Front Office Additions Bring Just Enough To Get The Toronto Blue Jays To The Finish Line
Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase
Blue Jays fan-start your Tweeting and blogging engines. The MLB Trade Deadline passed at 4pm ET yesterday and the Toronto front office kicked the tires, crunched the numbers, and injected performance enhancers right up until the final seconds. While the pundits and analysts never seem to run out of gas grading and debating the merits of every move, fan bases are left to decide for themselves if the race to the playoffs for their team is on the final lap, running under caution, or wrecked beyond repair. Initial insights seem to target the Blue Jays as front row qualifiers. While the players need to finish strong, Ross Atkins and his staff have given the team just enough fuel and horsepower to cross the finish line as a 2020 playoff team.
No doubt readers of my last article will find it ironic that I now type words of praise and hope for the 2020 playoff fortunes of our Jays, given that I compared such an achievement as an apocalyptic event. But as a young Blue Jays roster continues to find ways to win more games than they lose, the positive reinforcements from the front office in the form of talent upgrades can only leave one positively giddy about a return to the post-season.
Each addition to the roster adds faith to the faithful. Perhaps for the first time, we are excited to see what Charlie Montoyo can do when he is given talent that levels the playing field for a young team which seems oblivious to the pressures of a pennant race. Rather than fearfully await an appearance by Brandon Drury or Jacob Waguespack, Jays fans can look forward to Jonathan Villar on the base paths and electric pitchers like Taijuan Walker pitch beyond the fifth inning and keep his team in games.
Let’s discuss the Trade Deadline acquisitions in terms of what they mean to the Toronto playoff chances…
Taijuan Walker is a beast. The name of Taijuan Walker was no doubt familiar to Blue Jays fans, as it appeared for years on prospect lists, as well as transaction lines reporting yet another trip to the disabled list. Walker posted a middling 4.00 ERA for a pathetic Mariners team, but the stat that stood out was he pitched at least 6 innings in 3 of his 5 starts. Walker added to the excitement by hurling 6 shutout innings in his first start for Toronto. The talent has always been there, the durability has not. Given there are less than 30 games remaining, odds are Walker can remain healthy and filthy enough to register a few more wins down the stretch while not taxing a young, tiring bullpen.
Robbie Ray is left-handed. Not many players have the repertoire of nasty pitches that Ray possesses. To date he boasts a strikeout percentage of 27.9; he struggles with a walk percentage of nearly 5 per 9 innings, including the 31 in 31 innings this season. To help reduce wear and tear on his arm and shoulder, Ray decided to shorten his delivery, resulting in horrifying command issues. But two facts make this acquisition a high reward proposition: he throws left-handed and left-handers are kryptonite to the Yankees (whom Toronto plays 10 times in September). Even if he only spot starts and is used in high leverage situations at other times, Ray will give pause to opposing managers when they set their lineups.
Ross Stripling is a pitcher. That description might seem a tad unflattering, but it is the most accurate description of what Stripling brings to a pitching staff. He has solid command of a fastball with movement and 2 different breaking pitchers, and when he is in a groove hitters are often left off-balance. Stripling has been plagued by frequency of home runs he surrenders, including a league-leading 12 in 33 2/3 innings this season. In the homer-happy environs of the past 5 years, this can be forgiven if majority of homers are solo shots. Justin Verlander led the majors in home runs surrendered in 2019-he managed to win a few games. Stripling is no Verlander, but he can pitch 6+ innings, has a career WAR of 3.2, and will stabilize a rotation depleted by injuries.
Daniel Vogelbach was an All-Star. In the first half of 2019, Vogelbach made the most of his .239 average, slugging 21 homer runs, driving in 51, and posting an OPS of .881. Since then, he has played more like a Charlie Brown All-Star than an AL All-Star. But given he was one of the few Mariner hitters who could be counted on as a run producer, he rarely was challenged and developed bad habits. The point of acquiring Vogelbach (aside from nominal cost) is he HAS hit for power over an extended stretch in the major leagues. Brandon Drury, Derek Fisher and other Blue Jays bench players have not. Opposing pitchers will need to pitch to Vogelbach if he pinch-hits in front of the likes of Bichette, Biggio, Hernandez and Guerrero. The results will not always be pretty, but at least there can be genuine hope for a display of power and production.
Jonathan Villar plays every day. Villar’s manager in Baltimore Buck Showalter praised Villar’s easy leadership skills and his “come to play everyday” approach to the game. The fact he played in all 162 games in 2019 backs that up, as do the 24 homers and 40 stolen bases he accumulated while playing everywhere and everyday. Villar has adjusted to a utility role after initial struggles, has started games at short, third base, second base and center field, but it isn’t his glove Atkins coveted. Villar is a gamer and has a knack for stealing a base or getting a timely hit a playoff team needs in its lineup and on its bench. Villar is the major league league leader in stolen bases (9) and is an aggressive baserunner unafraid of the big moments. He isn’t Bo Bichette, but Blue Jays only need him to be Jonathan Villar.
The true value of any trade acquisition is the cost in talent as viewed against the production realized. Most often these values increase and decrease over time as prospects develop or fail to do so. Given the cancellation of minor league seasons in 2020, the “players-to-be-named-later” may not be finalized until after the fall league schedules are completed. Only two Toronto minor leaguers have been named as pieces in trades so far: Travis Bergen and Griffin Conine. Bergen is a depth chart left-hander with a career 5.08 ERA and command issues even more serious than the guy he was traded for (Robbie Ray). He will not be missed and may not even stick with Arizona.
Conine moves on to the franchise that dubbed his dad Jeff “Mr.Marlin” and away from an organization that seemed more intrigued by than convinced of his potential as major league outfielder. I personally believe future production will not shine favorably upon this deal, as Conine’s raw power (22 HR in 86 games at A Ball in 2019) and dazzling talents displayed at Duke and in the Cape Cod league will translate into a consistent power threat. But Conine would never have appeared in a game for the Jays in 2020 and Villar will. So a playoff spot NOW will outweigh a possible All-Star selection LATER.
I often joke that the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays will finish 10 games ahead of their manager Charlie Montoyo. But even the harshest Montoyo critic must admit that aside from half his starting lineup, Ryu, Roark and a young bullpen, he has not exactly had many productive major league caliber players to put his team in a better position to win. Ross Atkins changed that over the course of 1 week and there is little doubt Blue Jays fans have taken notice.
No one wins or loses the pennant on Trade Deadline Day. Playoff teams maximize the opportunities trade acquisitions present them with. Championship teams take advantage of the talents of their teams as a whole. Take a day or two and brag on the moves Toronto made. Then watch the games and form your own opinions on what these players did or didn’t due to get our team back to the post-season.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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