There have been many rumours concerning trade targets that would bolster Toronto’s lineup. My view is that for the July 30 trade deadline, Blue Jays Management should emphasize postseasons after the 2021 season.
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After the games of July 25, the Blue Jays have 67 games remaining in the 2021 season. The club is nine and a half games behind Boston, the American League East Division leader. Toronto is in a tight race for a wild-card spot with five other teams; the Blue Jays are four and a half games out of a wild card berth. As the July 30 MLB trade deadline approaches, many Blue Jays watchers anticipate that Toronto’s Management will be active trade participants.
I believe that the Blue Jays are a good but flawed team. Toronto has many weaknesses, including a lack of offensive production from the bottom-third of the batting order, a middle-of-the-pack bullpen, and below-average defence and baserunning. However, the club has an opportunity to secure a 2021 wild card berth, which should be beneficial to the development of the Blue Jays young core.
However, despite the opportunity to participate in the 2021 postseason, I think the Blue Jays should make the 2022 and 2023 postseasons a priority over the 2021 playoffs. Accordingly, Management’s best course of action would be to lean in favour of adding players at the upcoming trade deadline who are lower-tier, not top-tier, trade targets. These additions would increase the probability of securing a wild-card spot but do so in recognition that the odds do not favour a lengthy playoff run in 2021.
I have organized this article as follows:
- An assessment of Toronto’s pitching, hitting defence and baserunning. This section will also identify some trade deadline targets.
- Playoff probabilities
- Wild card teams and their playoff success
- Trade target criteria
Recently, I analyzed four components of Toronto’s performance before the All-Star break: pitching, hitting, defence and baserunning. The noted articles contain an in-depth analysis of these aspects of Toronto’s play to date.
Please note that the metrics noted below include games before July 23 and refer only to the American League. Furthermore, I have listed some trade targets and their respective trade value, expressed in millions of USD, per Baseball Trade Values. These values should be used as a guideline to get a sense of the relative cost of acquisition for targeted players. Also, the players listed are not necessarily ones I think the Blue Jays should attempt to acquire by the trade deadline. These are players mentioned frequently by members of the media.
To that end, Table 1 contains a selection of Blue Jays, who the media have often mentioned in trade rumours, and their respective trade values. Please note that any references to the cost to acquire players, I am considering the cost in terms of player capital and not dollars.
Toronto starters rank fifth, tenth, and second in ERA, FIP and SIERA, respectively. However, the starters rank thirteenth in fWAR. In late May, Toronto solidified the rotation with the return of Ross Stripling to the band and the Alek Manoah call-up. The starters have performed much better recently. After the Stripling-Manoah supplement, Toronto’s starting pitchers have recorded ERA, FIP, and SIERA marks that rank third, seventh, and third, respectively.
The bullpen has performed at a mid-tier level among American League East teams, as evidenced by their eighth WPA and ninth save conversion rankings. With the additions of Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards in July, the bullpen’s season save conversion figure has increased from 60% to 62%. However, the reliever corps WPA is minus 0.11 during July.
- Starters – Max Scherzer (13.7); German Marquez (85.9) and Jose Berrios (40.8)
- Relievers – Craig Kimbrel (6.3), Richard Rodriguez (11.3) and Taylor Rogers (10.3)
- Starters – Kyle Gibson (8.6) and Charlie Morton (7.0)
- Relievers – Yimi Garcia (0.2), Ian Kennedy (1.6) and Brad Hand (0.9)
Toronto hitters have generated a 112 wRC+, tied for second-highest in the American League, and a 5.18 runs/game mark that is second only to Houston. However, the Blue Jays wRC+ is skewed by Vlad Guerrero’s 194 wRC+. Suppose you replaced Vlad’s wRC+ with the average hitter, the team’s wRC+ drops from 112 to 101, which would rank eighth. Contrast that with Houston. I replaced their top hitter (Jose Altuve, 140 wRC+) with an average hitter. Houston’s adjusted wRC+ falls to 113, which would still lead the American League.
Overall, the Blue Jays are a poor defensive team. Toronto’s Outs Above Average (“OAA”) is -14, which slots in as third-worst in the American League. The OAA scores and rankings of the critical positions are as follows:
- Shortstop (-5, #12)
- Third base (-6, #13)
- Left field (-8, #15)
- Centerfield (1, #14)
- Right field (-4, #13)
There are some in-house options available to the Blue Jays. Toronto could switch Marcus Semien, who has been an above-average defender at short, and Bo Bichette. However, that would be a bold move. Concerning third base, Toronto could name Santiago Espinal (+2 OAA) as the full-time third baseman for the remainder of the 2021 campaign.
Management can attend to the outfield defence internally. An outfield comprised of centerfielder George Springer (0 OAA), right fielder Randal Grichuk (+1 OAA) and left fielder Teoscar Hernandez (+1 OAA) is Toronto’s best option. I prefer any combination that excludes Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (-9 OAA). Another left-field alternative is Corey Dickerson, who has produced a +3 OAA during the 2020-2021 period.
- Right field – Gallo
- Third base – Bryant and Ryan McMahon (24.1)
The Blue Jays are below average on the base paths (-3.9 BsR), which slots in as twelfth-best. Toronto should not target a player solely based upon their baserunning skills. However, it would be prudent for Blue Jays Management to consider a player’s record on the basepaths as part of their player evaluation process.
FanGraphs publishes a daily update of their playoff odds. Currently, the probability of Toronto winning the division is 4.3%; concerning securing a wild-card spot, FanGraphs has pegged the Blue Jays chances at 24.8%. FiveThirtyEight also produces MLB postseason odds. In respect of the Blue Jays, FiveThirtyEight determined similar playoff probabilities: 27% to make the playoffs and 4% to win the division.
These probabilities ought to be used in the context that trade-deadline acquisitions should increase a team’s odds for postseason play. However, even with deadline additions, the much more likely postseason outcome for a bolstered Blue Jays team is a wild-card berth rather than a division title.
Playoff Success of Wild Card Team
Commencing with the 2012 season, MLB increased the number of wild card teams from one to two for both the American and National Leagues. The two wild-card clubs play one game; the winner proceeds to a division series, and the loser goes home. For one team, the postseason will be brief.
The 2020 season was unusual because MLB reduced the number of games to 60 due to the pandemic. Hence, I examined the wild card teams during the 2012-2019 period. Table 2 summarizes the playoff records for teams that won their wild-card game and won at least a division series during the same season. The 2012-2019 history is proof that wild card teams can enjoy postseason success beyond a wild-card game victory. However, bear in mind that nine of the sixteen wild-card game winners did not advance past their division series, and sixteen teams departed the postseason after playing a single game.
Trade Target Criteria
If the Blue Jays make the 2021 postseason, the odds are much higher that it will be as a wild card and not a division winner. Given that Toronto is currently a flawed team and the results of a wild-card game are random, I believe that the Blue Jays should target players who meet the following criteria:
- In the case of higher-tier starters, those under team control for at least the 2023 season.
- Concerning lower-tier starters, those who are under team control for at least the 2022 campaign
- Any bullpen arm, but those players under contract for the 2022 season are preferred.
- Position players who are under team control for at least the 2023 campaign
When I apply these criteria, the following players disappear from the target list: Scherzer, Berrios, Gallo, Morton, and Bryant. The result is that I have narrowed the shopping catalogue down to the following targets: Marquez, Kimbrel, Rodriguez, Rogers, Gibson, Garcia, Kennedy, Hand and McMahon. There are undoubtedly other trade-deadline targets that I have not listed. Also, the list of acceptable targets is not an endorsement of those players; I would need to evaluate the players first.
I believe the trade-deadline priorities for the Blue Jays should be as follows: two bullpen arms, one of whom is a high-leverage reliever; a #1 or #2 starter; and an everyday third baseman who is above-average defensively.
The Last Word
Suppose the Blue Jays qualify for the 2021 postseason. In that case, the much higher probability is that it will be as a wild card and not as a division winner. Should a young, flawed team’s primary focus be securing a spot in a loser-go-home wild card game? In my opinion, the answer is no. Toronto’s Management should take a conservative approach to the upcoming trade deadline. Ross Atkins and his group should make the 2022 and 2023 postseason their primary objective. Accordingly, the Blue Jays should generally emphasize longer-term acquisitions over rentals, lower-tier players over top-tier players.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.