TORONTO — With three weeks to go until a pushed back Aug. 2 Major League Baseball trade deadline, the roster priorities for the Toronto Blue Jays are pretty clear.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve shifted a little bit since the start of the season.
The unforeseen always plays a role, and it surely has for Charlie Montoyo’s club, one that’s currently featuring not only an injury-ravaged rotation but also one that hasn’t performed up to expectations as a whole.
Once a formidable looking group of five with oodles of veteran experience and some upside to boot, things sure look a lot different now than they did in April.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is gone for the year and Yusei Kikuchi, who threw a bullpen Tuesday and is on his way back at some point, has struggled mightily, tearing apart the back-end of the rotation and leaving very little in the way of depth .
Ross Stripling has provided key innings, but it’s hard to feel comfortable with the veteran as the No. 4 starter for the next three months and the whole situation has exposed a bit of a lack of organizational depth in terms of near-ready rotation arms to help bridge the gaps that come with a long season.
At the top, all-star Alek Manoah is still rolling, while Kevin Gausman‘s ankle injury has played a major role in this extended July skid.
Joseph Berriosmeanwhile, as consistent as they come over the course of his career, has been a riddle every five days.
Combine all that and the Jays are still holding a middle-of-the-pack 4.01 ERA as a rotation overall, but that jumps to 5.89 in July, third-worst in baseball.
In fact, they’ve had a five-plus ERA for a month now, and that’s also third-worst in baseball. Losing tends to follow bad starting pitching, and it has.
Even with Gausman on his way back — potentially for Thursday’s start — the rotation has morphed into the top priority for Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins, who has other upgrades he’d like to make, as well.
Here are the three obvious ones.
It’s not a question of whether the Jays will add a starter, but how much they want to spend in prospect capital to acquire one.
HAS Frankie Montas gold Luis Castillothe two most obvious high-end starters on the market, would cost a Berrios-type package.
If they feel confident in the aforementioned top three of Gausman, Manoah and Berrios, maybe that type of system talent would be better spent on the bullpen, but it’s hard to argue with adding another top shelf rotation arm.
If they don’t, it could be tinker time, with Atkins preferring to target more of a mid-rotation type to tuck in ahead of Stripling and maybe a fixed up Kikuchi down the line.
Had the rotation not fallen apart, this is the area that was expected to be the biggest area of need.
And, honestly, it still might be when all is said and done, considering the importance of bullpens come October.
While Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza and David Phelps provide a solid group of arms to turn to in different types of leverage situations, a high-K power arm to pair with Jordan Romano at the back end has been on Atkins’ shopping list since the winter.
There’s not a whole lot of swing-and-miss for Montoyo to call on when a big strikeout is called for.
Depth is also needed and it would be surprising to see Atkins not make a couple of additions at different levels to ensure his club has more than enough quality arms on hand down the stretch.
LEFT-HANDED HITTING OF
This is where things could get really interesting.
The bats have underperformed relative to the high expectations for this offense coming into the season, and it’s very obvious it’s a right-handed heavy lineup which makes it a whole lot easier to match up in a postseason scenario.
Interestingly, the Jays have been much, much better against righty starters (.780 OPS) than lefties (.645 OPS), but that balance is something the front office has been seeking for some time now.
While Cavan Biggio’s recent resurgence has added an extra wrinkle with his versatility and lefty bat, Raimel Tapia is sporting an 84 wRC+ — league average is 100 — and fellow speed/defense outfielder Bradley Zimmer has been even worse with a 32 wRC+.
There might be a way to upgrade that left-handed bench depth.
If more outside the box and harder to immediately envision is what you seek, don’t rule out swapping one of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernandezwho are both free agents after next season, in a bigger trade with an eye on that lineup balance.