The Blue Jays are through a strange and frustrating road trip, which ended up being uplifting thanks to a Sunday win and an appearance from their closer.
The club continues to float around the .500 mark, and have had a devil of a time crossing it, but in the two-team wild-card era, that means they are firmly still in the playoff picture, and fans are thinking long and hard about trading for upgrades—as we'll see below in this week's Blue Jays mailbag!
So let's crack it open and feast on the goo inside!
If you have a Blue Jays question you'd like me to tackle for next week, be sure to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I have not read any of Griff's answers.
Should the people that bagged on Osuna for taking time due to mental illness be shot into the sun *or* ocean?
This seems to be as good a place to start as any, because yeah, it ought to be at least one of those places, right? But… hmmmm… since those people were such fucking squids, maybe they'd be a little too happy to be sent to the bottom of the sea. So… yeah… sun it is!
Seriously, though, I was fortunate in that I was away for the weekend and so only managed to have one eye on this stuff as it was happening. I hardly even know what to say about it now, except that it was great to see Osuna back out on the mound Sunday, as well as his teammates' reaction to it. And if seeing that helps underline, for all the fans who sometimes have trouble realizing, that players are actual human beings, that's another positive we can take from it—to go along with the fact that Osuna being brave enough to have this be so public will only help to destigmatize such issues.
It, perhaps, can also serve as a reminder to a not-dissimilar subset of fans that nothing good can come out of blinding, venom-spouting frustration, especially about a sport which is so naturally awash in frustrating moments. And also, you dopes, that when a manager says an unused player "wasn't feeling well tonight, that's all you need to know," it isn't necessarily a thinly-veiled attempt at covering for some colossal fuckup or an affront to your right to know absolutely everything about an ugly loss that so badly and thoroughly loosened your bowels.
Why is Jason Grilli still on the team?
Because of Drew Storen.
Or… OK… Grilli isn't exactly still here because of Storen, but consider the case of last year's would-be setup man. "Two's Scorin'" had an awful time on the mound for the Blue Jays, lost the confidence of the fans and his manager, then worked his way back to looking OK-ish (from May 20 to June 24 he pitched to a 1.35 ERA, allowing just 12 hits, walking 4 and striking out 12, in 13.1 innings), wobbled a bit again, and then was flipped for Joaquin Benoit—a reliever who'd struggled in his own right in Seattle, but who ended up being crucial for the Jays in the second half.
Grilli, sadly, has been worse in 2017 than Storen ever was for the Blue Jays, but the velocity is still there, and he's shown for a long time that he can get the job done. Teams aren't going to pay a lot for that, but the Jays aren't crazy to think that they can make him viable again, or that there might be another team willing to flip a similar player to them for the chance to try it themselves.
Yes, there will come a time, if things don't improve, where they'll need to part ways with him, but right now, what's the upside? Grilli has only pitched four times in the three weeks since getting blasted by the Yankees earlier this month, so the opportunity for someone else to provide significantly more value in that role just really isn't there. Upgrading their fifth-best right-handed reliever simply wouldn't do much for this team beyond making Grilli haters feel satisfied with themselves. And given what Grilli has been in his career, what he did for the Jays last season, what they like about him as a veteran in the clubhouse, and what he (theoretically) could still be—either as a trade asset or as an asset on the mound in his own right—I completely understand why the club is having more patience here than some fans maybe would like.
Granderson could probably be had for a relatively low price. Think he's a viable option for LF? I realize he wouldn't be first choice.
I'm not sure Granderson would be the Jays' first choice on his own team, to be honest.
Late in the winter of 2016, the club appeared to have worked out a trade that would have sent Michael Saunders to the Angels, a few presumably not-so-great prospects to the Reds, and Jay Bruce from Cincinnati to Toronto. I wrote a piece at the time that I titled "Jay Bruce Is Bad, But That Might Not Stop The Jays From Trading For Him," which has led a few readers to assume over the last year that I have some kind of massive problem with Bruce. I definitely did cheer when the deal fell apart, but I also wrote this:
If it's just Saunders, and if it's somehow cash neutral, I can buy believing in Bruce's ceiling over Saunders' (despite Saunders' 3 WAR advantage in 2014, his last healthy-ish season), given the big uptick in durability and his (theoretical) potential as a 2017 asset [ Bruce had a 2017 option, Saunders was due to be a free agent]. I could even buy paying a premium to make that switch, I suppose. But not a big one. And certainly not one where the organization ends up committing dollars that could have gone to literally anything else that could have helped this club out.
It turns out the Jays' thinking was similar to my own, with one crucial exception: they liked Jay Bruce. And rightly so, it turns out.
We later learned that the Reds were going to pay $8 million of Bruce's $12.5 million salary, making the deal close to cash-neutral (Saunders made $2.9 million in 2016) and presumably low in terms of the prospects given up. A year ago the front office looked extremely fortunate that the deal had fallen apart—Bruce was OK enough, but Saunders was on his way to making the AL All-Star team. Over the last 365 days, though, it's become clear that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins were likely onto something: Saunders has been essentially the worst position player in baseball (his -1.2 WAR is dead last among the 242 players with at least 350 plate appearances over that span and he was just released by the Phillies), while Bruce has been more than fine, putting up two wins, a 111 wRC+, and blasting 37 home runs.
Twenty of those home runs for Bruce have come this year, as he's put up a 131 wRC+ to go along with his best walk rate since 2012, and his lowest strikeout rate since 2009. His defence has been much better than the way it was trending a year ago, too. Though the samples are too small to be too meaningful, the +4 DRS and +1.7 UZR he's sitting on as an outfielder (he loses defensive value in the overall because of a handful of bad games at first base) are both pretty impressive. And they're better marks than Granderson has been capable of in recent years.
I haven't looked at Bruce's defence much this year, if at all, so I'm not going to act like these numbers are the be-all, end-all and he's suddenly good out there, but it seems like he's not going to kill you in the field and has been an asset with the bat. Bruce has been streaky, with noticeable drop-offs in his production in the second half of every year since 2013, but with the success this year, plus the previous interest (he was linked to the Jays several times early on this past offseason), and the cost, I wouldn't be surprised if he was the one the Jays are interested in.
But Granderson does make some sense, too. He's likely to be better at getting on base (once Bruce regresses a bit), offers at least a little bit of speed that Bruce doesn't, a little bit of power in his own right, and could maybe hit at the top of the Jays' lineup if they did acquire him.
Both are a cut above what the Jays will roll out there, even once Ezequiel Carrera returns to full health, and both should come at a relatively low price tag, given that they're not great, and are free agents at the end of the season. So… sure…
What's your thoughts on Travis, injury prone time to move on, bad luck, wait it out or something else
Time to move on?? Holy shit, man.
Look, to be honest, my credibility on the idea of whether or not a player deserves the "injury prone" tag went down with the good ship Brandon Morrow several years ago, but I'm of the mind that fans think they know and can see and understand a whole lot more about this stuff than they really do. A.J. Burnett was a guy who was always injured… until starting in 2008, at age 31, he reeled off seven straight seasons of 30 or more starts, y'know? And Dustin McGowan could never stay healthy, and yet he's thrown 107 innings out of the Marlins' bullpen over the last two years, and has done a damn fine job of it.
I guess what it comes down to, for me, is that there's a difference between "that guy is always hurt" and "that guy is always going to be hurt," and I certainly don't think Travis is in the latter category yet.
Like, we're basically only talking about two injuries when it comes to Devon's young Blue Jays career: a shoulder injury caused by the fact that his bones didn't fuse properly as he was growing up, and the ongoing trouble with his knee, which seems to have not quite healed right. They've played out like multiple injuries—Travis tried to play through pain and keep himself on the field as best he could—but are they? Really?
And if his medical history with the Jays really comes down to just two injuries, serious as they have been, I'm not sure it's fair to think that he's always going to be hurt, or to act like there's something especially wrong with him, physically, that means he's more likely than anyone else to pick up any other kind of injury.
The Jays could use a rental second baseman to finish out this season with, and it would be silly of me to say that all this must have only been bad luck and he should be entirely fine going forward, but as far as I'm concerned there is not a lot of reason to be afraid of him having trouble staying healthy beyond that. Which means I probably just cursed him. Fuck!
Ideally, the Blue Jays could use a huge talent upgrade at multiple spots to lift themselves out of the pack of teams within a couple games of a playoff spot. But with relatively few teams that are actively selling and a front office looking to balance the present and future, it is likely the team will have to find particular areas to focus on at the trade deadline.
If you were the front office, how would you rank the following areas of need?
-Second Baseman who can hit and is at least adept defensively
-Left Fielder who can field and is at least adept offensively
-Late inning left-handed RP
-Starting pitcher with a proven track record of winning games which bring the team to .500 (or maybe just additional rotation depth)
Or would you just throw out the idea of ranking needs and sell everything!?
Well, I certainly wouldn't sell everything. I also don't see much need for another starter at the big league level—though depth pieces could always help. Backup catcher seems fine, too—though I'd be terrified to see more of Luke Maile as a starter, should anything happen to Russell Martin again—so I guess it's just the other three things the Jays should be most concerned about.
The thing is, the Jays aren't exactly dying for any of these positions to be upgraded, either. The right-handers in their bullpen have handled lefties well, their left field situation won't be too bad once Ezequiel Carrera comes back (which is a crazy thing to think, but he's had a nice year so far!), and second base is… ugly, but they've at least got some adept defenders to use there.
I guess by the way I've characterized it there, second base would have to rank at the top, followed by left field, then the bullpen lefty. But why rank? I've never seen the point in these sorts of exercises, to be honest. There are places to upgrade, there are pieces to upgrade with, and the deals that make the most sense will make the most sense. I don't think teams benefit from being rigid about which sorts of moves have to be made more than others (unless the problem is especially obvious, like the 2015 Jays needing a starting pitcher), because there are just so many moving parts and so many ways to go about adding value.
Which is to say: it seems to me like the easiest way to add value to these Jays would be to find a legit second baseman for the rest of the season, but it's entirely possible their best way to make the team better (while preserving future assets as best they can) may not run through second base. And I also think that thinking about it too much this way just leads to nonsense like we saw after the Tulowitzki trade in 2015, where some fans lost their minds about shortstop not being as important a spot to upgrade as the rotation was, as though there couldn't be another trade still coming, or the club was too focused on the wrong priorities. They're focused on every place they can make the club better.