Amid a crowded playoff race in the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays are expected to be fairly active leading up to the Aug. 2 trade deadline. While pitching remains the club’s top priority, they could also benefit from improving their offence.
How does a lineup that led the majors in runs (170), RBIs (164), batting average (.285), OPS (.856) and wRC+ (140) last month get any better?
That’s a fair question to ask. When healthy, the Blue Jays feature a deep offence headlined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Bo Bichette and Alejandro Kirk. But this group isn’t complete just yet.
Toronto’s lineup is littered with All-Stars from one through nine, however, almost all of them are right-handed. That’s not ideal. Only three players on the roster hit from the left side: Cavan Biggio, Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer. Though Biggio has been performing better in the last month, he isn’t someone who can be relied on to contribute within the middle of the order. And the same goes for Tapia and Zimmer.
If the Blue Jays are to compete with the New York Yankees, who feature a well-balanced lineup, it’ll be vital to complement their already talented offence. The most effective way they can accomplish that feat is by acquiring a reliable left-handed batter.
Granted, this season’s trade market likely won’t consist of any marquee names, so don’t expect anyone of Trea Turner’s calibre to be moved this summer. Having said that, there are expected to be a few impact lefties available that could be of interest.
1B Josh Bell, Washington Nationals
Josh Bell is a player who will undoubtedly garner plenty of interest before the deadline passes. And rightly so, as the 29-year-old has been one of the lone bright spots for the Nationals in 2022.
In 83 games, Bell has 12 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .311/.393/.502 slash line across 348 plate appearances. He also owns a career-best 147 wRC+ score and a 2.3 fWAR rating — his highest since 2019 (2.9).
The 6-foot-4 first baseman is hitting for both power and contact this season, which he also achieved last year when he slashed .261 /.347/.476 with 27 round-trippers. His plate discipline is also worth mentioning, as he’s earned a 10.9 percent walk rate and a 13.2 percent strikeout rate.
Acquiring Bell wouldn’t come without risk, however, as the left-handed slugger is scheduled to enter free agency this offseason. There’s also the fact he plays the same position as Guerrero. Plus, a significant amount of playing time in the designated hitter spot must be set aside for Kirk.
Finding regular at-bats for all three players would probably be tricky. Still, it’s difficult to ignore that inserting Bell into the mix would significantly improve Toronto’s offence.
OF Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
While Ian Happ is a switch-hitter, he could potentially make the most sense for Toronto. He’d likely check several boxes for them, both offensively and defensively.
For starters, the 27-year-old features another season of team control after 2022, where he’ll be entering his final year of arbitration. So, unlike Bell or Benintendi, Happ wouldn’t be a rental.
Adding to his value, Happ is enjoying one of the best statistical performances of his career this season. Across 80 games, the 6-foot outfielder has generated career-highs in average (.279), OBP (.377), wRC+ (131) and fWAR (2.2) through 329 plate appearances with the Chicago Cubs.
The 2015 ninth overall selection also owns eight home runs, 38 RBIs and a .454 slugging percentage. His 20.7 percent strikeout rate is also the lowest of his six big-league seasons.
Amongst Chicago’s rebuild, Happ has stood out in a massive way and has been a difference-maker from both sides of the plate. That’s pretty rare to find in today’s era.
As a righty, Happ has posted six home runs, 29 RBIs a 118 wRC+ and a .252/.359/.427 slash line across 259 plate appearances. On the opposite side, he’s gone deep twice, producing nine RBIs, 178 wRC+ and a .371/.443/.548 slash line in 70 plate appearances.
In addition to his offensive skills, the Blue Jays would surely be drawn to Happ’s versatility. He’s capable of playing six of the eight defensive positions. Shortstop and catcher are the only two spots he’s never played before at the professional level.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native is most comfortable in left field, where he’s logged 1,558.0 career innings. 605.0 of which have occurred this season. In total, he’s performed to a +7 DRS and a -1 OAA in the left corner for his career.
Given Happ’s defensive availability, locating consistent at-bats likely wouldn’t become an issue for manager Charlie Montoyo, especially since he can play all three outfield positions. He could provide relief to not only Gurriel but for Springer and Teoscar Hernandez, too.
Any of these three trade targets would better equip the Blue Jays to make a competitive playoff run over the next several months. Anything less would be considered a major disappointment.
In the end, though, the eventual acquisition cost of an impact left-handed hitter could ultimately determine Toronto’s ability to address this particular need. With a limited number of sellers this season, thanks to the expanded playoff format, market prices may soar to new heights.
With more pressing concerns at the forefront, mainly those of the pitching variety, the Blue Jays must decide whether it’s worth paying top dollar to improve their offence. It might be easier to do so in the winter.
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