The Blue Jays are entering the week of the trade deadline in not a very good spot. Losers of four of their last five, the Jays are down to having just a 22% chance of making the playoffs per the PECOTA standings at Baseball Prospectus. FanGraphs has them in a little better position at 28.9%, Baseball-Reference has them at 47.1% somehow, but the fact remains that the Yankees and their fans have been in the middle of what’s seemed like a season-long existential crisis, yet the Jays have routinely found themselves behind them.
Not everything is bad, of course. The Jays remain just 4.5 games out of a playoff spot at the time of this writing, and their run differential suggests they are a better team than their results have shown so far — something anybody who has suffered through having to consistently watch this bullpen “perform” can attest. They also have an opportunity to make themselves better this week.
They should. So let’s talk about it!
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No, this isn’t going to be some impassioned plea to the Blue Jays about rewarding a club that, for the most part, has done a very good job under uniquely difficult circumstances this season. It’s also not about rewarding fans in Toronto who will finally get to see their team come home this week, just a few hours after the deadline. Those, frankly, are still pretty good reasons for the Jays not to pack up and give in with over two months left in the season just because they happen to be in a little five-game ebb at the wrong time. But I’m more concerned with something more practical: the problem of the 40-man.
I’ve written about this before — specifically, in an answer I gave to a question in my Mail Bag last week — but today, with more and more chatter shifting toward the idea that the Jays should sell, I wanted to take a closer look at the 40-man; specifically, where it stands right now, and where it’s headed this coming winter.
My contention is that, while it doesn’t necessarily have to happen this week, the Jays have reached the stage where they’re going to need to start consolidating talent in the months ahead. The winter will give them another opportunity to do this but comes with its own attendant pressures, deadlines, and plenty of chances to lose talent for nothing.
To see what I mean, let’s first break down the 40-man based on both position and status, then pick things up from there.
• Normal text: expected to remain on the 40-man
• Bold text: expected to be added to the 40-man
• (Brackets): pending free agent
• Italics = non-tender candidate
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Carl Edwards Jr.
Hyun Jin Ryu
As you can see, this future 40-man roster already has 43 names on it, and that’s without replacing the likes of Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien, Kirby Yates, David Phelps, etc. Nor does it contain guys like Jordan Groshans, Simeon Woods Richardson and Orelvis Martinez, all three of whom will need to be added in December ‘22. Or Austin Martin, who won’t need to be added until a year after that, but very likely will be up at some point next season.
Other omissions of note: Logan Warmoth, Cullen Large, Forrest Wall, Zach Logue, and newly acquired Bowden Francis — all of whom were Rule 5 eligible last season. Also Joey Murray, Cre Frinfrock, and Hagen Danner (recently converted to pitching after being drafted as a catcher) who are theoretical relief possibilities that will require a 40-man spots in order to be protected from the upcoming Rule 5 for the first time.
Some of these guys may pass through, though I’m sure there are others in the system who could draw some interest. Either way, while you can certainly quibble with my selections here, my points are these: the Rule 5 and the scarcity of spots on the 40-man itself are mechanisms by which the Jays will be forced to shed talent for nothing as they build toward 2022. This current roster isn’t going to be good enough, especially considering some of the guys they stand to lose to free agency, so they’re going to have to augment it with several of pieces of major league talent, which complicates the numbers game further.
Do you hang on to a Trent Thornton now just to end up non-tendering him? Or does he maybe still have value to another organization in a way that he doesn’t here? Do you need all of Miguel Hiraldo, Leo Jimenez, Otto Lopez, Kevin Smith, and Samad Taylor taking up spots on your 40-man? I don’t think so. Not when you’ve also got to replace or re-sign Marcus Semien, as well as probably finding an actual everyday big leaguer to play third.
Again, this doesn’t all need to be fixed right here this week, but the Jays certainly have a big opportunity to move this numbers game in a better direction for them, and surely will be thinking about all of these dominoes and what the winter might look like.
Other than the Padres, major league teams seem to have a harder time lining up on trades than those of us out here on the other side ever seem to appreciate. I get that. But for the Jays to allow themselves to get to a point in a few of months where they’re having to make too many tough decisions about who to keep and who to lose or expose because they decided to pack it in with so many games left and the fourth best run differential in the American League seems like a mistake both for then and for now.
I’m not saying they need to empty the farm for rentals. I’m not saying they shouldn’t at least listen if someone wants to blow them away with an offer for Semien or Ray — though it’s definitely worth noting they’ll both be easier to re-sign, or would otherwise bring back draft pick compensation, if the Jays hold onto both and pin Qualifying Offers to them, thereby artificially suppressing their free agent markets next winter. I’m also not saying they need to be swinging for the fences in trades like they’re Alex Anthopoulos in 2015. I just think they should keep on doing what they’ve been very good at doing these last couple years, which is turning fringy talent from their roster into immediate help — or, if possible, even more.
The Jays are a flawed team and have been incredibly frustrating to watch at times this season, but with four All-Stars, a handful of good starters, financial flexibility, and a deep farm system they have some pretty good bones. More than good enough to be able to pull off giving the team a real boost for its sprint to the finish in 2021 while preserving the front office’s ability to do a meaningful reset in the winter. And I think they would make both those jobs harder, not easier, if they don’t consolidate some of the talent due to get squeezed off the roster into real pieces. Getting Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards were excellent examples of that. Don’t stop now. Enough of this silliness.
Top image via the Toronto Blue Jays