The Toronto Blue Jays’ implosion during Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series was followed by an instinctual reaction from the fanbase: something needed to change.
Maybe the Jays need a new manager. Well, that won’t happen, as Toronto locked up skipper John Schneider long term. How about a new GM? Again, unlikely. Ross Atkins is under contract through 2026.
So, is the answer a new bullpen? More pitching? A revamped outfield? Questions, questions, questions.
That torturous loss to the Seattle Mariners sparked some innovative notions about how to retool this Blue Jays franchise. There was one idea, among many wide-ranging suggestions, that caught my eye: What if the Blue Jays made a franchise-altering trade involving core players?
Shipping Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. out of Toronto? Madness. But I loved the brashness of such a theory, even if it is rather unlikely.
It would be amazing for Blue Jays fans if they got their own Kawhi Leonard moment, the same way the Toronto Raptors executed a jaw-dropping star-for-star trade and brought a championship home one year later. So, let’s look at how such a move could play out for the 2023 Blue Jays.
How a core-shifting trade could help the 2023 Blue Jays
A new voice. Fresh blood. These sports adages — which are based on change for the sake of change – have some merit if the right pieces are added to the clubhouse. I saw, first-hand, the immeasurable impact Matt Chapman’s presence had on his Jays teammates.
Chapman’s vocal leadership and his in-game activity at the hot corner brought a unique flavour to Toronto’s roster, the same way Alek Manoah’s confidence or Kevin Gausman’s acumen came to define the pitching staff. A different presence in Toronto’s clubhouse could spark something.
There is also the element of reallocating lopsided resources. A trade from Toronto’s position player depth (at catcher, perhaps) seems like a logical first step to boosting the club’s rotation and bullpen.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for fans, a seismic deal that uproots the Blue Jays' way of doing things would dispel concerns about Toronto’s creative willingness to compete at the highest level. It would counteract the tepid reaction to the Jays’ 2022 trade deadline effort and show that this team is "all-in" for the remaining portion of its competitive window.
MLB precedent for a core-shifting trade
Major-leaguer for major-leaguer swaps can be a little harder to iron out than prospect-heavy packages. For the sake of this analysis, we’ve also narrowed our scope to offseason trades only.
In January 2021, the Cleveland Guardians and New York Mets struck a deal involving superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. The full deal saw Lindor and Carlos Carrasco go to the Mets for Amed Rosario, Andrés Giménez, Josh Wolf, and Isaiah Greene. The crux of that trade had to do with Lindor’s upcoming free agency, so that element wouldn’t be a factor if Toronto wanted to deal a player like Bichette or Alejandro Kirk, for example.
The one-for-one trade between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers in November 2013 also stands out. In that exchange, the Tigers received second baseman Ian Kinsler and the Rangers got first baseman Prince Fielder. Clean and simple. Two core players of relatively equal value swapping jerseys on competing teams. There’s certainly an avenue for the Blue Jays to make a deal of that nature.
As an honourable mention, we might as well include the outrageous 14-player swap between the Jays and Miami Marlins in November 2012. That trade, executed under Alex Anthopoulos’ regime, saw Toronto inherit players such as Mark Buehrle, José Reyes and Josh Johnson for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria and others.
Building blockbuster Blue Jays trades
Blue Jays get: SP Sandy Alcantara, INF Miguel Rojas
This deal swaps pure offence, Toronto’s greatest strength, for elite defence and pitching, two of the Jays’ greater weaknesses. Alcantara will win the NL Cy Young this year, meaning it’ll likely take a player of Bichette’s calibre to pry him from the perpetually rebuilding Marlins. Rojas, while below average at the dish, is among the game’s best defensive infielders (plus-12 outs above average at shortstop in 2022).
With Alcantara under control through 2027, the Jays would have their new star locked up for a while. The same goes for the Marlins with Bichette, who doesn’t hit free agency until 2026.
This deal makes sense on multiple levels. The Cardinals need catching, and the Blue Jays have an overflow of catchers. Dishing Kirk for Carlson, a 24-year-old switch-hitter, adds some variety to Toronto’s right-handed lineup and offers a future defensive replacement for George Springer in centre field.
With Montgomery and Hernández both on expiring contracts, this is a hitting for pitching swap, like our first trade. The lefty Montgomery can slide in as an excellent third or fourth starter depending on how José Berríos looks in 2023.
Blue Jays get: SP/DH Shohei Ohtani
Angels get: SS Bo Bichette, SP Yusei Kikuchi
This deal is loaded with risk for Toronto. The Jays would essentially be punting on four years of prime Bichette for just one year of one of baseball’s most talented players. Would it be worth it? If Los Angeles eats the Kikuchi contract, the trade becomes slightly more understandable. And the acquisition of Bichette would incentivize the Halos to avoid toppling into another rebuild.
Contract aside, it’s obviously not hard to justify going all-in for Ohtani. The 28-year-old takes up only one spot on the roster and instantly fills Toronto’s two greatest needs: starting pitching and left-handed hitting. As far as franchise-altering trades, a deal for the Japanese two-way phenom would instantly become one of the most captivating offseason trades in MLB history.
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