The Blue Jays surrendered a four-run lead yesterday on their way to a 7-4 loss at the hands of the A's. Needless to say, the situation is beginning to look bleak. They're six games behind the Red Sox, who currently sport the best record in the AL East, and five games behind the White Sox, who currently stand atop the Wild Card standings. The main problem, perhaps moreso than having a lot of ground to make up, is that multiple teams stand between them and the playoffs. For instance, in order to win the AL East, the Blue Jays will have to outperform the Red Sox and the Yankees for the remainder of the season. And in order to the secure the Wild Card spot, they have to post a better record than the White Sox, the Twins, and one of either the Red Sox or the Yankees. That is an astoundingly difficult task to complete, to be sure.
So what should management do between now and the trading deadline? If they decide to go for it, they'll run the risk of trading away future talent in the hope of making the playoffs in the face of exceedingly low odds. However, if they decide to rebuild, they'll send a clear message that this season's playoff chances are dashed, which would surely alienate a fanbase whose hopes are perhaps higher than they've been seen the glory days of the early nineties. A third option, standing pat, is a definite possibility, though one which may be more foolhardy than the first two.
If the Blue Jays in fact decide to make a run at the playoffs, it'd be most advisable to add the following pieces at the deadline:
- A middle infielder who would replace Russ Adams and John McDonald on a full-time basis. This season, Blue Jay second basemen have combined to post an OPS of .595. Furthermore, Adams, the team's primary second baseman, has a very poor .720 zone rating at that position, which would easily rank as the worst at that position were he qualified (the next lowest-ranked player is Jose Castillo, who was a ZR of .756). In other words, Adams has no range relative to his positional peers and his offensive output doesn't even come close to compensating for it. To make matters worse, Aaron Hill has been patently awful as a shortstop, posting a ZR of .784, which would be the worst in baseball were he qualified. As a result, the team would greatly benefit from adding a defensively competent shortstop who can also wield a somewhat authoritative bat. That would allow Hill to move to second base, where both his bat and glove would be strong assets. Julio Lugo of the Devil Rays fits the bill, but his team would demand an awful lot in return, which would weaken the team's long-term potential. Also, if the Blue Jays were to grant him a contract extension, it would have to be in the $35-$40 million/5 yrs range, which would not be feasible considering their financial situation.
- A starting pitcher who would replace Casey Janssen or Shaun Marcum/Dustin McGowan in the rotation. Players available include Mark Redman, Cory Lidle (who's rumoured to join the Yankees as early as today), Jon Lieber, Tony Armas Jr., and more players with comparable talent (or lack thereof). The Blue Jays probably wouldn't have to give much in return to acquire these players, as their current teams would be happy enough to rid themselves of their salaries. However, it's unlikely that they'll really improve the team in any significant way. Redman, for example, has an ERA above 5.00, a WHIP that's approaching 1.50, and a K/BB ratio that is frighteningly close to 1. His FIP ERA is 5.38, which means his current ERA of 5.06 is probably the best we can expect out of him. Instead of handing precious innings to these pitchers, they should give every opportunity to their young pitchers, who aren't all that devoid of flaws themselves but whose production should suffice. Really, unless they trade for Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt, the Blue Jays will have to make due with the current level of production they're receiving from their starters.