As we enter into the final week of play before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, the baseball world is completely awash with rumors (of varying accuracy) and opinions concerning where certain players may be heading. All of this dizzying banter can only be deciphered by spending a couple hours a day checking out twitter or more quickly at mlbtraderumors.com. After an unexpectedly lengthy period of stagnancy in the trade market, the dominoes finally began to fall on Thursday when Scott Kazmir was dealt by Oakland to Houston in a classic rental for prospects type deal. Since then, the Mets added Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Braves to inject some badly needed offence into their roster and the cardinals picked up reliever Steve Cishek to help bolster their first place team for another deep playoff run. Oh and the Royals got Cueto.
Throughout all of this action, the Blue Jays have been front and centre despite not yet making any moves. There has been a polarizing month long debate within the fan base and media about what Alex Anthopoulos should do prior to the July 31st trade deadline. Many factors have been key in determining whether the Jays should buy, buy big, sell, or stand pat. The team is currently only at .500, but they’re just 5.5 games back of the Yankees (who are much shittier than they’ve been letting on), and just 3 games back of Paul Molitor’s surprising Twins for the second wild card spot. Followers of the team seem split between either holding onto their elite pitching prospects or making a big splash for a huge addition.
The “let’s not do anything camp” has a few solid points. The Jays have battled to be a .500 team all year despite limited injury setbacks (compared to previous years). Also, there is a widely held belief that strong starting pitching is an essential component of good playoff teams but the Jay’s rotation has much to be desired and they lack a prototypical ace. Most importantly, this viewpoint is built upon unconditional love for the young starting pitching prospects that the Jays have collected over Anthopoulos’ tenure. After so many years of watching teams with good young starters like Tampa Bay and St. Louis win so many games so easily while the Jays have struggled so much to develop young starters…Romero Anyone?…the thought of having Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Jeff Hoffman, Drew Hutchison (let’s hope he gets better on the road), and Roberto Osuna as Blue Jays over the next few years seems to tantalizing of a possibility to ignore or throw away unless the Jays were a first place team with the .500 mark well in the rear view mirror.
Though the thing is that this reasonable sounding position is narrow minded and it ignores some important facts and possibilities that can’t afford to be brushed aside. First of all, the Jays have an incredible offense. They have scored 80!!! more runs than any other team and are tops in the MLB in slugging percentage and are a close second in on base percentage and home runs. This amazingness being delivered nightly…well almost nightly…by the hitters ensures that the pitching only needs to be OKish for this team to be very good. They don’t need a rotation ERA of 3.00 to have a shot at contention. Also, there is no guarantee that this will repeat itself next year. Another advantage that the Jays have this year that they may not next year is that they play in an AL East that isn’t very good. The whole division is around or well below the .500 mark except for the Yankees who many believe are destined to come down to Earth. But next year, anything could happen, especially with the budgets of the Yankees and Red Sox, so waiting until next year might be a very poor idea for that reason. Another reason that the Jays should add at the deadline is because there is a specific area that has a ton of room for improvement. We can all agree that the Stroman-less rotation has been pretty rough this year and that it is the reason why this team, that seemingly scores at will, has such an unspectacular record. Hell…Felix Doubront is in this rotation!! Having such a weak area is a bad thing but it allows a single addition to have a maximally significant impact. This differs from last year, when there were numerous injuries and no single obvious area where the Jays were in desperate need of help. Finally, let’s be real, we are all sick of hearing about the two decade long playoff drought…longest in North American pro sports…yada yada. It’s just stupid and terrible and let’s just make the damn playoffs already. It would be awesome…so yeah. Oh and also prospects have high failure rates and reports indicate that AA goes out the door if there’s no October baseball gracing the Roger’s Centre etc etc. See I can go on and on but put simply: The Blue Jays should ADD at least one starting pitcher before the deadline. It’s the right move both emotionally and logically and it’s the most realistic outcome as well.
So now the question becomes: who should the Jays go after and how much should they give up? Well, despite my emphatic whining in the last paragraph, I don’t think the Jays should go all in and sell the whole farm for this year. Rather, I’d like to see a bold move pulled off that boosts the 2015 roster while keeping an eye to 2016 and beyond. The best case scenario would be to trade for a good starting pitcher under at least 1.5 years of control. This would give a boost to the current team as they head down the stretch but it would also bring some stability to a rotation that will likely lose Mark Burhle, Marco Estrada, and R.A. Dickey to free agency. That’s a lot of innings to be covered by young pitchers that notoriously have trouble staying healthy and commanding their pitches. In other words, we need an arm this year and next year so let’s get a guy now with some control. Also, it would be a lot easier giving up a top pitching prospect if we knew that we would be getting back meaningful term in return. Anthopoulos has already stated that control is what he’d like to go after and his trade history shows that he usually only gives up top prospect capital for multiple years of control with Josh Johnson being the lone major exception. The tough part though is that the second wildcard spot and overall league parity make teams reluctant to weaken themselves past the current season which drives up the already high prices for controllable arms. Still, reports have indicated that the Jays really are going in this direction. Ken Rosenthal of Fox sports already reported that the Jays made a push for Carlos Carrasco that didn’t get done and they have also been linked to Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Mike Fiers and more. I think it’s obvious that this is the Blue Jays best case scenario but it will be tough to accomplish.
Next come the rentals. Anthopoulos has already stated that trading for guys who will be free agents after this year is his last resort. However, there are quite a few rentals out there and the Jays have been linked to many, notably Price and Samardzija. Buster Olney of ESPN linked them to Scott Kazmir before he was traded but supposedly the cost was too high and there were similar reports regarding Cueto. From all of this, it seems that the Jays are more willing to grab a rental than previously thought but they’ll of course be trying to serve up a prospect package that’s light in blue-chip pitching prospects. They do have Dalton Pompey, Matt Boyd, and Max Pentecost in the upper minors and their lower minors have some intriguing prospects as well like Anthony Alford that can be dealt. If Alex can manage to haul in a solid rental without the cost being excruciating, it’s certainly worth doing. However, it seems that at least some pain would have to be suffered to make a deal for one. Then again, pain is temporary and flags fly forever…so I know where I stand and I have a feeling that Alex agrees. Get something done soon.