Think back to 2014. This team had Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and an adequate supporting staff. However, they couldn’t quite make the playoffs. In fact, at five games back, they weren’t particularly close. What was the issue? Again, team had a lot of adequate talent. It also had two very impressive players, but it just didn’t have enough upper echelon talent to succeed.
Now think back to 2015. The Jays had kept the core of their team together, losing only Melky Cabrera and Adam Lind. They also went and added that upper echelon talent, in trading for Josh Donaldson. You might have heard of him; he’s kind of good. Then, as you’ll remember, at the trade deadline, the Blue Jays doubled down. They already had a collection of great players, and added to it by swapping the declining Jose Reyes for one of baseball’s best shortstops, and swapping a few younger starters for a true ace in David Price. In under 48 hours, they went from a very good team, to the best team in baseball.
In that case, almost across the board, the acquisitions were justified. Troy Tulowitzki was a long term acquisition, who just happened to come at the trade deadline. Ben Revere was picked up for two failed prospects. David Price was a needed starting pitcher, for a staff that was hardly five deep.
While it was warranted last season, adding at the trade deadline isn’t always necessary. If a team is good enough to make the playoffs, then they don’t need to add anything in order to win the World Series. Anybody can win in a seven game series; the 2014 Kansas City Royals epitomize that notion.
At present, the Blue Jays find themselves three games back of the top of the AL East, and in a good position to capture one of the two AL wild card spots. PECOTA gives the team a 67% chance of at least making it to the wildcard game. As a result, the 2016 Blue Jays don’t need to add anything to win a World Series.
In the mainstream, that is not a position that is taken to very kindly.
“They can’t waste this opportunity,” they’ll say.
In some ways, anonymous Blue Jays talking head, you’re right. Following 2016, the Blue Jays will likely lose at least one of Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. However, there is an assumption implicit to the idea that the Blue Jays’s can’t waste 2016: that they’re already wasting it. Back in mid-May, when the team was under .500 and seven games out of the top of the AL East, one could make that argument. Now, as the Jays hold a wildcard spot, and are successfully chasing an AL East title, one can’t.
I’ll give you this: it never hurts to add more talent to a team, so long as that talent is acquired at a reasonable price. But, acquisitions at the trade deadline are most often made in a competitive market, and don’t come at a reasonable price. Either way, here’s why an addition isn’t required.
It’s not everyday that you can lose a player worth 4.5 WARP last season, and improve, but that’s exactly what happened this season. On June 16th, when the Jays lost Jose Bautista to injury, the team’s outfield began to look bleak. After all, he’d have to be replaced by ‘journeyman’ Ezequiel Carrera. Not only has Ezequiel been a sufficient replacement, but he’s made significant improvements to his approach. Some might say he deserves to be a starting outfielder, but even the most skeptical acknowledge that’s he’s now a worthy fourth outfielder.
With improvements from Carrera and Michael Saunders, and a lack of regression from Kevin Pillar, the Jays have an incredible outfield core. Then, beyond them, there’s Dalton Pompey, Junior Lake, and maybe even Chris Colabello waiting in the wings. Depending on who you decide to deem worthy, the outfield is six or seven players deep. The Blue Jays always could acquire Melvin Upton Jr., but where would they put him?
At the beginning of last season, Devon Travis was the hottest storyline in town. Small in stature, and quick with the bat, Travis was on a 20 homer pace prior to his shoulder injury. This season, his pace would put him at 21 home runs over 150 games, but he’s ostensibly a non-story. Why? Well, Josh Donaldson has only gotten better, and Troy Tulowitzki is heating up.
Over June and July, as Tulo has recovered from his own injury, he has hit to a .943 OPS, while still providing immaculate defense at SS. For some context, Manny Machado, who has the highest OPS among all qualified shortstops, has an OPS of .934 on the season. Then, there’s Justin Smoak, who’s never set the world on fire with his hitting, but has always been a solid defender at first base, and just signed a two-year extension. You tell me, who in that infield are you going to replace?
Relievers are baseball’s most volatile commodity; there’s nothing new about that. As such, the best results are often achieved with quantity, rather than quality. After all, it’s 60 innings over a full season, or 20 innings after the trade deadline. If the current structure of the bullpen is any indication, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins would appear to think along the same lines. Last season, it was a catastrophe when Aaron Loup didn’t perform. This season, he’s been demoted, because there are too many quality arms above him.
That’s not to suggest that there haven’t been issues. Drew Storen has had plenty of issues with the long ball, and Brett Cecil isn’t far behind him. In fact, Storen’s been so bad that the Jays decided designating him for assignment was a better solution than working out his issues in the majors. Even without him, the Jays have four relievers who’ve been better than league average (Osuna, Biagini, Grilli, and Schultz), and three who should be better than league average (Cecil, Chavez, and Morales). Over 20 innings down the stretch, the probability that anyone the Jays acquire is significantly better than the seven listed relievers is small. The Jays can add to the bullpen, but they don’t need to.
In March, it looked like the Jays would need to add to the rotation. In April, after a month of successful starts, skepticism about Sanchez, Estrada, and Happ led to the opinion that the Jays might need to add to the rotation. Now, as we head in to August, the sample sizes are more significant, and it’s looking like they may not need any additions at all. By ERA, this Blue Jays starting staff has posted the fourth best mark in team history. The only three seasons in which the Jays’ rotation has been better came in 1985, 1989, and 1991, when the offensive environment was substantially more subdued.
On top of that, for what seems like the first time ever, this rotation actually has some depth to it. There’s the five current starters, and then Drew Hutchison, Jesse Chavez, and Gavin Floyd. Any of the three could step in as a respectable fifth starter; Chavez would just need to be stretched out.
Another starter could be added to the staff, but unless they’re a top end talent, there’s little point in pushing any of the Jays five current starters to the bullpen. That includes Aaron Sanchez, who can, and should, be able to pitch the full season when deployed correctly. And then you have the issue of acquirability; it’s not quite easy to get a top end talent. For example, half a season of David Price cost two MLB ready starting pitchers. With little farm system left, and no clear need in the rotation, that’s not something that can be easily justified.
As is the case with any stance, there’s always exceptions to the rule. For example, if you’re given the chance to acquire a premium player for a longer term, as they did with Troy Tulowitzki, it’s a different calculation. This season, it looks like Chris Sale could be some team’s Tulo.
The majority of trades will be made with short term additions in mind; that’s an arena in which the Jays need not participate. As mentioned above, they have a two in three chance of making the playoffs. Acquiring another player looks nice, but wouldn’t affect that calculation very much. If there’s a clear need that can be filled, then it works. However, with the Jays now having adequate depth and no clear need, most all acquisitions would add players that’d be different, not better. This is an incredibly good Blue Jays team, and that will shine through, acquisitions or not.
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