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Steve Phillips

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The call from the training staff to Jays’ general manager Ross Atkins informing him that closer Ken Giles was headed to the injured list with an inflamed elbow had to make Atkins’ heart skip a beat.

Along with Marcus Stroman, Giles is one of the best trade chips the Jays have. He’s been phenomenal since coming over in a deal with the Houston Astros last season, saving 25 of 26 opportunities. The Jays don’t get many save situations, but when they do, Giles has been very good.

There will be plenty of teams looking for impact arms in the bullpen for the stretch run. Giles is under control for the rest of this season and next. If healthy, the Jays can ask for an impact prospect plus a second-tier player in a deal for their closer.

Giles’ health is directly correlated to the quality of the return in any trade. Toronto can maximize his value as long as he only misses the stated 10 days and jumps right back to a high level of performance.

In fact, the Jays might be able to couple Giles with Stroman and be a one-stop shop for teams that need both bullpen and rotation help. The Braves, Phillies, Twins, Rays, A’s and Rangers all fit that description.

To give some idea of the type of trade that the Jays could make, former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden and I speculated on MLB Network Radio about the following trade with the Atlanta Braves: Stroman, Giles and reliever Joe Biagini go to Atlanta for centre fielder Ender Inciarte, pitching prospect Kyle Wright, lefty Sean Newcomb and reliever Touki Toussaint.

In the deal, the Braves get a starter with postseason pedigree in Stroman and two quality relievers to fortify their shaky bullpen. The Jays get a Gold Glove centre fielder who is under control through 2022 and three powerful young arms. This deal would add needed pitching depth to the rebuilding process to pair up with the position player prospects they have in the organization.

In my opinion, the Jays should be aggressive in moving their trade chips. If you have pitchers who are throwing the ball well, it’s important to move them when you can. They are always one pitch away from an injury or a bad outing. Don’t wait, hoping they pitch even better. There are plenty of contenders who already recognize their needs. I would control the market and get everyone involved.

As it stands, the only other starting pitcher comparable to Stroman who will clearly be on the market is Madison Bumgarner, but he doesn’t offer an extra year of control like the Jays right-hander does.

The closers market will likely include Shane Greene in Detroit, Will Smith in San Francisco and Alex Colome of the White Sox. It isn’t clear if the Padres would trade closer Kirby Yates or if the Indians would consider moving Brad Hand. The Jays can use that uncertainty to create a sense of urgency among the contenders.

Grichuk extension looks like a mistake

One player the Blue Jays won’t be trading is Randall Grichuk. I’m not sure the Jays are desperate to keep him, but no one will call trying to acquire the outfielder. The five-year, $52-million contract extension he signed in early April is looking like a mistake. The deal bought out the last two seasons of arbitration and three years of free agency for the 27-year-old.

I was shocked when the Jays announced the agreement. Grichuk was a career .246/.298/492 hitter at the time of the deal. He was a high-strikeout, low-walk hitter with some power. He had seasons of 24, 22, and 25 homers. Sure, the home runs are nice, but the rest of the at-bats also matter.

The Jays have praised Grichuk’s defence and base running. By all accounts, he’s a nice young man, a hard worker and a good teammate. But the reality is that if he can’t hit, he’s not playoff-calibre starting player.

This season he is struggling at the plate, with a .221/.280/.411 slash line. He has struck out 77 times in 253 at bats (30.4 per cent) and walked only 19 times. Grichuk has always been streaky, which can be acceptable if the ultimate result is an above-average hitter. But that is not the case with him. 

The contract won’t be crippling to the Jays as he is making $7 million this year, $12 million next year and $9,333,333 million in 2021-23. But, if not for the contract, he would very possibly be a non-tender candidate this winter because of his performance. Grichuk will likely have to be an extra outfielder when the Jays are ready to be playoff contenders.

Spitting Seeds

- Shohei Ohtani is on a mission to establish himself as the best Japanese player to ever play MLB. He faced Seattle Mariner starter Yusei Kikuchi last week and homered against him. Mike Trout said he had never seen him that excited about a home run. Ohtani and Kikuchi went to the same high school in Japan, several years apart. Ohtani made a statement with that homer just as he did when he homered against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, another Japanese star, this week. To put icing on the cake, Ohtani became the first Japanese player to ever hit for the cycle on Thursday. Remember: he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Unbelievably, many of the scouts who saw him play in Japan believed he was a better pitcher than hitter. Is that even possible?

- The Tampa Bay Rays first-round pick in 2017 was Brendan McKay from the University of Louisville. He is a two-way player like Ohtani. He has proven to be a much better pitcher than hitter so far. He is currently playing at Triple-A Durham. He has a combined 5-0 record with a 1.43 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A this year. As a hitter he is slashing .178/.291/.268 between the two levels. It’s likely that McKay will be promoted to the majors at some point soon to help the pitching staff. It will be interesting to see if they let him hit in the big leagues.

- The Blue Jays are scheduled to play the Houston Astros this weekend, giving Jays’ fans their first look at Yordan Alvarez. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound slugger is one of the top prospects in the game. He dominated Triple-A this year despite being just 21, hitting .343/.443/.742 with 23 homers and 71 RBI in just 56 games. He has leapfrogged a number of top prospects in the Astros organization and has already hit two homers in his first three games in the majors. The rich just get richer.

- Speaking of the rich getting richer, the Jays are scheduled to play the Yankees June 24-26 in New York. Get ready because the Yankees will very likely have Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge back in the lineup by the time those games arrive. Both sluggers are on rehab assignments and close to returning. It’s going to be a couple of tough weeks for the young Jays as they are slated to play the Astros, Angels, Red Sox and Yankees.

- The Blue Jays made a deal to acquire pitcher Nick Kingham from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. Kingham had been designated for assignment as the Pirates made a number of roster moves last weekend. The Jays effectively bought the 27-year-old Kingham, who is a 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-hander. It is a low-risk acquisition to add inventory to the organization.