Will the Toronto Blue Jays be sellers or buyers ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline? The direction of the franchise may be determined over the next 13 games heading into the All-Star break. It’s a home-heavy but challenging schedule and if Toronto is still under .500 at the break, team president Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins might waive the white flag on 2017. Should the Jays at least be at break-even, Toronto could add a piece or two (second baseman, reliever) in an attempt to reach the playoffs a third straight season for the second time in franchise history.
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Has there been a team in recent memory more aggravating to its backers trying to reach .500 than the 2017 Jays? They have lost nine straight games when having a chance to reach .500 for the first time this season and been outscored 73-24 in those losses. The last was June 21, an 11-4 defeat in Texas. Toronto’s run differential was plus-29 in an encouraging May but is minus-30 this month. June had been a successful month the past two years for Toronto, which went 15-12 last season and 18-9 in 2015.
Toronto started a three-game series against struggling Baltimore on Tuesday and the Orioles’ wretched pitching staff. The Jays will avoid the Birds’ best starter, Dylan Bundy, in the series. Plus All-Star closer Zach Britton is still on the disabled list. The Orioles also beaten the Jays seven times already in 2017, though. The loaded Red Sox head to Rogers Centre this weekend. Toronto does have to face top AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale but misses David Price. It’s a trip to the Yankees from July 3-5, and each New York pitcher lined up to start has an ERA north of 4.00 so that series is winnable – but the Yankees rake at home.
Finally, the American League’s best team, Houston, visits Toronto for a four-game set to close the first half. On the bright side, the Jays will avoid the Astros’ Cy Young contender in lefty Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner. Houston is the +240 Bodog favorite to win the World Series. Stick to trusted linemakers like Bodog when making your MLB bets.
Free-agents-to-be this winter on the Blue Jays are starting pitchers Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano as well as most likely slugger Jose Bautista. After next season, J.A. Happ and Josh Donaldson hit free agency. Donaldson clearly would bring the most in return, especially with another year on his contract. Estrada’s value is plummeting by the day. He is 0-4 with a 10.03 ERA and opponents are hitting .381 against him in five June starts. Liriano’s ERA is 5.46. Bautista is hitting better since moving to leadoff but has a mutual option for $17 million next season that the Jays likely will decline. He has seen his percentage of hard-hit balls decline from 41.4 percent in 2016 to just 30.8 percent this year.
One problem with Shapiro and Co. waiving the white flag in any trades is that it would hurt attendance – and thus cost ownership some money. Toronto ranks sixth in the majors in attendance. Then again, perhaps ownership would like to trim a team payroll of more than $186 million that ranks behind only the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers (Detroit will be a seller ahead of the deadline).
The addition of a second wild-card spot has changed the trade market as more teams believe they can at least get into the playoffs and sell hope to their fan base. But is it worth potentially playing just one extra game and getting nothing in return on potential free agents?
The deciding factor could be Aaron Sanchez’s return from the disabled list. He was set to begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday in Florida. The Jays are hoping he can make one big-league start before the break. If Sanchez looks like the ace he was last year, Toronto management might delay the buy/sell decision until later in July. Should Sanchez struggle or have a recurrence of blister problems, it might be time to reboot for 2018.