ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It was late Tuesday afternoon, and the couches in front of a bank of televisions in the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field were packed with a captive audience.
And surely the Blue Jays players gathered in those seats were expecting more from a front office that turned out smaller than anticipated on the day of the major league trade deadline.
Yes, general manager Ross Atkins was able to acquire four players from the roster, including the previously (and possibly still) unvaccinated Whit Merrifield in a deal with the Kansas City Royals.
A trio of pitchers will also enter: relievers Anthony Bass (ex-Jay) and Canadian Zach Pop of the Miami Marlins and versatile arm starter/reliever Mitch White of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But will it be enough to push the rising team into serious contender status?
“We feel like we made a really good team better today,” Atkins said on a Zoom call an hour after the frantic close of the MLB trade meeting. “We are excited about this team and the acquisitions.”
Others won’t share that enthusiasm, of course, especially when rated against seemingly more substantial additions made by various powerhouse teams.
Most notable among the deadline champions were the American League East rival Jays, the New York Yankees, and the stacked San Diego Padres in the National League. A few days earlier, the Seattle Mariners, who appear to be players in the same AL wild-card race as the Blue Jays, added elite starter Luis Castillo.
At the end of the day, it was an uninspired and disappointing comeback on a deadline when the Blue Jays needed to swing big. After a recent 10-2 run, the players felt they were playing their best baseball of the season and no doubt expected more.
While there is little doubt that Bass, who was having a breakout season with the Florida Marlins, will be a solid addition, the Blue Jays couldn’t get the kind of pure swing and miss they were looking for. They also couldn’t add a left-handed bat.
“I think we’re in this position to be able to acquire guys because we’re good and we’ve performed well up to this point,” manager John Schneider said an hour before the deadline. “Any new addition that is having success is obviously a welcome addition to any club that is trying to win.”
The addition of Merrifield is arguably the most high-profile move the Blue Jays have made, and potentially the most controversial. The 32-year-old infielder/outfielder was one of 10 Royals unable to accompany the team to Toronto last month for a series against the Blue Jays due to his vaccination status.
Will that change for Merrifield, who was outspoken in his comments at the time?
“This is a very new acquisition,” Atkins said. “Because of that, I will not comment further on that process for him and will let him work with his family.”
With the Blue Jays playing the first of a nine-game road trip here on Tuesday, there’s time to figure that out. Meanwhile, the two-time All-Star, who was hitting .271 for the Royals this season, provides security around the diamond, especially for George Springer, whose lingering elbow injury remains a problem.
“He is such a good player. He has a lot of accomplishments,” Atkins said of Merrifield. “The versatility, the contact ability, playing multiple positions… we feel like he can protect us and keep people off the game.
“In case of injury, we are well covered.”
While the Blue Jays didn’t improve as significantly as many had hoped, the costs were modest. Jordan Groshans, the infielder the Blue Jays selected 12th overall in 2018, seemed stuck in his progression and was the principle heading to Miami in the Bass and Pop deal.
However, they had to give up pitcher Max Castillo in the Merrifield trade, parting with a right arm that had shown great promise with the major league team the previous month.
Judging from the rumors in the chaotic days leading up to the deadline, the Blue Jays were active in their search for more significant additions, though Atkins refused to acknowledge how serious they were in other talks.
“Define close?” Atkins said when asked exactly that. “It’s so hard to do. Over the course of the last month, we’ve been in a lot of discussions with various organizations and a lot of different players.
“It’s not that productive to talk about how close we were. We prefer to focus on the players we were able to acquire.”
Even if the Blue Jays players expected more, the consolation is that they’re playing their best ball at the right time. The offense is working, Bass will provide some options in the late inning and Pop could be the surprise of the moves.
But for now, it’s up to them to make the best of what they have.
“Any time you know your team is getting a little bit better, it’s a boost,” said reliever Adam Cimber, who played with Bass and Pop with the Marlins. “You see other teams in the league getting better and you want to make sure you keep up.
“I don’t think we needed to do much. I think we are a pretty good team as it is and we have the potential to go far.”