Making the case for aggressive bullpen moves

TORONTO — On the eve of the 2022 trade deadline, the pitching market has begun to recover with the Padres’ acquisition of Josh Hader from Milwaukee, the Yankees acquiring reliever Scott Effross and the Athletics appearing to be making progress on an exchange with Frankie Montas.

So far the Blue Jays have been quiet, but with clear needs, desirable prospects and a history of loaded deadlines, there’s reason to believe change is on the way. In the meantime, here are some observations on where the Blue Jays are, what fits their roster best, and what’s next.

The case of the relievers

It’s easy for front office executives to talk themselves out of trading good prospects for relievers. They are volatile and they throw relatively few innings – but they are often still expensive. The risk is high, the cost is high, hesitation follows. If you evaluate reliever trades with WAR, the team that sends the reliever out of town usually wins.

But consider this point, brought up recently by a longtime baseball player: when your season is on the line, who’s got the ball? The 8the round of match 3 of the Wild Card series, for example? Or round 9 of Game 6 of the ALCS? Most often it is a relief.

So, as useful as WAR is for capturing the relative value of players over 162 games, it doesn’t capture the importance of relievers for a deep playoff run. And yes, reliever performance is volatile. There is absolutely the risk that you pay too much for a disappointing sample of 20 sleeves. But the biggest risk? Giving the ball to a mediocre pitcher with your season on the line.

Right now, Jordan Romano and Yimi Garcia are throwing like relievers who deserve the ball in the most demanding situations. Beyond those two, who on this Blue Jays team really fits that description? David Phelps, Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza have all been effective, but their strikeout rates are below average for relievers, so there’s still a need here.

By all accounts, the Blue Jays are motivated to build up their pitching staff, watching relievers and starters in hopes of finding reinforcements. Of course, there is a lot of competition on this front.

“It looks like every team,” another person familiar with the trade market noted.

The thing is, not all teams have the same opportunity in front of them as the Blue Jays. They are already the third-best team in the American League, behind the Yankees and Astros. Even without reinforcements, they could probably reach the playoffs.

Still, it takes trading good prospects to ensure John Schneider has enough options in the late game. Simply put: It’s hard to see how the Blue Jays get through four playoff series without more high-end relief. With that, they could be scary.

Bat-only types should not apply

In the recent past, the Blue Jays have shown interest in DH types, including Nelson Cruz, but those players don’t fit as well into Toronto’s roster anymore.

At this point in the season, George Springer has made about a quarter of his DH appearances (21 of 88), but his sore right elbow is concerning enough that he’s missed three of the Blue Jays’ nine second-half games. More DH time may be needed, and that’s before we get to Alejandro Kirk, the Blue Jays’ best hitter so far in 2022.

Between those two and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s occasional partial day off, most of the Blue Jays’ DH at-bats seem to be reserved. With that in mind, any positional players the Blue Jays consider must also be able to contribute on defense.

Last call…

Under previous rules, when players could be distributed in August as long as they cleared waivers, that Blue Jays front office may well have continued trading for another few weeks. Even if this is not the case, the possibility of Trades has created flexibility for GMs in the event of unforeseen injuries.

This was especially true for teams willing to take on the payroll, and while the Blue Jays aren’t big spenders, they clearly fall into that category. They took money on each of the last two installments and publicly indicated they could do it again. Along these lines: Although the details are not yet clear and may not be until his contract expires, it is believed that the Blue Jays will at least receive some financial assistance on the $ 80 million contract from Four-year Hyun-Jin Ryu (Tommy John’s surgery limited Ryu to six starts in 2022 and will cost him most or all of the 2023 season, after which he becomes a free agent).

Now, however, the possibility of exchanging for a second wave of reinforcements in August no longer exists. The Blue Jays don’t have the luxury of letting Springer’s situation play out for a few more weeks; they must decide now whether to backfill. The same goes for the pitching staff. As Alek Manoah’s scare over the weekend showed, the Blue Jays are one step back from trouble.

It starts with an internal assessment – knowing your own players. But GMs may want to proactively seek help as this is their last chance to add significantly before the playoffs.

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