As we approach July 31, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
Toronto Blue Jays: 39-45, 4th in the AL East
Every year around this time, a MLB club or two finally has an epiphany.
The organization tries so hard for the first three months of the season, hoping that the roster it assembled in the offseason can be in the hunt by the time the All-Star break comes. But when things don’t go to plan, the reality that the club has to go in rebuilding mode finally hits it in the face.
The Blue Jays have finally had this situation happen to them, as general manager Ross Atkins said that they will become sellers, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Within this admission, Toronto will be open to dealing controllable players and second-half rentals (we’ll get to specifics below) as it hopes to build a young, talented squad that can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
What moves have they made so far?
The Blue Jays started their trade business by dealing utility man Steve Pearce and cash to the Red Sox last Thursday for minor-league infielder Santiago Espinal. The deal made it clear that the Jays are open to trading with any club, even their AL East rivals if that happens to be “where the best offers come from,” Atkins said to Nicholson-Smith. Atkins added that the club will look for talent rather than specific positions.
As #BlueJays talk trades over the next month, they'll focus on talent over position— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) June 29, 2018
Ross Atkins: “We’re always deferring to the best possible talent we can acquire whether they’re 19 or 24, right-handed or left-handed, playing shortstop or pitching”
Who could they sell?
Since they are talking trades, the Blue Jays have a good amount of trade chips to offer.
The biggest name on the list is star third baseman Josh Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP and three-time All-Star at the hot corner. Before this season, the 32-year-old Donaldson had proved he was worth having in the lineup, as he had hit over 20 homers in five straight seasons and had over 90 RBI in four of those campaigns. His play earned him an arbitration-record one-year, $23 million deal for 2018.
Unfortunately, this season has been a tough one for Donaldson, as he has been on the DL since June 1 (retroactive to May 29) with a left calf strain and he recently suffered a setback during his rehab assignment. The setback have hurt the Jays’ chances of dealing before the deadline. More importantly, it has hurt Donaldson’s value because teams may not pay full price for him because he has not been healthy and he had been playing poorly by his standards in the first two months before the injury.
The Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox, Indians and Phillies all need help at third base, but the Blue Jays have to convince them — or any trade partner — that Donaldson will be worth getting in exchange for top-tier prospects.
Along with Donaldson, J.A. Happ is a big name the Jays can deal as well. The veteran lefty is 10-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 17 starts this season and has posted eight quality starts. The 35-year-old is in the final season of his three-year, $36 million contract, so he would be a rental for any contender. So far, he has drawn interest from the Yankees and Mariners, but he may be also receiving consideration from the Brewers, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com.
Other rentals the Blue Jays could deal are Marco Estrada, Tyler Clippard, Curtis Granderson, Aaron Loup and John Axford.
As far as controllable players, Yangervis Solarte, Justin Smoak, and Kevin Pillar stand out the most. Solarte, who leads the team with 15 homers and 45 RBI, has cheap team options for 2019 ($5.5 million) and 2020 ($8 million). Smoak, who is second on the club with 11 homers and 42 RBI, has a $6 million team option for 2019, but it could increase based on his plate appearances this year. As for Pillar, the speedy center fielder is not a free agent until 2021.
The Blue Jays will make a couple more moves before 4 p.m. on July 31. They will find a way to trade Donaldson, but it will be right up to the final hour of the deadline. As far as where he goes, the Cardinals are the pick since they have had a ton of interest in him dating back to last year.
They will also deal Happ to the Yankees, as they will take advantage of getting some quality prospects from New York’s farm system. They will also deal Tyler Clippard, as he is their best reliever outside of closer Roberto Osuna.
By doing these deals, they should be able to build around a team that will eventually be centered around Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — MLB’s top prospect — and Bo Bichette.