The Toronto Blue Jays entered the trade deadline as a team that could be fairly described as the third-best club in the American League.
When their work was done that status had not meaningfully changed. The team made a few upgrades, but what the front office accomplished was some successful tweaking rather than a paradigm shift.
A Juan Soto trade simply wasn’t in the cards for Toronto based on what the San Diego Padres ultimately offered. Coming away from Tuesday’s deadline without a brand-name relief ace or notable rotation upgrade could be construed as a disappointment, though.
Even if the ambition level of the trades weren’t to many fans’ tastes, that doesn’t mean the moves themselves were inadvisable.
Here’s a rundown of the Blue Jays’ three trade deadline deals*:
Blue Jays get: RP Anthony Bass, RP Zach Pop, PTBNL
Blue Jays lose: INF Jordan Groshans
How does it work?: Entering the deadline, the Blue Jays’ highest team-building priority was acquiring bullpen help. The team’s relief corps failed them consistently last season, playing a massive role in the Blue Jays missing the playoffs by a single game.
This year, the group was below-average for most of the season with a few bright spots lately. One significant issue is the team is low on relievers who consistently miss bats as its bullpen’s 8.65 K/9 ranks 18th in the majors.
Even some of Toronto’s most reliable relievers — like Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza — lack swing-and-miss stuff, and the Blue Jays don't have big-time arms who can come in with men on base and escape jams.
It’s not 100 percent clear they filled that need with this deal, but they did get two quality relievers. Bass is carrying a 1.41 ERA this season, and he’s striking out more hitters than ever thanks in part to an increasing emphasis on his quality slider.
Bass has a team option for 2023 at just $3 million that adds to his value, but he’s more reliable than spectacular.
Pop is a Brampton, Ont., local who returns home, and he’s bringing big-time velocity with him (96.5 mph). That said, he uses his big arm to generate groundballs with a sinker as opposed to racking up strikeouts. He’s a long-term add for the Blue Jays and won’t be a free agent until 2027.
So, the Blue Jays made an upgrade, but it’s more of a floor-raising move that will help over multiple seasons than an all-in push for 2022.
The prospect they gave up, Groshans, has featured on top prospect lists in the past, but he hasn’t performed well in his first run at Triple-A with a .644 OPS and one home run in 67 games.
Miami is hoping he’s a buy-low gem — and it could be right — but this looks like the Blue Jays squeezing what they could out of a declining trade chip.
Blue Jays get: SP/RP Mitch White, INF Alex De Jesus
Blue Jays lose: SP Nick Frasso, SP/RP Moises Brito
How does it work?: Trading for a Los Angeles Dodgers swingman worked for the Blue Jays in 2020 with Ross Stripling so they figured they’d try their luck again.
White has a 3.70 ERA and 3.95 FIP in 56 innings in 2022 over 10 starts and five relief appearances. His stuff isn’t overwhelming, but he limits hard contact and has a nasty slider. What Toronto gets with White is a player with role flexibility who won’t be a free agent until 2028.
Long-term rotation depth isn’t what gets fans fired up for the stretch run, but White has significant utility for this team. If Yusei Kikuchi is able to build off a strong start back from his IL stint, White gives the team length out of the bullpen and injury insurance. If Kikuchi falters, which has been his modus operandi this season, the right-hander will be more than adequate as a fifth starter.
White is the type of player front offices love, even if he’s not necessarily exciting, and the Blue Jays have him for a long time.
The big prospect here is Frasso, who has been dominant in 2022 with a 0.65 ERA in 41.2 innings with 65 strikeouts. Those numbers are sterling, but he’s also old (23) for the levels he’s pitched at, and getting his pro career started late due to a 2021 season wiped out by Tommy John Surgery. His range of outcomes is absolutely massive.
De Jesus and Brito are best conceptualized as throw-ins, meaning the Blue Jays are trading a low-floor, high-ceiling prospect for a high-floor, low-ceiling big leaguer. There’s a world where they just moved a star for a swing man with team control, but it seems more likely they got a useful pitcher over five-and-a-half years for very little.
Blue Jays get: OF Whit Merrifield
Blue Jays lose: SP/RP Max Castillo, 2B/OF Samad Taylor
How does it work?: You could argue it doesn’t really. It definitely doesn’t if Merrifield doesn’t get vaccinated, which he hasn’t yet.
The 33-year-old still runs well, plays good defence (with some versatility), and avoids strikeouts. On the flip side, his overall offensive production has been trending unmistakably down in recent seasons:
The veteran provides some insurance for George Springer’s health with his ability to play centre field, and he can fill in at second base, which is nifty. What he lacks is an intuitive path to consistent playing time, especially with Raimel Tapia producing at a solid clip in recent months.
Merrifield is a trustworthy defender and instantly becomes the best base stealer on the team (he’s 15-for-18 this season), which creates some late-game situational opportunities.
Even so, much of what he brings can be accomplished by some combination of Tapia and Bradley Zimmer. He’s arguably more of a complete player than either but it’s still not a totally clean fit — even if he bumps Zimmer off the roster.
In terms of the prospects the Blue Jays gave up, neither Castillo nor Taylor look like future studs but the former provided some rotation depth the Blue Jays have lacked in 2022 and the latter has athleticism, positional versatility, and proximity to the majors.
It doesn’t seem likely this move comes back to haunt them, but it’s unclear why they bothered to do it. On the plus side for Toronto, Merrifield is under contract through 2023 so the team will have additional bench options next season.
Still, much like most of the Blue Jays' work on Tuesday, that’s tough to get excited about.
*Toronto also shipped reliever Jeremy Beasley to the Pittsburgh Pirates for cash, but that simply isn’t worthy of grading — unless we knew exactly how much cash, in which case we’d definitely grade it.
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