No MLB General Manager will tell you all their plans, and Ross Atkins is no different.
You often have to read between the lines when the Blue Jays’ GM discusses future acquisitions or trade deadline strategies—or simply look between the chalk lines on the field.
Toronto’s deadline needs are fairly obvious this season, and when the GM says the team is looking at “depth in some areas” and “complementary skillsets in others,” it’s not hard to guess what areas he means.
Here are the Blue Jays’ three biggest trade needs, ranked, with 40 days until the 2022 deadline:
3. A Playoff-Caliber Starter
Ross Stripling entered the 2022 season as built-in rotation depth. He was going to be called on eventually, and that call came when Hyun Jin Ryu went down for the rest of the year.
Now, largely, Toronto’s SP insulation is gone and there are three ways the Jays can go about replacing it. The simplest maneuver would be internal promotion, finding minor-league starters capable of taking the torch when more SPs are, inevitably, needed this summer.
But without much inspiring Blue Jays SP depth already in the organization, that new layer is probably going to come from trade. One way to replace would be to back-fill, grabbing a back-end starter or swingman and directly replacing Stripling’s old role on the team. But for a franchise looking to win in the playoffs and compete for a title, depth replacement may not be aggressive enough.
Adding a mid- to top-of-rotation arm at the deadline would push Toronto’s rotation depth down, back into the roles they began the season with. Pairing a playoff-caliber arm with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Alek Manoah, and Yusei Kikuchi would solidify Toronto’s rotation as one of the best in baseball and further insulate from inconsistent performance or another injury. Stripling will inevitably be called upon for future starts, even with a big deadline SP splash, but a top starter acquisition helps re-construct Toronto’s rotation floor while also raising the ceiling.
One Example: Noah Syndergaard, Los Angeles Angels
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2. Another Bat
By wRC+ the Blue Jays have the sixth-best offense in baseball. It’s top 10 on the road, top 10 at home, and great against both lefties and righties.
There’s not that much to nit-pick for one of the league’s best lineups, but if you want to identify an area of weakness, Toronto’s batters rank “only” eighth against right-handed pitchers, and are worse in late-game situations.
Toronto’s offensive production falls to 16th in baseball against right-handed pitchers in the seventh inning or later. Bringing in a left-handed bench bat—really at any position—could help negate the impact of some of the AL’s top righty relievers. The Jays are the best team in baseball against late-game lefty pitchers, so adding another LHB would make leverage managing increasingly difficult for opposing managers.
Even Toronto’s offensive ‘weaknesses’ are league average or better, so any offensive addition is still mainly a luxury for Toronto’s lineup, for now.
One Example: Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals
1. Bullpen Help
Luckily for the Jays, their clearest and biggest need is also the easiest to acquire. Atkins and the Jays’ decision-makers will certainly bring in bullpen help, and have shown an aggressive willingness to do so in past years.
Even after pre-deadline deals for Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards helped stabilize Toronto’s bullpen in 2021, the Jays still swapped for Brad Hand and Joakim Soria on deadline day.
Toronto’s ‘pen isn’t in the disaster zone it was in June and July of last season, but the 4.41 unit ERA (23rd in MLB) isn’t playoff-ready. In June this year, Toronto’s bullpen has been called upon to pitch the fourth-most innings in baseball and delivered the fifth-worst ERA in that span.
The makings of a bullpen backend are there, with Tim Mayza, Jordan Romano, and Yimi Garcia all rocking strong seasons but adding both length and swing-and-miss to a ‘pen that badly needs it could shoot Toronto up the bullpen rankings ahead of the playoff push.
Like last year, a deadline move for a leverage lefty and stable veteran righty could be the perfect additions to Toronto’s current bullpen makeup—ideally with better results than Hand and Soria.
One Example: Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals