Congratulations to Josh Donaldson, not only voted into the All Star Game in his first year as a Blue Jay, but doing so with panache- leading all players in votes, setting an all-time record along the way. Take that, Kansas City! If there was ever any doubt there’s an ocean of fans waiting to let loose, fill the Rogers Centre and cheer on a winning Toronto team, the 14 million votes for Josh should clear it up. Despite a now league-high 21-year playoff drought , there’s still a huge, avid Blue Jays fanbase north of the border.
Congrats too, of course, to Jose Bautista, going to his sixth straight ASG as a Jay, and Torontonian Russell Martin named as well. Well-deserved honors and something for us to look forward to seeing next Tuesday. However, as big as that is, the one baseball date in July that looms larger yet for the team is the “trade deadline” at month-end, and the thing that would make us cheer louder than a Donaldson home run at the mid-summer classic in Cinci would be the Jays landing a star pitcher. Maybe from Cincinnati. The one arm who’d lift the team above their water-treading, perennially-middling doldrums.
Unfortunately, the thing working in Toronto’s advantage this year is exactly what will work against them at the trade deadline- Parity. The very fact that Toronto can be (as of Tuesday night) just two games over .500 yet within two games of the division lead is indicative of MLB, 2015 style. Take away, as one columnist put it this week, the “two outliers” – the one very good team (St. Louis) and one very bad team (Philadelphia)- and you’re left with a batch of 28 teams which really aren’t that different than one another. There are no great teams, save for perhaps the Cards, and no atrocious teams, except for the Phillies, (assuming they can’t find a time machine and dial it back to 2010). As of this morning, 12 of 15 American League teams and 9 of the National League ones are within six games of a playoff spot, through either the Wild card or a division lead. With nearly three months left, it’s hard to believe that a team couldn’t make up six games. And there’s the rub.
Years when players were flying between clubhouses in July faster than balls out of Coors Stadium in the 90s were years when there were clear cut winners and losers; years when no more than half the teams even could entertain dreams of playing in October. Seasons like that might be bad for fans in general, but are great for the few teams hanging on the edge of a playoff spot. It’s a buyer’s market with ten or more teams trying desperately to dump salary and get at least some return for players soon to depart to free agency.
This year though, many teams, like Toronto are scrambling to get that boost to put them over the top and few teams are ready to throw in the towel. If you’re a GM and you’re team is sitting five and a half games out of a playoff spot in late July, it’s going to be hard to explain trading away your staff ace to the fans. Or the resultant empty stands for the final two months to the corporate bosses.
Even last year, a relatively “flat” year in terms of extremes between the good and bad teams, Boston was sitting 8 games out of a wild card spot at the ASG, just before they jettisoned Jon Lester and the Cubs were running a full eleven out before giving up on keeping “The Shark” around for the remainder. The Rangers, who traded a pair of potential closers (Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria) in the month sat at 38-57, 13 games out of the final playoff position at the unofficial half-way mark.
Compare that to this year, when the Red Sox are still locked in the AL East basement, but only 5 games from the lead.
So with so many teams still in the running, it’s going to be a seller’s market. This isn’t good, as obviously this drives up the price for the few talented players who will be put up for trade. However, that shouldn’t deter Toronto. As the Phillies are finding out, the window of opportunity for a championship is finite. With the Jays leading the world in offense this year, the Yankees probably a year away from a total makeover and the Rays nurturing a boatload of up-and-coming young pitchers the window isn’t going to open any wider than it is this summer. The time to make the deal is now. There will be a few worthy arms on the market.
The Phils from all accounts are still very interested in ditching their aging, high-paid arms such as Hamels and Papelbon, but there seems little interest in them due to their personalities, large salaries left and larger demands from the Phillies.
A few teams are still likely to be able to be willing however. Milwaukee, sitting at 36-50 have little realistic chance to turn it up enough in the second half to make the post-season, but also have little to offer in way of bolstering a starting rotation. Veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez, however, would be a nice upgrade over rookie Roberto Osuna or unpredictable Brett Cecil to shut down opponents in the 9th. F-Rod is 19 for 19 in saves thus far, with a highly commendable 1.45 ERA over 31 games.
Oakland, although on a bit of a run the last couple of weeks, and despite having a solid +50 run differential, are still 7 games shy of a wild card spot and given the way last year went, unlikely to try to trade up. Tyler Clippard would still be a good fit for the Toronto ‘pen, although Scott Kazmir is suddenly a big question mark after leaving today’s game against NY after 3 innings with “triceps soreness.” Expect to hear his name bandied around a lot less in coming weeks.
Cincinnati is still apparently shopping Johnny Cueto and maybe Mike Leake as well; Leake would be a good #5 starter but of course Cueto is the prize. His shutout yesterday against Max Scherzer’s Nationals boosted his value too, but he is the type of ace who could take Toronto to a Yonge Street parade in November.
San Diego has been a surprise under-achiever this season, and one wonders if at 39-47 and falling, they’d not sell off some pitching. James Shields’ and Craig Kimbrel will no doubt still be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come, but Tyson Ross might be expendable. At 5-7 with a 3.63 ERA (in an admittedly pitcher-friendly division), coming off a 195 inning, sub-3 ERA season, he could fit nicely between Buehrle and Estrada in the rotation. Similarly, the White Sox have a lot of ground to cover if they entertain any thoughts of October and are said to be ready to ditch their prize off-season acquisition, Jeff Samardzija. Could Toronto be his fourth ball cap in thirteen months? He might not be the superstar Oakland thought he would be last year, but is a solid pitcher aiming for a huge winter contract. The Jays could do worse than adding him to the roster for three months, and will have a chance to see him up close on thursday when they take on the Sox.
One other name jumps out at me this week. Jason Frasor. While KC is certainly in the playoff hunt again and are arguably competing with the Jays to add pitching depth, they inexplicably designated Frasor for assignment two days ago. Presumably the Royals have just too much strength in the bullpen to keep the aging rightie around. The Blue Jays all-time games pitched leader might not be the total answer,or the closer the team needs so badly, but they could do worse than run him out to the mound in the 7th now and again. The ageless one (well, actually he’s 37) is having a decent year again, with a 1-0 record in 26 appearances and a solid 1.54 ERA, as well as 18K to just 2 BB. Frasor has always expressed his love for the city and one seemingly saved his best work for it, so, he’d be a welcome sight in our blue and white once more.
We’ll be waiting with bated breath… for the fireworks of next week’s home run derby and then for the real fireworks- the arrival of arms who’ll give this team some pitching to match the offense in the second half.