The Jays might find themselves in the Cinderella Zone at the trade deadline – neither fire-sale sellers nor all-in buyers. In any case, a Semien or Ray trade should not be off the table.
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In my earlier article, I explored the scenario where the Blue Jays found themselves to be sellers at the trade deadline. Since then, the Jays’ situation is only slightly improved – they are 4.5 games back of the second wild card, with 3 teams to leapfrog (and Cleveland and the Angels just a half-game back, with Shane Bieber and Mike Trout expected back in August). But there are positives too – the return to the Rogers Centre, the hopefully imminent returns of Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather, the additions of Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber, and the Jays’ remaining schedule estimated as the 9th easiest in baseball.
So the consensus among baseball writers is that it is far too early for the Jays to throw in the towel. But it is also likely still too soon for the Jays to go “all-in” and break the prospect piggy-bank for a top rental like a Max Scherzer or Kris Bryant. And most of those writers believe that the Jays should not be sellers at this deadline.
Or do they?
Andrew Stoeten believes that “Yes, the Blue Jays should be buyers“. But in that article, he notes that “I’m not saying they shouldn’t at least listen if someone wants to blow them away with an offer for Semien or Ray”
Similarly, Shi Davidi notes that “the Blue Jays aren’t planning on a reactionary retreat and sell off pending free agents like Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien based on what happens against the Red Sox this week. The thinking there could change if they get swept at Fenway and another team makes them an offer they simply can’t refuse Friday morning”
The recent moves by the A’s and Yankees (assuming the Gallo deal goes through) will make it all that much more difficult for the Jays to win big in 2021. Fangraphs shows the odds of the Jays winning the World Series at 1.9%. Which does not mean that the Jays should stop trying – long shots do sometimes come in – but it *does* mean that trading the present for the (near) future has some merit.
Which brings us to the “blown away” deals.
Suppose the Jays try their best to trade for a significant upgrade over the next ~36 hours, but do not succeed. On Friday afternoon, they get a call offering a young prospect who is near-MLB ready, but who might be struggling (MacKenzie Gore?). Or one who *has* MLB experience, and has shown #1-starter promise, but has not yet put it all together? (Chris Paddack?) Or a proven arm who is hurt, and will not be back until 2022 (Dustin May?)
Trading a half-season of Ray for one of those arms would make the team weaker in 2021, granted. But it could have a much greater impact on 2022 and beyond. Ideally, trading Ray would come with another trade in which the Jays acquire a young arm (Zach Plesac? Sandy Alcantara?) but even if it didn’t, the innings that would otherwise have gone to Ray in August and September could be used to give an extended look at Hatch or Kay or Thornton, to see whether they are legitimate options for the 2022 rotation. That knowledge would help the Jays in making decisions in the upcoming offseason.
Some writers have suggested that trading Ray or Semien would dishearten fans. Not sure I agree. Toronto baseball fans love a winner. In the 1991 season, a strong Jays team was the first team in baseball history to draw 4 million fans (beating the previous MLB record of 3.89 million fans set in 1990 by – you guessed it – the Toronto Blue Jays). But from 2001-2010 the Jays – with the largest (by population) city in MLB with only a single team – averaged 22nd in baseball in home attendance. Yes, it would be nice to have your 2022 cake and eat it in 2021 too. But cake in 2022 might taste even better than cake in 2021 (and the 15,000 fans per game restriction will hopefully not be in effect!)
Those writers have also suggested that young players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette would see a Ray or Semien trade as a lack of confidence, or as the “waste” of a potential Vladdy MVP season. Again, I disagree. These young men are professionals, and have grown up around professionals. They understand that you do not win the Series every year, no matter how hard you play. And with 4 more years of team control after 2021 (Vlad, Bo, Cavan – 3 years for Danny, Lourdes) they should not be willing to sacrifice their future for a low-probability present – either by trading top prospects for rentals or by refusing to intelligently trade present pain for future gain.
The bottom line
It is entirely possible that the Jays could find themselves unable (or unwilling) to make the uber additions at this deadline that it would take to become serious World Series contenders in 2021. If other teams do make those moves, the Jays’ chances could be lower on Friday afternoon than they are now. In that scenario, Toronto should evaluate the offers they receive for Semien and Ray (and Matz, and others). If buying teams are only offering a bag of magic beans, the Jays might well just choose to keep their current players and have fun with 2021. But if those offers have the potential to genuinely move the needle in 2022, the Jays should listen … hard.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.