Blue Jays make improvements to Trade Deadline

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, Click here. Y subscribe to receive it regularly in your inbox.

as one of the largest transactions in MLB history sent Juan Soto to San Diego and American League rivals Toronto primed for a World Series run, the Blue Jays made a number of moves for complementary pieces.

Tuesday trading deadline raised the floor for the Blue Jays, without a doubt. Zach Pop and Anthony Bass round out the bullpen, Mitch White protects the rotation and Whit Merrifield adds speed and versatility to Toronto’s ever-changing lineup.

This does not immediately close the gap with the Yankees, Astros or Dodgers. Neither opponent is losing sleep over what the Blue Jays did, but of course, that’s not always the point.

Call it the Toronto Raptors approach. For years, the Raptors held up well, stayed competitive, and stayed in the postseason, year after year. Eventually, most teams need to find their Kawhi Leonard, but there’s something to be said for the “just come in” strategy, as long as you can do it annually. Plus, the 88-73 Braves weren’t exactly a behemoth before their postseason run to the 2021 World Series title.

It’s up to the current Toronto players to raise the ceiling now.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has had his moments lately, but he is still looking for his incredible form as of 2021. The same goes for Bo Bichette. Others, like Matt Chapman and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., have been on fire of late, but when Guerrero and Bichette are hitting at the top of their game, it’s much easier to see this team as a World Series threat.

Here’s a look at the four players acquired by the Blue Jays and how they fit into 2022 and beyond:

2B/DE Pentecost Merrifield
Merrifield has received the COVID-19 vaccine and says he will be eligible to cross the border into Canada when the Blue Jays return home next time. With that, the biggest question of the entire trade deadline has been answered.

“It was something that I probably could have handled a little better,” Merrifield said, “but what happened, happened. I’m excited to be a Blue Jay, and I’m excited to get to Toronto and play at Rogers Centre.”

On the field, Merrifield fits the Blue Jays’ identity better now than he did a month ago.

“When you play certain teams, from the outside, there are certain teams that come in and you feel the energy from them,” Merrifield said. “This is one of those teams. From top to bottom, it’s exciting baseball. I’m excited. I’m saying ‘excited’ a lot. I am excited to be part of this team.”

Under interim manager John Schneider, the Blue Jays have taken a more aggressive approach on base. Schneider hinted at this when he took over as manager, but the change has been significant. Whether it’s stealing a base, stretching a single into a double or hitting a throw, they know they’re going to be close, they’re upping the stakes. In turn, they hope to collect more rewards.

Toronto’s roster is athletic from top to bottom, but it’s more “team speed” than individual burners. Merrifield is closer to that, with 15-of-18 steals in 2022 and 40- and 45-steal seasons already on his resume. When Merrifield isn’t in the lineup, he’ll be an excellent late-inning on-base option, particularly in October.

rhp mitch white
Call him Ross Stripling 2.0, and the Blue Jays love that.

White has the ability to do it all, starting the season in the Dodgers’ bullpen before moving into the rotation in his last 10 appearances, posting a 3.70 ERA this season. This is something the Blue Jays are actively targeting now.

Instead of having five regular starters with a prospect or veteran soft pitcher waiting in Triple-A, the Blue Jays like to have an MLB-quality arm that can contribute even when he’s not in the rotation. White comes in with control of the team, as Stripling did, and he will be a part of that long-term image.

Team control was a clear priority for the Blue Jays at the deadline. Heading into next season with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Alek Manoah and Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto will still need to add a starter to close the gap with Ricky Tiedemann, who is the system’s next official Hype Train, but with White on the roster. he leaves this rotation much safer in terms of depth.

rhp zach-pop
The 25-year-old Canadian comes in with team control, a power lead and big stuff. He’s also a grounding machine, so he’ll benefit from having defenders like Chapman and Santiago Espinal in his infield.

Pop had a 3.60 ERA this season with the Marlins, and while he’s not a strikeout arm, he’s only walked two batters in 20 innings this season and does a great job of avoiding home runs and, in turn, big innings. He looks for it in previous situations, where he will really raise the ground.

If White mirrors Stripling’s acquisition, it mirrors Adam Cimber’s, plus some edge.

rhp low anthony
Bass is the short-term fix for the bullpen, coming in a career year with a 1.58 ERA and excellent peripherals. The veteran right-hander comes with a $3 million club option for 2023 that already seems like an easy decision, so Toronto’s bullpen for next season already has most of the names in place.

Consider Bass part of the group with Cimber, David Phelps and Yimi Garcia. There’s no real pecking order right now, but along with lefty Tim Mayza, that group will handle the prep innings before turning over to Jordan Romano.

Did the Blue Jays add the dominant 14+ K/9 arm that would have made this bullpen a real fortress? No. Is that worrying? Yes. But the talent in this group runs deeper now, which means the arms you’ll see running in the fifth or sixth innings aren’t just there to fill out innings.

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