Toronto Blue Jays Trade Deadline Preview: Is Juan Soto Blue Jays Bound?

The Toronto Blue Jays came into the season as the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series and win the division. Trailing the New York Yankees by 14.5 games with just under 70 games remaining has put the AL East out of reach, but they are still in the discussion to win the Junior Circuit’s pennant. At FanDuel Sportsbook, Toronto has the third shortest odds (+950) to win the AL and the sixth shortest odds to win it all this year (+2000). Adding a few pieces could power this club to a deep playoff run.

Bullpen Bolstering

Toronto’s biggest weakness is its bullpen. Of the 12 teams currently in playoff spots, the Jays rank 10th in ERA (3.56) from the seventh inning on and second last in the AL. Sure Jordan Romano leads the American League in saves but getting him the ball with a lead and, many times, a preserved lead has been an issue. The Jays have the seventh-most blown saves in the majors, fourth most in the AL, and are only around the big league average in holds.

David Bednar was an All-Star this season, and Pittsburgh has not only had a penchant for not being in pennant races but a penchant for dealing pitchers without a high price tag. The Pirates have said they don’t want to sell their young closer, but the right offer could tickle Pittsburgh GM Ben Cherington’s buying bone into changing their minds.

Daniel Bard is toiling in Colorado and is a tested veteran with both closing and setup man experience. The Rockies stopper also had some playoff experience with the Boston Red Sox in 2009.

Scott Barlow was the Royals setup man last year before making the jump from co-closer to full-time closer. Lucky for Toronto, Barlow is one of the few players vaccinated in Kansas City, so a trip north of the border would not be an issue for the 30-year-old righty.

The most experienced reliever likely on the block is David Robertson. In his first season with the Cubs, Robertson has been lights out in Chicago with an ERA under two and WHIP under one. The 37-year-old has a ton of playoff experience, with 19 postseason games under his belt and a World Series ring with the Yankees. Robertson has closed with 150 career saves to his credit but worked mainly as a setup man in recent years. The seasoned righty could also be a steadying veteran voice in Toronto’s young bullpen.

Potential Targets: PIT David Bednar (16 saves, 2.89 ERA), COL Daniel Bard (20 saves, 2.02 ERA), KC Scott Barlow (16 saves, 2.06 ERA), CHC David Robertson (1.93 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)

Legit Starting Pitcher

One of the biggest strengths of this Blue Jay team coming into the season was its starting staff. Sure they lost 2021 Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray but signing Kevin Gausman from the San Francisco Giants filled that hole nicely. While Alek Manoah has exceeded expectations, coming off his first All-Star appearance, poor play, and then injuries to starters Yusei Kikuchi (5.12 ERA, 1.57 WHIP) and Hyun Jin Ryu (5.67 ERA, 1 quality start) have left some holes.

Ross Stripling has stepped in nicely, going 4-3 with a 2.84 ERA as a starter this year, but the former Dodger rarely goes past five innings. 

Oakland’s ace Frankie Montas will undoubtedly be on the top of every contending team’s wish list. Montas has been a shining star for the otherwise dull Athletics this season. The 29-year-old leads the team’s rotation in strikeouts (100), WHIP (1.09), and opponent batting average (.226). Montas is also under contract next season, so the Dominican would not be just a late-season push rental.

While not as flashy as Montas, A’s teammate Paul Blackburn (6-5, 3.62 ERA) is another Oakland starter having a solid season that would come much cheaper than Frankie. Blackburn isn’t a terrible consolation prize.

Toronto has a fruitful trade history with Oakland going all the way back to their back-to-back World Series days. From Rickey Henderson to Josh Donaldson to Matt Chapman this past offseason, the Jays and A’s have made some playoff-altering deals through the years.

Luis Castillo is someone the Jays asked Cincinnati about in the offseason following a good year. Castillo has pitched even better for the lowly Reds in 2022, on target to set new personal bests in ERA (2.77), WHIP (1.08), and opponent batting average (.199). His solid first half earned him an All-Star nod.

Tyler Mahle, who has 102 strikeouts in 92.1 innings and seven quality starts (QS), could also be shipped out of Cincy. Mahle should come with a cheaper price tag than his Reds teammate.

Potential Targets: OAK Frankie Montas (100 K, 10 QS), OAK Paul Blackburn (3.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), CIN Luis Castillo (2.77 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), CIN Tyler Mahle (102 K, 7 QS)  PIT Jose Quintana (81 K in 90 innings, 3.99 ERA) 

A Bat For All Seasons

Despite leading the majors with a .262 batting average, the Blue Jays’ offense has gone through some lulls this season and had trouble bringing in runs. Toronto has left the third-most runners in scoring position in Major League Baseball at 3.57 per game. They are also in the league’s bottom-10 in runners left on base and batting average, with runners in scoring position (.243).

Toronto has been in the most one-run games in the American League this season, so cashing in on a few more down-to-the-wire opportunities could be the difference between a wild card spot and golfing in October.

What seemed impossible a few weeks ago may become a reality if the Blue Jays can land the biggest bat potentially on the move this deadline. After a seemingly innocent conversation between Jays’ infielder Santiago Espinal and Juan Soto at the All-Star Game in LA…

the Jays have shot up the odds board to land the Home Run Derby champ. BetOnline has Toronto (+700) neck and neck with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Cardinals in landing the superstar slugger. The New York Mets are the favorite at +400, but if Espinal has any clout with his fellow Dominican Republic countrymen, blue could be the new white after Soto turned down a whole lot of green. Washington offered the 23-year-old a 15-year, $440 million contract extension, which he reportedly passed on.

While GM Ross Atkins and team president Mark Shapiro have made a habit of not clearing out the prospects cupboard, Toronto does have enough young big league talent and hands on the farm to pull off such a deal.

Soto is any team’s dream acquisition as the superstar has already had a .300+, 30+ home run, 100+RBI, and 100+walk season in his young four-year career. The Jays also desperately need a powerful bat from the left side.

While Soto is heads and shoulder above any other hitter that could be moved at the deadline, there are other options, including one of Soto’s teammates.

Josh Bell is in the midst of a career year with the Nats and will become a free agent at the end of the year. While Bell would likely be a pure rental, he is a versatile switch hitter who can play first base and the outfield.

Ian Happ is another switch hitter that can help Toronto from the left side and should be on the move. Happ has played pretty much every position aside from catcher, which the Jays have a wealth of, and can slide in anywhere they may need him. The Chicago Cubs aren’t going anywhere this year, but Happ could be heading north of the border.

Brandon Drury is similar to Happ in that he can play the infield and outfield, although a right-handed bat, which the Jays have many. Drury, who played for Toronto in 2018 and 2019, is having a breakout year for the Reds. He’s already hit a new career-high with 18 home runs and is set to smash his personal bests in runs scored and driven in.

Bryan Reynolds is another switch hitter the Jays could target to help from the left side. The 27-year-old has shown better power numbers against righties and can play all three outfield positions. Like teammate David Bednar, Pittsburgh has said they don’t plan on moving Reynolds, but that can change in a hurry with the right offer.

Potential Targets: WSH Juan Soto (.405 OBP, 57 runs), WSH Josh Bell (.311 AVG, 50 RBI), CHC Ian Happ (42 RBI, 41 runs) (CIN Brandon Drury (18 HR, 52 RBI), PIT Bryan Reynolds (15 HR, 40 runs)