Blue Jays fall to Cardinals as front office mulls trade deadline options

TORONTO — With less than a week to go until the August 2 trade deadline, “prices seem very high” for available talent, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. It’s not atypical when there’s still some track left until the cut line. Buyers and sellers have time to test each other’s pressure points, wait for a deal or two in the market, and play the process in search of the best deal possible.

“Right now, in order to act quickly,” Atkins added, “you’re probably going to pay a premium.”

The Blue Jays, even after a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night, snapping their seven-game winning streak, aren’t in a position where they need to jump. The damage from the 1-9 streak that helped seal the fate of former coach Charlie Montoyo has been undone by a 9-2 run since and their situation has largely stabilized.

Clear needs remain, but as the market grows (the New York Yankees struck first, acquiring Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi), the Blue Jays are debating internally how best to grow their roster . Does going all out for a starter like Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas have the most impact? Stocking up for one, if not two, impact lifters and heading to an elite bullpen? Go crazy and get Juan Soto, even if he walks past 2024, pitch be damned?

Although they sacrificed their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks in future deals for the present last summer (Jose Berrios) and this spring (Matt Chapman), the Blue Jays still have the prospect capital to close more. of agreements. Their players have “done an incredible job of putting themselves in a position where we have to think about it,” Atkins said. To reward this effort and energize the group, they will need to do more than just think about it before next Tuesday.

“We’re happy with the depth,” Atkins said of his team’s farming system. “You never feel good about subtracting (prospects), but we feel good about being able to make a decision if it makes sense for us.”

What makes sense to them, to some degree, will be determined by what the market presents.

But it’s not strictly a coincidence that Yusei Kikuchi parachutes back into the starting rotation on Thursday, when the Blue Jays could have waited until Saturday. Having at least a small indicator of how much the enigmatic southpaw can be relied on will certainly inform their decision-making.

There is some optimism about the changes Kikcuhi has made while on the disabled list – including stabilizing his exit point, using more of his athleticism in his delivery, nailing a consistent slider – and s ‘He can just constantly be a five-inning, four-point guy, that will be enough.

At the same time, with Hyun Jin Ryu out for the season, Ross Stripling already in the rotation, and Max Castillo seemingly the last line of defense, adding to the rotation seems wise.

Whether that’s a Luis Castillo/Montas level addition is another matter, but the action is hot even on low-end starters with a slim supply. Someone in the Chad Kuhl/Drew Smyly mold might make sense, as long as it doesn’t prevent the Blue Jays from adding to the bullpen.

It can be argued that even with Kikuchi’s uncertainty, adding more odor to a bullpen that’s 18th in the majors with an 8.69 strikeouts-per-nine rate, the sixth-highest home run per nine at 1.24 and a collective WAR of 1.1, as calculated by Fangraphs, which is tied for 22nd, is a higher priority.

Atkins noted that “the swing and miss is definitely effective, and I think that would be the one area where if we could add more swing and miss it would be positive.”

There’s also the possibility of inside help in that regard, with Julian Merryweather throwing relievers, Nate Pearson throwing 60 feet and prospects like recently promoted Hayden Juenger at triple-A Buffalo and Yosver Zulueta at double- In New Hampshire, making progress.

Relying on one of them may not be responsible, especially without an August waiver period. Kikuchi, Merryweather, and Pearson are talents, but enticing for now.

“We’re thinking about how can we support them, how can we put them in the best possible position to give us depth,” Atkins said. “But we have to think about how we can bring depth on the outside as well.”

Deepening the bullpen (how about a reunion with 2020 setup man Anthony Bass?) would allow current relievers to minimize a role, giving interim manager John Schneider more options sooner in the game.

An example of how that could play out came in the fifth inning on Wednesday, when Kevin Gausman had two runners with two out and Albert Pujols to come. Schneider in this case went to Trevor Richards, who ended up giving up a three-run homer that put the Cardinals up 6-1, so the move in this case backfired.

“It’s a tough call, obviously Gausman is one of our guys,” Schneider said. “I was just trying to find out how he was doing, where his position was. Obviously we like his bike a little more against Albert. kind of turned out where a cool arm seemed like the best option. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Scheneider noted that Richards has been throwing well lately and that’s true. But what if David Phelps or Adam Cimber, for example, weren’t needed later and could throw there? Having multiple relievers adept at putting out fires allows for the kind of creative use of the bullpen that tends to play out in the postseason. It’s a way to help the Blue Jays get there now and succeed later.

“We base it on how the game is going, who we’re available to,” Schneider said of identifying relievers for such situations. “Honestly, I liked this match-up. I’ve said it many times, where you’re just trying to put guys in a three-hitter pocket where they’re going to have success and it was just a poorly executed pitch from Trevor. This is something we would do again and we have several guys we trust there.

Either way, focusing resources on strengthening the bullpen rather than going all out to bolster an already dominant offense might make more sense.

“Making incremental improvements, even, to our roster of positional players isn’t the easiest thing to do,” Atkins noted, so unless they add elite impact like Soto, or mid-level talent like Ian Happ (a switch-hitter who offers another left-handed option), better bang for their potential buck probably comes elsewhere, especially if it keeps them from adding pitch.

This perspective among the Blue Jays is not unanimous and they could ultimately be faced with locking down the most consequential moveset possible. One way or another, decision time looms, high prices or not.

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