The Toronto Blue Jays have 35 wins and 60 losses this season. They’re 18.5 games out of the wild card, and 25.5 games back of the AL East-leading New York Yankees.
The trade deadline is on July 31. It’s time to take stock of the Jays’ 2019 campaign.
Are the Blue Jays as bad as their record indicates?
Yes. They’ve allowed 91 runs more than they’ve scored, which is the fourth-worst mark in Major League Baseball. Not coincidentally, their record also slots in at 27th. On the hitting side, the Blue Jays own the worst batting average in the majors and the second-worst on-base percentage. The pitching isn’t much better, with an earned run average that sits 23rd league-wide. Toronto’s pitchers have issued more walks than any other team.
The attention devoted to the Raptors’ NBA championship run allowed the Blue Jays’ woes to go relatively unnoticed. Since the Raptors won the title on June 14, the Jays are a relatively respectable 10-16, with a run differential that’s merely minus-five. Factor in over half of those games being played against strong teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros and the Jays’ season starts to look slightly rosier. Slightly.
What’s the reason for that slight improvement?
Toronto’s young hitters are beginning to show they belong. After a May stint in the minors to sort out his defence, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returned to the bigs as a left fielder. The 25-year-old has looked much more comfortable in that spot and it’s translated to the plate, where he sports a .298 batting average since his recall, along with all of his 16 home runs this season.
Catcher Danny Jansen, 24, started opening day and flashed surprising defensive upside but struggled with the bat. However, Jansen now sports a .344 average and has smashed six of his eight homers over his past 28 games. Utility player Cavan Biggio, 24, made his major-league debut in May and his .349 OBP shows he can handle big-league pitching.
What about Vlad Jr.?
Vladdy has failed to live up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him thus far. His numbers (.245 average, .321 OBP, eight home runs in 64 games) aren’t bad, but they also don’t represent the gaudy production many Blue Jays fans anticipated when the stalky third baseman finally joined the team at the end of April.
WATCH | Vladdy showcases power at Home Run Derby:
Of course, the highlight of Guerrero Jr.’s season thus far took place last week at the all-star festivities, where he set multiple records and showcased his prodigious power in the home run derby by reaching the video scoreboard in left field of Cleveland’s Progressive Stadium. He has also performed well at the hot corner, with just eight errors in 51 games at third base.
This is all to say: Vladdy will be fine. He should be better than fine. And the Blue Jays certainly have time to let him work through any struggles this season, all things considered.
So can they turn their season around?
Then what is there to watch for during the rest of the season?
Trades. Lots of trades. At least for the next 15 days until the deadline. As Toronto transitions further toward its younger core, it’ll look to ship out productive veterans that won’t be a part of the next winning Jays team. Expect to see Justin Smoak’s name floated in conversations, though don’t anticipate much return for the slow first baseman who currently holds a .211 batting average.
Utility types Eric Sogard and Freddy Galvis could also be shopped to contenders looking for bench types to fill out a playoff roster. Sogard has been a bargain after signing a minor-league contract in the winter, and Galvis had a cheap team option for next season that adds value to the slick-fielding shortstop. Galvis, by the way, sits third on the team with 15 bombs.
That brings us to pitchers, which is where Toronto can extract the most value. Besides the usual bullpen deadline fodder, the Jays boast two of the top trade prizes. Closer Ken Giles has enjoyed a career renaissance season. Among pitchers with at least 30 innings, Giles holds the third-highest strikeouts-per-nine rate at 15.39, to go along with 13 saves. The other key pitcher on the trade block is veteran starter Marcus Stroman.
Will the Jays trade Stroman? Should they?
These are two very different questions. Stroman is on pace for his third 200-inning season in four years, and his 3.25 ERA is easily the best among Toronto starters. The 28-year-old leads the AL in ground-ball rate, and is yet to allow a home run outside of Rogers Centre. Stroman is under club control for one more season, and is on record saying he’s “come to terms” with a trade. He will very likely be moved.
However, pending the return, Toronto should not feel pressure to move him. It should perhaps just not move him altogether. He is currently the team’s only reliable starter — the only healthy one with an ERA lower than five. His durability is proven with all the innings he’s eaten over the years, and his playoff performance is pristine. He should still be a valuable pitcher in two or three years when the Jays are ready to contend again, and if there’s a hole in Toronto’s farm system it’s on the mound. An extension could make sense for both sides, especially given Stroman’s professed love for Toronto.
So when will the Blue Jays be good again?
The next piece of Toronto’s young armada, shortstop Bo Bichette, should arrive later this season. By September, the lineup could include Bichette, Guerrero Jr., and Biggio — the Blue Jays’ baseball bloodlines future.
It may take until 2021 or 2022 until the Blue Jays are good. But they should be fun again, at the very least, by the end of this season.
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