TORONTO — General manager Ross Atkins hasn’t given up on the notion of his Blue Jays club competing this season, and Brad Hand is proof.
After courting the left-handed reliever for a good portion of the winter as they trolled for bullpen help, eventually settling on the disaster that was Kirby Yates, the Jays decided to deal for Hand one day ahead of the MLB trade deadline, sending catching prospect Riley Adams to the Washington Nationals in exchange for the 31-year-old.
Hand, who has 126 career saves, including 21 this year for the Nats, will be added to Charlie Montoyo’s back-of-the-bullpen mix, giving the manager an experienced southpaw with no platoon splits to speak of this season.
But the acquisition signals Atkins and his front office haven’t given up hope of a wild-card run and there’s likely more changes coming ahead of Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
They still seek impact, and Minnesota Twins star José Berríos is firmly on the radar.
The price for the 27-year-old right-hander will be steep, but he could be worth it, considering he’s under team control for 2022, as well.
That’s likely the path Atkins is looking to go down as they attempt to tip-toe to contention over the final two months, while keeping 2022 as the priority.
We’ve all watched this team for four months.
As constructed, it’s not good enough to be a serious threat.
The lightning-in-a-bottle scenario where they catch fire and things just fall into place — sorta like 2015 in a dream scenario — is running out of time.
Expensive rentals wouldn’t fit with this front office’s modus operandi or with where the Jays — a 95-loss team two summers ago — are at in their competitive window, one that has just opened in earnest.
But it’s a given that the Jays go out this winter in search of impact starting pitching like Berríos and German Marquez, so why not start now?
Yes, it will cost them very good prospects. Perhaps even elite ones.
But that’s the cost of doing business and if the Jays want to go all San Diego Padres on everyone this winter, which most within the game expect them to do, it’s going to cost them significant prospect capital to do it then, too.
At this point, the Twins seem motivated to sell Berríos a year-and-a-half out from free agency, which is usually the smart play.
He’s the perfect fit.
The four-pitch mix, led by the hook, is elite and he would wedge in perfectly between lefties Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray, in whatever order you prefer.
Add Steven Matz and Alek Manoah into the equation, pushing Ross Stripling into a swingman role, and the dynamic of the Jays rotation changes completely.
That’s a playoff-calibre rotation already in place for 2022 — as long as they can re-sign Ray — regardless of what happens down the stretch over the final two months of this campaign.
Adding Hand, a free agent at the end of the season, is an indiction there’s still an aggressive mindset up top.
He’ll team with power right-hander Jordan Romano at the back end of the bullpen, but both pitchers have struggled recently.
Over his last nine appearances, Hand holds an 8.00 ERA and has blown three saves.
The story is similar with Romano, whose ERA has shot up from 1.21 on June 30 to 2.29 heading into Thursday’s finale in Boston.
Adjusting to the lack of sticky stuff may be at play in both cases.
Hand’s ability to get both sides out this season — he’s held lefties to a .216 average and righties to a .198 mark — will help, but his strikeouts are down significantly this season, while his velocity is up.
“You can never have enough pitching,” Montoyo said Thursday. “If you want to have some kind of winning streak, you can never go wrong with having two closers. He’s a great add and he’s going to help out, but I’m not going to name a closer with Romano and Hand because I haven’t talked to Brad yet.”
In giving up Adams, the Jays send the No. 16 prospect in their system to Washington, but one who’s projected as a future backup with some power.
With Alejandro Kirk around and top prospect Gabriel Moreno on the way, maybe as soon as next summer, Adams was clearly expendable in a deep catching pipeline.
There’s also plenty of talent left to be the power player Friday, if that’s what Atkins wants to do.
After watching the New York Yankees load up with Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, the AL East is still as intriguing as ever.