Five post-deadline Blue Jays takeaways
TORONTO — What you see is what you now get for the next two months when it comes to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The trade deadline has passed, the waiver deadline was nixed a couple of years ago, and there aren’t any can’t-miss prospects percolating in the upper levels who are going to make an everyday impact in the big leagues.
Other than three St. Louis Cardinals castoffs of differing value, the Jays front office decided to count on internal improvements rather than shoehorn in imperfect external ones at this week’s deadline.
It sets up a two-month run that has applied some pressure to different areas of the organization now that outside reinforcements are impossible.
Coming out of a relatively quiet trade deadline league-wide, here are five Blue Jays observations.
1. The front office did not address supplemental offence enough
They added a swing-and-miss arm to the bullpen in Jordan Hicks, satisfying the biggest need the club had for a reasonable price in right-handed pitching prospects Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein.
A smidgen of depth was also added with the addition of lefty Genesis Cabrera, but let’s not forget he was DFA’d prior to that happening, showing just how badly he struggled with the Cards.
Finally, the Jays sent another mostly non-prospect in right-handed reliever Matt Svanson to the Cards in exchange for shortstop Paul DeJong, who is a marginal bench upgrade once Bo Bichette returns from patella tendon inflammation and an unexciting veteran stopgap while he’s down.
Those three names could help in certain ways, but for a lineup that’s struggled with platoon advantages against left-handed pitching and hasn’t scored enough runs to be labelled anything better than a league-average offence, more was needed.
Not adding a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Daulton Varsho and/or Kevin Kiermaier was a mistake.
2. Onus is on veteran bats to do more
With all that being said, there are ways the Jays can improve offensively over the final two months.
Four key names need to pick up the slack: George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Varsho.
Springer, who’s been struggling so much that he was recently demoted out of the leadoff spot, needs to be better than the below average 95 wRC+ he’s posted so far.
Varsho, batting a putrid .212 with a punchless 73 wRC+, has to figure out a way to contribute offensively from down in the lineup.
Same with Kirk, who’s been showing signs of breaking out of his own powerless funk recently.
And then there’s Vladdy Jr., a player humming along with a 117 wRC+ and a .785 OPS.
Both marks would be his worst since the shortened 2020 season, and they’re nowhere close to the star-level production this club was counting on.
It doesn’t need to be MVP-level production the rest of the way, but simply “good” Vlad isn’t enough in this team’s equation.
3. Pressure on prospects to provide depth
After the deadline had come and gone, Jays GM Ross Atkins noted how much they like some of their internal options versus the depth bats that have shown up on the waiver wire.
Right now, if the Jays were fully healthy, the four-man bench that manager John Schneider would have at his disposal outside of the DH duo of Brandon Belt and Kirk would be DeJong, Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio.
Espinal and Biggio have both struggled this season, while expecting DeJong to contribute a whole lot might be asking too much.
There’s a chance that one or more of those names are cycled out at some point in order to give Davis Schneider, Addison Barger and/or Spencer Horwitz a role off the bench.
Schneider, the club’s No. 33 prospect coming into the season, has torn the cover off the ball from the right side of the batter’s box for most of the summer with 21 homers and a 140 wRC+ for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, while Horwitz has done the same from the left side with a 131 wRC+.
One of these prospect names might need to play a bigger-than-expected role for the Jays down the stretch.
But they need an opportunity first.
4. Pitching will have to continue to be backbone
With all of the aforementioned being said about veterans picking it up and prospects contributing for the lineup to solidify, there seems to be no doubt about the fact that pitching has to be the backbone of this team. And needs to continue to be.
Since June 1, the Jays have the best overall staff ERA in the American League at 3.68, as the pitching has made up for some of the sluggish offensive stats and lack of situational hitting.
Both the bullpen and starters have been equally as impressive, but the rotation has the fourth-best ERA in baseball over the last two months and the second-best K-rate, as well.
Staying healthy will be one of the keys, but the second half hasn’t started off on a great foot when it comes to that with closer Jordan Romano (back) and important leverage reliever Trevor Richards (neck) both on the IL for the first couple weeks of August.
The bullpen will be tested this month, which means the rotation needs to continue to be really good.
5. Thin farm system has even less pitching depth now
Even though they didn’t empty it out like they could have, a bottom-third farm system in baseball definitely didn’t any better over the last few days.
While they may never be impactful aces or even mid-rotation starters on a contender, Robberse and Kloffenstein represented two of the closer true starting pitcher options that the Jays had, which is the reason the rebuilding-on-the-fly Cards were interested.
The only evidence needed for the state of the Jays’ system when it comes to pitching depth is the Alek Manoah situation earlier this season.
Even when it became clear Manoah would need a reset, the Jays did not have a viable traditional starting option to turn to in the upper minors, instead piecing things together via bullpen days.
The Jays are lucky they’ve had pristine health in the rotation this season because building up their organizational starting pitching depth has to be atop the to-do list starting this winter.
It was a fair deal for Hicks, but trading two of their better Double-A options for two months of Hicks did not help that effort.