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Top of the Order: Will the Blue Jays Fly Last Time?

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Tuesday and Friday I'll be kicking off your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

The Blue Jays haven't hit the window yet, they won't recover, but 23-26 is definitely not what was expected to enter the season. Before the season, our playoff odds gave them a 49% chance of making the postseason. Toronto's odds peaked at 57.9% on April 22, but since then, the team has been in decline. As of this morning, the Blue Jays have a 24.0% chance of making the playoffs. That leaves them with some important decisions to make in the next two months or so before the July 30 deadline. Given their current situation, let's take a look at what they could choose if they choose not to strengthen their big league roster at the end of July.

Pat stopped

This is the most straightforward option: Do nothing and hope for some improvement. Every hitter except for Daulton Varsho, Davis Schneider, and Danny Jansen has been good this year, and maybe the Blue Jays can stay in the hunt long enough for their bats to catch fire. An organization may decide this is their best option because their players may have less trade value while performing below expectations. If a return package isn't what the Blue Jays want, why not stay?

Sell ​​Rentals Only

The Blue Jays have plenty of free agents after the 2025 season. And while they may decide to trade those guys (more on this later), Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins may find it best to hold on to them and ride out one last season. But that doesn't put the Blue Jays out of action at the deadline; they have several attractive players on expiring contracts to turn to their rivals.

Justin Turner has been down recently – entering last night's game, his wRC+ in May was 21, after 152 in March/April, bringing his season wRC+ down to 96 – but if he can get back to being solidly above average , contestants can be happy. to get his right bat and postseason experience. The Twins, Rangers, and Rays have all received wRC+ values ​​below 80 from designated hitters, and Turner can fill in at third base, second base, and first base.

Yimi García has been one of baseball's best pitchers this season, allowing one run in 19 innings. He also struck out 35% of his opponents, and his xERA (1.44) and FIP (2.24) both support his solid performance. He'll make any opposing bullpen better, and he's always bounced between roles, so he doesn't need to be pitched for an inning or situation. It is noteworthy that García has never been there this well up front, and as Ben Clemens wrote in his column yesterday, “you can't trade your new help for a bright prospect,” so it's unlikely that García alone could give the Blue Jays a strong return package. That said, if Toronto is out of the running, they could be getting a 33-year-old reliever who might not be with a team next year.

Lefty Yusei Kikuchi is quietly pitching his best in the majors, with a 2.64 ERA over 10 starts and a low 5.5% walk rate. Teams always need starters, and his above-average rate of inducing grounders and popups will play anywhere.

Leading the pack is Jansen, who has consistently hit better than any other catcher in baseball, with a 191 wRC+ in 82 trips to the plate entering last night's game. His injury history should scare teams a bit; he's never had more than 384 plate appearances in a season, and that's back in 2019. It's also noteworthy, as our associate editor Matt Martell wrote last year the New York Times, that teams rarely trade catches during the season because of certain challenges that come with the position. Still, I think Jansen is a perfect fit for the role Mitch Garver filled last year with the Rangers: catching at times but also getting plenty of plate appearances for DH to make sure his bat stays in the lineup.

Defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier, righty switch specialist Trevor Richards, and lefty power bat Daniel Vogelbach round out the Blue Jays' group of seven who will be able to fly in free agency at the end of the season.

Blow it

Okay, but what if Jays do did you decide to tear it down more or less? After all, it's the three big hitting hitters — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and George Springer — who should at least be blamed for Toronto's poor performance. The team didn't even get a homer off a cleanup hitter until Bichette hit one on Wednesday – 48 games into the season!

I don't think the Blue Jays would ever trade Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, or José Berríos, because Berríos is the only good catcher this year and his exit after 2026 would make things very difficult to get right. trade, but the rest of that group of players with club control this season could be on the block, headlined by Guerrero Jr. and Bichette.

Vladdy continues to play with his home run numbers (albeit with only five this year) and high exit velocity, but as we move further away from it, his MVP-caliber 2021 campaign looks more like a highlight than a sign of things. coming, as it seemed as if it would happen soon. Still, he's in his age-25 season, and it's clear that another team could get the best out of him. It's a bit confusing to me trying to figure out what he'll get back in a trade, as he's making $19.9 million this year and will likely be up around $25 million next year, but let's not overthink things. He's Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and if his suitors aren't going to dump at least one of their top 100 prospects on him, the Blue Jays should tell them to get lost.

Bichette is pretty much the same guy at the end of each season, with a wRC+ between 120 and 130 the last four years; in the last three, he hit 29, 24, and 20 home runs, respectively. His pitching has always been below average (but not bad), and the only skill that has dropped is his stealing, with 25 stolen bases in 2021 followed by 13 in '22 and just five last season, though he already has four. a year. On the surface, the man is a metronome, but things get … weird … under the hood. Last year, his first wRC+ was 132, followed by 109 in the second half. Last year, it was 106 in the first half before he went up to 164 after the All-Star break. That streakiness is why I don't really care about his performance so far this year; the dude will definitely get hot at some point! It would be silly to just groups think things will come out, but they shouldn't learn too much from his slow start, either. A contending team that needs a shortstop this year, like the Giants or Guardians, would certainly be interested.

The Blue Jays will get decent returns on right-hander Jordan Romano, right-handers Chad Green and Erik Swanson, left-handers Tim Mayza and Génesis Cabrera, and relievers Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Cavan Biggio, but they could be used as an add-on to sweeten the return on a trade for one of Toronto's top players or to get some promising depth in a different deal. After all, the Blue Jays farm system has two top 100 prospects: left fielder Ricky Tiedemann and pitcher Orelvis Martinez.

I'm not here to advocate for Toronto to take any particular path; I'm just laying out the options. The worst plan for the Blue Jays would be to not have one.

Weekend Windup

Here are some things to look out for as we head into the long Memorial Day weekend:

• Ketel Marte looks to extend his 21-game hitting streak — the longest in the majors this season — when the Diamondbacks begin a three-game homestand tonight against the Marlins. Lefty Braxton Garrett gets the start for Miami, which bodes well for Marte, who is hitting .347 against lefties this year.

• The Cubs and Cardinals will finally meet for the first time this year, opening a three-game set tonight at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals looked primed for much of the first quarter of the season, but entered the weekend just five games out of first place in the NL Central after winning eight of their last 10 games — including becoming the first team to sweep the Orioles in the regular season since Adley Rutschman arrived two years ago.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are trending in the other direction after going 3-7 in their last ten games. Still, they're still only two games behind the first-place Brewers. After a run against several high-octane starting pitchers (Jared Jones, Paul Skenes, Max Fried, Chris Sale, AJ Smith-Shawver), they will see three guys with low speed in Miles Mikolas, Matthew Liberatore, and Sonny. Gray.

• Juan Soto is returning to San Diego for the first time since the Padres traded him to the Yankees last December, and he's coming back to town on fire. In his last six games, Soto is 9-for-23 (.391) with four home runs and seven RBIs. After a minor slump dropped his average to .301 and his OPS to .917, those numbers returned to .312 and .972, respectively. Anthony Volpe, who has a 16-game hitting streak, and Aaron Judge, who hit a home run Thursday for his 15th of the season, will be sidelined as usual.

• Once his 10-game suspension for “sticky stuff” is over, Ronel Blanco will return on Sunday against the A's. When he says the substance he was caught using was rosin mixed with sweat, he will be under a lot of scrutiny. Blanco, who has a 2.09 ERA in eight starts so far in 2024, became the first player to be suspended this season after four were suspended last year.

• Nick Lodolo aims to return to the Reds' rotation on Monday, and boy could they use him. The Reds went 4-16 in their last 20 games, and Lodolo had a 3.34 ERA and 2.90 FIP in six starts before hitting IL with a groin injury. That was his second IL start of the year, after he missed the first few weeks of the season while recovering from a leg injury that cost him most of 2023.

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