weird year in the AL, with only the Royals standing above the crowd. It's not an unlimited window for this group of Blue Jays, with Mark Buehrle, Dickey, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion all headed to free agency by the end of 2016, and 32-year-old catcher Russell Martin being paid big money to help them win now. These weren't cheap deals, and they may not come without regrets; look no further than the A's not getting out of the AL Wild Card Game after acquiring Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last year.
This pair of deals carries enormous risk. It's a situation where not trying to go for it may have been riskier. The Blue Jays have won the Deadline. Now, it remains to be seen if they can win where it counts.