Watching this year’s postseason has me thinking about the 2019 trade deadline, and how the Blue Jays could capitalize on some trends during their rebuild.
It’s a little weird that I’m already thinking about next year’s trade deadline already, especially because this year’s playoffs are still ongoing, and we have an entire offseason of rumours and storylines to follow, not to mention a half season of baseball before July 31st of next year.
And yet, the more that I watch postseason baseball again this fall the more it has my mind shooting to how the Blue Jays could learn and benefit from what’s happening with the top teams in baseball. Obviously there are a ton of lessons to be learned about building a winning team, both with the goal of making the postseason, and also being able to perform in the pressure packed environment once you’re there.
However, what I’m already thinking about is what some of the playoff qualifiers have been lacking, and it’s not exactly a new trend. Over the last couple of seasons we’ve watched the bullpen become as important as any factor in the postseason, and that’s exactly how it’s playing out again this fall.
We watched the Cubs last just one game after many expected them to be serious contenders. The Wild Card game obviously isn’t the most secure path to a title, but in that short window we got to see the Cubs’ weakness, even if it wasn’t the ultimate reason they lost that game to the Colorado Rockies. What stuck out to me more than the lack of hitting was the fact that both Cole Hamels and Kyle Hendricks were used out of the bullpen. I completely understand that it’s a winner-take-all Wild Card game, but the fact that the Cubs had to use three of their top starters said a lot about their bullpen depth. They were missing their closer Brandon Morrow to injury, but still.
I believe we’re also seeing the same weakness with the Boston Red Sox playing out right now as well, as Alex Cora has had to get creative with his bullpen in order to get through the end of a game. For a team that won 108 games and ranked as arguably the best team in baseball throughout the entire season, they look awfully shaky in the bullpen right now. The Astros are strong across the board, especially in the postseason, but their bullpen looks very strong at the moment, while it feels like the Red Sox are piecing things together as they go.
What does any of this have to do with the Blue Jays? Well, as Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro do their roster building this offseason, I would love to see them make the bullpen a big priority. With a payroll that’s expected to drop by 50 million or more, there is no reason that they can’t spend on the bullpen this winter, and there are a lot of great reasons to do it.
The team isn’t expected to contend in 2019, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t spend wisely both to aid their big league roster next season, and also with an eye on speeding up their rebuild. Looking at the possible free agent relievers for next year (according to spotrac.com), the list includes names like Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and many more. I realize that many of those names will be heavily pursued and several could return to their current teams, but the point is that the reliever market should be healthy, and there should be solid value well beyond the headliners.
Bringing in a significant arm or two would have many big benefits for the Blue Jays, with the obvious one being next year’s trade deadline. Guys like the ones I listed above likely aren’t going to settle for a one year deal, but it’s possible someone like Allen or even Miller could if they were looking to re-establish maximum value. Again though, there are several other quality options on the market, and the Blue Jays could take advantage of the situation if they’re willing to spend enough money on the right guy(s).
There’s a solid argument that you don’t want to limit opportunity for young pitchers during a rebuild, and I agree with that. However, I feel that really only applies to the rotation for the most part, save for a few guys like Tim Mayza who I feel absolutely need to be a part of next year’s group. However, with the idea that there will be a lot of innings going to young starters next season, safeguarding them with a solid bullpen is also very helpful and wise, and could help save the sanity of whomever takes over John Gibbons‘ manager’s chair.
It’s possible the Blue Jays already have a couple of solid candidates in Ryan Tepera and even Ken Giles, but adding more would allow them to make a few trades while not glutting the bullpen of late-inning arms next summer. Judging by the way things are playing out again this postseason, I would expect that bullpen help will come at a premium in the near future, including this offseason in terms of salary, and next July in trade value.
Again, the Blue Jays should have more than enough available payroll this winter for this purpose, and spending in the offseason in order to gain more prospect capital next summer may be a very wise strategy. They have to lure those valuable arms to Toronto first, but with available payroll and opportunity, it shouldn’t be that difficult to secure some talent in free agency.