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Top of the Order: Will the Blue Jays Fly Away at the Deadline?

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Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Tuesday and Friday I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

The Blue Jays haven’t yet crashed into a windowpane, never to recover, but 23-26 certainly isn’t what was expected of them entering the season. Before the season, our playoff odds gave them 49% chance to make the postseason. Toronto’s odds peaked at 57.9% on April 22, but since then, the team has fallen off. As of this morning, the Blue Jays have a 24.0% probability to make the playoffs. That leaves them with some serious decisions to make over the next two or so months before the July 30 deadline. Considering their current situation, let’s take a look at their options if they choose not to bolster their big league roster by the end of July.

Stand Pat

This is the most straightforward option: Don’t do anything and hope for some improvements. Every hitter other than Daulton Varsho, Davis Schneider, and Danny Jansen has underperformed this year, and maybe the Blue Jays can stay in the hunt long enough for their bats to catch fire. The organization may determine this is its best option simply because their players probably would have less trade value while they are playing below expectations. If the return package isn’t what the Blue Jays want, why not stay they course?

Only Sell The Rentals

The Blue Jays have a whole bunch of free agents after the 2025 season. And while they could decide to trade those guys (more on this later), Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins may find it best to hold on to them and go for one last run next season. But that doesn’t take the Blue Jays out of the action at the deadline; they have several enticing players on expiring contracts to dangle to contenders.

Justin Turner has slumped horribly recently — entering last night’s game, his wRC+ in May was -21, after 152 in March/April, bringing his seasonal wRC+ down to 96 — but if he can rebound to being solidly above average, contenders would be happy to acquire his righty bat and postseason experience. The Twins, Rangers, and Rays all have gotten wRC+ values below 80 from their designated hitters, and Turner can also fill in at third base, second base, and first.

Yimi García has been one of baseball’s best relievers this season, allowing just one run in 19 innings. He’s also struck out 35% of opponents, and his xERA (1.44) and FIP (2.24) both back up his solid performance. He would make any contender’s bullpen better, and he’s always bounced around between roles, so he doesn’t have to be pigeonholed into a particular inning or situation. It is worth noting that García has never been this good before, and as Ben Clemens wrote in his column yesterday, “you can’t trade your newfound reliever for a shiny prospect,” so it’s unlikely that García alone would net the Blue Jays a strong return package. That said, if Toronto is out of the race, it might as well get something for a 33-year-old reliever who might not be with the team next year anyway.

Lefty Yusei Kikuchi is rather quietly pitching the best he ever has in the majors, with a 2.64 ERA across 10 starts and a career-low walk rate of 5.5%. Teams always need starting pitching, and his above-average rate of inducing grounders and popups will play anywhere.

Rounding out this group is Jansen, who on a rate basis has hit better than any other catcher in baseball, with a 191 wRC+ in 82 trips to the plate entering last night’s game. His injury history should scare teams a little bit; he’s never had more than 384 plate appearances in a season, and that was back in 2019. It’s also worth noting, as our associate editor Matt Martell wrote last year for the New York Times, that teams rarely trade for a catcher during the season because of the particular challenges that come with the position. Even so, I think Jansen is well-suited for the role Mitch Garver held last year with the Rangers: catching sometimes but also getting plenty of plate appearances at DH to make sure his bat stays in the lineup.

Defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier, righty changeup specialist Trevor Richards, and lefty power bat Daniel Vogelbach round out the group of seven Blue Jays who get to fly freely at the end of the season.

Blow It Up

OK, but what if the Jays do decide to more or less tear it down? After all, it is the struggling big three hitters — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and George Springer — who deserve at least a decent chunk of the blame for Toronto’s underperformance. The team didn’t even get a homer from a cleanup hitter until Bichette hit one on Wednesday — 48 games into the season!

I don’t think the Blue Jays would go so far as to trade Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, or José Berríos, since Berríos is the only one pitching particularly well this year and his opt out after 2026 may complicate things too much to work out a trade, but the rest of that group of players with club control beyond this season could be on the block, headlined by Guerrero Jr. and Bichette.

Vladdy continues to tantalize with his bullet home runs (though he has only five this year) and massive exit velocity, but as we move further and further away from it, his MVP-caliber 2021 campaign looks more like an outlier than a sign of things to come, as it surely appeared to be in its immediate aftermath. Still, he’s in just his age-25 season, and it’s absolutely plausible that another team could bring out the best in him. I’m puzzled trying to figure out what he’d bring back in a trade, since he’s making $19.9 million this year and will probably be up around $25 million next year, but let’s not overthink things. He’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and if his suitors aren’t going to give up at least one top 100 prospect for him, the Blue Jays should tell them to get lost.

Bichette is more or less the same guy at the end of every season, with a wRC+ between 120 and 130 in each of the last four years; over the last three, he’s hit 29, 24, and 20 home runs, respectively. His fielding is always below average (but not terrible), and the only skill that’s on the decline is his base-stealing, with 25 stolen bases in 2021 followed by 13 in ’22 and just five last season, though he already has four this year. On the surface, the man is a metronome, but things get … weird … under the hood. Last year, his first-half wRC+ was 132, followed by 109 in the second half. The year prior, it was just 106 in the first half before he surged to 164 after the All-Star break. That streakiness is why I’m really not concerned about his performance thus far this year; the dude is bound to get hot at some point! It would be foolish of teams to just assume things will even out, but they shouldn’t read too much into his slow start, either. A contending team in need of a shortstop this year, such as the Giants or Guardians, would certainly be interested.

The Blue Jays would get far more modest returns for right-handed closer Jordan Romano, righty relievers Chad Green and Erik Swanson, lefty relievers Tim Mayza and Génesis Cabrera, and utilitymen Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Cavan Biggio, but they could be used as an add-on piece to sweeten the return in a trade for one of Toronto’s top players or to acquire prospect depth in a separate deal. After all, the Blue Jays’ farm system has just two Top 100 Prospects: lefty pitcher Ricky Tiedemann and infielder Orelvis Martinez.

I’m not here to advocate for Toronto to take any particular path; I’m just laying out the options. The worst plan for the Blue Jays would be not having one.

Weekend Windup

Here are some things to keep an eye on as we head into the long Memorial Day weekend:

Ketel Marte looks to extend his 21-game hitting streak — the longest in the majors this season — when the Diamondbacks begin a three-game set at home tonight against the Marlins. Lefty Braxton Garrett gets the start for Miami, which bodes well for Marte, who is hitting .347 against lefties this year.

• The Cubs and Cardinals will finally meet for the first time this year, opening a three-game set tonight at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals have looked cooked for most of the first quarter of the season, but they enter the weekend just five games out of first place in the NL Central after winning eight of their last 10 games — including being the first team to sweep the Orioles in the regular season since Adley Rutschman came up two years ago.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are trending in the opposite direction after going 3-7 in their last 10 games. Still, they’re only two games behind the first-place Brewers. After a run of facing plenty of high octane starting pitchers (Jared Jones, Paul Skenes, Max Fried, Chris Sale, AJ Smith-Shawver), they’ll get to see three lower-velocity guys in Miles Mikolas, Matthew Liberatore, and Sonny Gray.

Juan Soto returns to San Diego for the first time since the Padres traded him to the Yankees last December, and comes back to town on fire. Over his last six games, Soto is 9-for-23 (.391) with four home runs and seven RBIs. After a mini-slump dropped his average to .301 and his OPS to .917, those numbers are back to .312 and .972, respectively. He’ll be flanked in the lineup as usual by Anthony Volpe, who’s got a 16-game hitting streak, and Aaron Judge, who homered yet again on Thursday for his 15th of the season.

• Once his 10-game suspension for pitching with “sticky stuff” is over, Ronel Blanco is set to return on Sunday against the A’s. While he asserted the substance he got caught using was just rosin mixed with sweat, he’ll surely be under increased scrutiny. Blanco, who has a 2.09 ERA in eight starts so far in 2024, was the first pitcher to be suspended for foreign substances this season after four were suspended last year.

Nick Lodolo is aiming to return to the Reds rotation on Monday, and boy could they use him. The Reds have floundered to a 4-16 record in their last 20 games, and Lodolo had a 3.34 ERA and 2.90 FIP in six starts before hitting the IL with a groin injury. That was his second IL stint this year, after he missed the season’s first couple weeks while recovering from the leg fracture that cost him most of 2023.


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