Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Thoughts on Where the Blue Jays Go from Here After the Deadline

The one true trade deadline is gone, and so are 24% of the players who made up the Blue Jays 25-man roster last week. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Eric Sogard, Daniel Hudson, David Phelps, and Joe Biagini have all been traded for returns that have left the fanbase divided, but that is all in the past. The trades have happened and no amount of fighting over them will bring those players back or make the return any better, so the most useful thing at this point to do is to discuss where this team will go from here. After gutting the roster of the 2015-2016 playoff teams, which were some of the oldest teams in baseball, the tear down is complete, and the next phase is starting.

The Rest of the Season

With Stroman and Sanchez gone, the rotation will now all be made of young players looking to make an impression. With Ryan Borucki going on the disabled list, the rotation is now composed of Trent Thornton, Thomas Pannone, Sean-Reid Foley, and Jacob Waguespack, all pitchers who have made their MLB debut in the past calendar year. One more pitcher will be added to that group from the minor leagues soon, but I imagine it will be more of the same. Though all of those pitchers project to be back-end arms or relievers, the Blue Jays strategy in this regard is quite clear. I wrote about it earlier this week, but the gist is that the more of those types of guys you have, the better the odds are that one figures something out and takes the next step to becoming a front of the rotation type of pitcher. The only way to do that though is through experience, so this wave of pitchers getting innings in the majors is crucial for their development, and although it might not be pretty all the time, it will surely be entertaining to watch the kids get better as they go along. We have seen it this week already, although only against the replacement level Royals, but these pitchers will have their moments.

On the offensive side of things, a lot less magical development needs to happen to be able to see this group become the core of the next great Blue Jays team. With Danny Jansen, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the Blue Jays have an enviable group of five position players that will match them up with any team in baseball over the next half decade. 20 WAR from those five guys doesn’t seem out of reach in the future, maybe even as soon as 2020. In fact, ZiPS already projected them to be worth over 10 WAR next year in their pre-season data, and that is not factoring in Gurriel’s breakout, Biggio’s ability to hold his own at the big league level, and Jansen’s much improved defensive statistics. Put those all together, and this is going to be an offensive beast.

But that is only five players. They will be complemented by Randal Grichuk as well, and an outfielder will hopefully step up from the likes of Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, or Derek Fisher. That leaves 1B and DH open, which can be solved either with Rowdy Tellez, or by adding somebody in…

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The Off-Season

The rest of the year will give more clarity about where the Blue Jays need to complement their roster this winter, but they will have lots of opportunity to do it. As it stands right now, the only guaranteed money on the books is Grichuk ($13M), Gurriel ($2.9M), and the payment to Troy Tulowitzki ($14M). Factor in Freddy Galvis’ option for $5.5M which will be picked up, and arbitration payments to Ken Giles (~$8M), Matt Shoemaker (~$4M), Ryan Tepera (~$2M), Brandon Drury (~$2M), and Luke Maile (~$1M), and there isn’t a lot of money on the books. I didn’t include Devon Travis because he seems like a lock to be non-tendered at this point, but all of those players only add up to around $50 million for next season. The Blue Jays should ramp up their payroll next season back to around $120 million, if not more, which gives a lot of room to spend. The way to be competitive with this roster, like Cam wrote last month, is to go the Minnesota Twins route, and sign a bunch of guys on short term deals. Obviously a big get like Gerrit Cole would go a long way, but realistically, that doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Instead, supplementing this roster with guys like Justin Smoak, Jose Abreu, or Edwin Encarnacion for those open 1B/DH spots would be terrific value in the short term, and the market for those guys just doesn’t exist in long term deals anymore. In the outfield, Alex Gordon could be a good guy to target on a short term deal, as he has enjoyed a later career resurgence in 2019 and would also be a good veteran guy to help with the young core. Or, a bigger splash for a longer term contract can be made for a player like Marcell Ozuna. There are plenty of ways to add pieces to the lineup without giving up capital in trades, though if the right deal comes along, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Blue Jays make a trade now that they have depth in their farm system.

On the pitching side of things, the Blue Jays surely will need to add, because going into next season with the rotation made up of first and second year players, along with the oft-injured Matt Shoemaker, is no recipe for success. But even if Gerrit Cole, Zach Wheeler, or Madison Bumgarner are off the table, options like Cole Hamels, Wade Miley, and Rick Porcello should not be, as these are just the type of middle of the rotation arms that this team needs. Combine those guys with the young pitchers, and acquire a few bullpen arms as well to tag along with the young rotation arms that might be better suited in the bullpen, and the pitching might not be so bleak after all.

Next Year

If this current core is added to with the $70 million or so that should be available to Ross Atkins to use in the winter, there is no reason the team next year shouldn’t be competing for a wild card spot at worst. They will be a fun young group, and added to with the proper veteran core, it might give the Blue Jays an opportunity to actually use the prospect capital they have been obtaining in trades to their benefit, by selling some off to make a run next July! Lots can go wrong between now and then, but the path to contention is there for the taking. Despite all the talk of how Ross Atkins has destroyed this team, really all he has done has set it up with a great young core and waves of back end pitching talent. With the financial flexibility that he has so often talked about desiring now in hand, it’s time to put it to use, and good times will be ahead.

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  • McNamee’s Beer Can

    With Tulo announcing his retirement, does his money come off the books? I remember Gil Meche retiring because he felt like he was not earning his salary. I haven’t seen anywhere how his retirement has affected his future pay.

    • Cam Lewis

      The Jays are still on the hook for all of his cash because he was released before he retired. I imagine part of his decision came down to him still getting the entirety of the money from that contract.

    • Shawkr

      To be fair to Tulo, he deserves every penny that the contract stipulates. He promised to supply the contract-holder with the best of his baseball services in exchange for a guaranteed fee. It just so happens that his best is now “not roster-able”. That’s the gamble Colorado and Tulo made, and which Toronto agreed to take on.

  • Shawkr

    Nice piece. It’s quite clear that this part of the rebuild is all about evaluating the fringy players in the organization. If the team had gone out and signed a bunch of MLB veterans to shore up the rotation, we might not get a chance to see if a player or two from this cohort could emerge as viable major league players. That, I think, is the true purpose of “tanking”, sacrificing short-run success to see if you happen to have any Whit Merrifields in your organization.

  • TGreg

    Nice to see a balanced perspective. The area that will require the most attention is the rotation. It takes longer for a starter to settle into a major league role than position players. It will be interesting to see if we supplement the rotation with free agents or continue with a rotation that’s some combo of Pannone-Thornton-Borucki-ReidFoley-Waguespack. It would let them get another year’s experience, but at some point we’ll need to start making decisions on who will remain & who won’t.

    • Dexxter

      I would expect them to pick up a couple mid or back end guys next year. Likely have Shoemaker back too. Fill in the rotation with young guys. You would expect the young position players to take a step forward… and if a couple young starters can step up… and you get solid production from the free agent starters… who knows. They could be in the playoff hunt come August.

      When Pearson graduates for good in 2021.. and Pardinho, Woods-Richardson, Kloffenstein and Kendall Willians are hopefully in AA or AAA… that’s when they should take a big step and fill holes with big FAs. Trevor Bauer on a one year deal maybe? 🙂