By Cole Parkinson
While it’s not the best position to be in, the Toronto Blue Jays see themselves in third in the American League East, and eight games back of the division-leading Boston Red Sox at the break.
The Jays have a 45-42 record, which isn’t bad, but it’s certainly unspectacular.
Even with that said, this is a young team that wasn’t expected to win the division this year, but thanks to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, and Randal Grichuk, the offence has kept the Blue Jays in the race.
And Guerrero Jr., Semien, Hernandez, and Bichette are all heading to the All-Star game because of their great starts.
Guerrero Jr.’s season has been about as exciting as it gets from a fan perspective.
The first baseman has 105 hits, 28 homers and 73 RBI in 316 at-bats.
His batting average at the All-Star break sits at .332, his on-base percentage (OBP) is .430 and his slugging is .648, which is good for an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.089.
Vlad leads the league in OBP, OPS, and RBI, and sits tied for second in home runs and offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 4.4.
His entire offensive line is incredible when you dive even further into the analytics, and if he’s able to continue this torrid pace the rest of the season, he will be challenging for an MVP.
His defence has also been very good at first.
In 67 starts at first, he’s only committed seven errors, good for a fielding percentage of .992.
He’s also saved plenty of poor throws from the other Blue Jays infielders, especially on the left side of the diamond.
While he made the switch to first from third last season, he didn’t look entirely comfortable in the mid-season change.
But this season, he’s looked like a bonafide first baseman, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he wins a gold glove in the near future.
Behind Vlad, Semien, Bichette, Hernandez, and Grichuk have all had great first halves of the 2021 season.
Semien has adjusted well to second base and his offensive numbers have been great.
In a contract year, if he continues through the second half, he’ll be due a decent pay rise and a longer contract in the offseason.
Bichette started slow with the bat, but has picked it up considerably in the past month and a half, and now has a batting average of .293 with an OBP of .342.
His bat was never a concern, but his defence surely is.
He’s only 23-years-old and he’s playing shortstop, so while I don’t think it’s imperative to move him off the position right away, he’s committed 15 errors, which is tied for third across the league.
Hernandez and Grichuk have been mainstays in the outfield for the prior couple of seasons, and while Hernandez was an absolute stud last year, no one was sure he could carry that over into the next season.
But, so far so good as his bat has continued to be potent.
He has 11 homers and 48 RBI in 273 at-bats to go along with an OPS of .814.
With George Springer injured for the vast majority of the first half, Grichuk was relied on to not only play centrefield but also contribute with the bat.
And he did both of those things admirably as he finished the first half with 16 home runs, 57 RBI and an OPS of .749.
But as the focus turns to the second half playoff push, the team has plenty of work to do as the trade deadline falls on July 30.
Pitching is once again a major factor for the Jays, and if they want to be serious contenders for the division, or more realistically one of the two Wild Card spots, they’ll have to add several arms, specifically in the bullpen.
While they did make a pair of moves in acquiring bullpen help in the form of Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, those guys are more suited for middle-relief.
Another high leverage arm or two could do wonders for the bullpen.
And while getting Julian Merryweather back, who has been on the injured list since April and is expected shortly after the break, would be big for the bullpen, who can believe he will stay healthy?
When he’s been on the mound this year he’s been dominant, but since the Blue Jays acquired him in 2018, he’s been injured constantly.
Chicago Cubs’ closer Craig Kimbrel has been the latest rumour for the Blue Jays, and while he certainly would stabilize the backend of the bullpen, the Jays would be foolish to trade any top 10 prospects for him.
Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Richard Rodriguez is another oft-talked about reliever the Jays would be interested in, and he’d make some sense if the acquisition cost wasn’t over the moon.
Minnesota Twins’ lefty Taylor Rogers is another intriguing name that could add some much needed late-game experience to the Jays’ bullpen.
Adding another starter would also help the Blue Jays.
While the rotation has stabilized since its shaky start, you can never have too much starting pitching.
Hyun-jin Ryu (3.56 earned run average), Robbie Ray (3.13 ERA), Steven Matz (4.72 ERA), Ross Stripling (4.34 ERA), and Alek Manoah (2.90 ERA) have all been fairly good for the Jays this year, and while some have been up and down recently, it’s hard to point the finger at the starters.
Ray has been better than advertised this season, as he’s significantly cut down his walk rate (2.1 walks per nine compared to 6.1 in 2020), while also striking out 11.6 per nine.
And the early season call up of Jays’ prospect Alek Manoah has been really good so far.
Any time you bring up a top prospect, you never really know how the player is going to handle it.
The jump from Triple-A to the big leagues is massive, but Manoah has looked very good so far, and you have to think he sticks in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
Looking at the trade market, the Jays will no doubt be asking about a ton of position players and pitchers.
For starters, Texas Rangers’ Kyle Gibson is being floated once again, and the Jays could have an interest there.
In a package deal with Rangers’ outfielder Joey Gallo, it would make sense as the Jays needed another lefty bat that has pop, which Gallo has plenty of.
If the Washington Nationals sell-off, Max Scherzer could be available.
He would cost a pretty penny, but the Jays have plenty of young assets that could go the other way.
Scherzer will be 37 later this month, so if the Jays were interested, I’d be hesitant to include any of their top five prospects, though the Nats will surely ask.
Twins’ starters Jose Berrios or Michael Pineda, Detroit Tigers’ Matt Boyd, or Colorado Rockies’ Jon Gray are other names that the Jays could focus on if a starter is what they’re in search of.
With only a couple of weeks before the deadline, the Jays front office is surely going to be busy, as they try to reach the postseason in back-to-back years.