3 Biggest Issues Toronto Blue Jays Must Address at the Trade Deadline
While the Blue Jays have looked like a playoff club for the most part this season, there have also been instances where their lack of depth in certain places has been exposed and cost them games. This doesn’t bode well for a team with aspirations to play in October.
With the trade deadline now less than two months away, it’s time for Toronto to start thinking about potential areas of improvement on the roster and shore up those weaknesses.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest issues that Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos needs to address at the trade deadline in order for his team to successfully compete down the stretch.
*All stats are from MLB.com
Heading into the 2014 season, Toronto’s starting rotation was widely expected to be the team’s biggest weakness.
Two and a half months later, that’s no longer the case.
Toronto’s starters rank second in the AL with a combined 3.67 ERA and also lead the league in wins with 33.
But, regardless of the rotation’s success up to this point, acquiring starting pitching is still the No. 1 priority for the Blue Jays before the trade deadline.
While veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are fixtures on the staff, there are still question marks surrounding the rest of Toronto’s rotation.
Consider the fact that this is Drew Hutchison’s first season back from Tommy John surgery. While the team has been tight-lipped about its plans to manage the 23-year-old’s innings, it’s possible that Hutchison could be shut down in September once he pitches between 160-180 innings.
It’s still much too early to expect Marcus Stroman to become a consistent contributor in the rotation. He’s made just three starts at the major league level and could quickly find himself back in the minors if he struggles.
J.A. Happ has been effective in his first nine starts this season, but he has a career ERA of 4.44 in Toronto and has averaged just a little over five innings pitched per start during that span.
Getting another high upside, veteran pitcher could be what it takes for the Blue Jays to effectively compete down the stretch.
The Chicago Cubs have made starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel available. Other pitchers such as David Price, James Shields and Justin Masterson could also be available for the right price as the deadline approaches.
Any trade involving a starting pitcher will likely cost the Blue Jays dearly in prospects, so Anthopoulos will need to weigh his options carefully here.
Toronto hasn’t had a regular second baseman since the demotion of Ryan Goins to Triple-A Buffalo.
Instead, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has set up a platoon system at second base. Steve Tolleson starts against left-handed pitchers. When the team faces right-handers, third baseman Brett Lawrie is shifted to second base and Juan Francisco starts at third base.
While this arrangement has worked out for the most part up to this point, it’s not an ideal long-term solution.
Francisco isn’t a viable option at third base and has already made seven errors in just 32 games started at the hot corner. Several of those errors have directly contributed to a few of the team’s losses.
The Blue Jays were willing to take Francisco’s subpar defense at third base as long as he was performing well with the bat. But the slugger has slumped recently, hitting just .161/.217/.411 in his past 21 games.
Tolleson meanwhile has been serviceable, hitting .261/.338/.464 in 69 at-bats and playing average defense.
Second base is arguably the only hole in what is a formidable Blue Jays lineup. Anthopoulos can address this issue by acquiring a veteran player with a proven track record at playing the position.
That’s easier said than done, however, as second base is typically a pretty shallow position around the major leagues.
Potential “big-name” targets could include Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips.
Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners could be a cheaper alternative, although he’s struggled this season and likely won’t be much of an improvement over what the Blue Jays already have.
While many critics considered Toronto’s starting rotation to be subpar, the team’s bullpen was hailed as one of its biggest strengths going into the 2014 season.
But, ironically, the Blue Jays’ rotation has actually ended up out performing the bullpen up to this point.
Toronto’s relievers have posted a combined ERA of 4.42 this season, ranking them 12th in the AL. That’s a far cry from last year, when the Blue Jays’ relief corps ranked fourth in the AL with a 3.37 ERA.
While closer Casey Janssen seems to be as dominant as ever, most of the other key relievers in the bullpen have regressed since last season.
Steve Delabar—an All-Star last year—has posted an ERA of 4.68 and walked 16 batters in 25 innings pitched. Sergio Santos has a 9.00 ERA in 14 appearances. Brett Cecil has given up 28 hits and 15 walks in 25.2 innings pitched.
The bullpen’s struggles have already cost Toronto several games this season.
The Blue Jays could address this issue by acquiring a high-leverage reliever at the deadline from a non-contending team.
It’s worth noting though that the bullpen has looked a lot better since Janssen’s return from a shoulder injury and the addition of Dustin McGowan, so making a move here might not be very high on Anthopoulos’ list of priorities.