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Blue Jays in an awkward spot with trade deadline looming

Toronto Blue Jays Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - The Canadian Press

As it currently stands, I would not classify the Toronto Blue Jays as buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. They could still be one or the other, neither, or both. 

So, you are probably asking yourself, “How will they decide what they are?” There is an example from the not-so-distant past that is informative.

In 2015, Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos saw his team playing .500 baseball and in third place in the AL East as the deadline approached. The Yankees were six games ahead of the Jays the week before the deadline, but he chose to be an aggressive buyer at the deadline. 

First, Anthopoulos evaluated where his team was in the standings. They were trailing in the division by a good bit, but they were just four games out of the second wild-card spot (there were only two wild cards then) with just one other team in front of them.

Second, Anthopoulos’ belief in his team was supported by a plus-94 run differential, which belied the .500 record. Toronto’s expected win/loss record with that kind of run differential was 58-40. Some bad luck and timing affected their actual record, but the analytics indicated they were better. 

Third, he evaluated how his team was presently playing and how the teams around them were performing. Nobody else was looking like they would pull away.

Fourth, Anthopoulos evaluated the schedule down the stretch and realized he had a softer schedule than most of the competition the rest of the way.

Finally, he considered the trade market and whether there were potential fits that could further propel his club in their run to the playoffs over the last two months. He realized he matched up with a couple of clubs that had impact stars available. Anthopoulos added shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies and lefty ace David Price from the Detroit Tigers in a pair of blockbuster deals. 

The rest is history. The Jays went 44-20 after July 24 and went on to not only make the playoffs but pass the Yankees and win the division.

Let’s use the same criteria and evaluate where the Jays are right now. Again, it is too early to declare one way or the other, but it’s an indicator of the potential direction at the deadline. 

Standings: Currently the Jays are 33-35 and are in fourth place, 14.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. But they are only 3.5 games behind the third wild-card spot, currently held by the Minnesota Twins, and are tied with the Tigers and Rangers with just the Red Sox in front of them. 

Run differential: These are not the 2015 Blue Jays. So far, they have been outscored by their opponents by 35 runs. Their expected record based upon the run differential is 30-38, not their actual 33-35. This does not lead one to believe that the Blue Jays have been the victims of bad luck or bad timing, just bad baseball. 

Current performance: The Jays are currently playing much like they have all season. Their starting pitching is not quite as good as last season, nor is their bullpen. The offence is underperforming and runs hot and cold. They have been consistently inconsistent.

Schedule: The schedule for the remainder of June is daunting. Every team they face would be a playoff team if the season ended today except the Red Sox, and they are in front of the Jays in the playoff race. Then in July, the Jays face the Astros, Mariners, Giants and Diamondbacks before the All-Star break. They catch a bit of relief with sub-.500 clubs after the break, but then have seven games with the Orioles and three with the Yankees from the end of July through early August. The schedule is not scary at all after that, with a two-game series with the Phillies as the only games versus current division leaders. But August and September may not matter if this tough run through the end of July buries the Jays.

Trade help available: It’s tough to read which players will be available at the trade deadline right now, considering how many teams are still within striking distance of the third wild-card spot in both leagues. The added playoff spot in this new format has filled so many teams with hope that, if they get hot at the right time, they can play into October. Plus, the run the Diamondbacks had last season to the World Series makes owners feel like if they can do it, why can’t we? Just get in and see what happens. So, it looks like a seller’s market right now. There’s so much demand, with very little supply. It will be interesting to see if any teams within three or four games of a playoff spot blink and become sellers. There may be players available to help the Jays, but there will be a lot of competition for them. The price will be steep.

Conclusion: The standings say the Jays are still a playoff contender despite their performance so far this season. The existence of the third wild-card spot and the parity that exists in the mid-level teams will likely keep them within striking distance. The schedule over the last two months looks rather promising if they can start their improvements now and then improve the roster to finish the season. But adding to the roster might be difficult to pull off.

I would aggressively look to make improvements to the team right now with the intention of re-evaluating where we are at the All-Star break. If the deals made now work, I would then look to add even more at the deadline. If the deals don’t get the intended spike or there are no deals to be made, then I would be faced with a tough decision as a bubble team at the deadline.

I would still be inclined to be a buyer. The other option is to sell the pending free agents in trades while trying to buy and trade for players who can be controlled for a year or more.

The market for Bo and Vladdy

I have heard that there are some executives in the game who believe that if the Jays do decide to sell and trade Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that they might get more in return by waiting until the off-season. I am not in that camp. 

Two playoff runs versus one playoff run is of significant value. Plus, it will be a seller’s market at the deadline.

Teams have access to free agents to fill their needs in the off-season, where they can keep their prospects and only spend money (and lose a draft pick).

The interest in Bichette and Guerrero in July will be greater than the interest in December at the Winter Meetings.

Biggio heads to the Dodgers 

The Jays parted ways with utilityman Cavan Biggio this week in a deal with the Dodgers for a minor-league pitcher.

I’m not surprised that a contending team had interest in Biggio. The Dodgers are good at remaking players who have lost their way.

Biggio needed a change of scenery, and the Jays needed to do whatever it takes to win. The team believes Spencer Horowitz gives them a better chance to do so.

I would have thought Biggio’s value to the Jays is greater than Daniel Vogelbach, but they saw it differently. Biggio’s positional versatility alone has extreme value. 

Vogelbach is only a DH and is hitting .186 with one homer in 70 at-bats. He is most likely next in line to be replaced.