What Blue Jays can expect from each trade deadline acquisition
About a week before the MLB trade deadline, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said he expected things to come down to the wire. He wasn’t joking.
In a furious final 10 minutes before 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the Blue Jays rattled off two notable trades, first nabbing right-hander Mitch White from the Los Angeles Dodgers, then acquiring veteran utility man Whit Merrifield from the Kansas City Royals.
That surge in activity came after Toronto made perhaps its most significant trade earlier in the day by flipping fourth-ranked prospect Jordan Groshans to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Zach Pop and Anthony Bass, two right-handed bullpen arms.
Here’s a breakdown of the trades and how each player makes the Blue Jays better.
Blue Jays deadline, barring sneaking one in late
Alex De Jesus
+Vasquez claimed, Banda DFAd
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) August 2, 2022
UTIL Whit Merrifield for RHP Max Castillo and UTIL Samad Taylor
In a buzzer-beater deal with the Royals, the Blue Jays parted with controllable young talent in Castillo and Taylor to reel in Merrifield.
“He is very accomplished with incredible experiences,” Atkins said. “The versatility, the contact ability, the speed, playing multiple positions, incredible baserunner. [We] feel very good about him at so many different positions, and that versatility will help us down the stretch.”
This season, Merrifield’s slash is at a career-worst .240/.290/.352, but the wheels are still there, as he’s stolen 15 bases this season and has been able to cover enough ground at left field, centre, and second base (3 OAA).
The 33-year-old’s vaccination status is the only caveat to this move. Merrifield was one of 10 Royals players who were unvaccinated and couldn’t travel to Toronto in mid-July. At that time, he told Kansas City media he’d consider getting vaccinated if he was traded to a contender that needed to travel to Canada.
Atkins didn’t want to comment on Merrifield’s vaccination status, stating he’d only had time to say hello to Merrifield and hadn’t discussed much else.
“I'm not going to comment further on that out of respect for him,” Atkins said, when asked if Merrifield will join the Blue Jays for their homestand on Aug. 12.
Assuming he’s received the jab — or plans on receiving it — Merrifield slots in nicely to the Blue Jays’ rotating group of bench bodies, which includes Raimel Tapia and Cavan Biggio. His presence also helps afford days off for George Springer, who’s been hampered by an elbow issue lately.
Atkins said he sees Merrifield as a starter-calibre player, though he’ll leave it to manager John Schneider to sort out playing time.
It’s foolish to assume Merrifield still possesses the bat-to-ball ability of his MLB-hit-leading seasons in 2018 and 2019, but he’s still got some juice left. Under team control through 2023, Merrifield will be a big part of Toronto’s playoff push for this season and beyond.
RHPs Zach Pop and Anthony Bass for SS/3B Jordan Groshans
This move was Toronto’s biggest of the day, as the club addressed a glaring lack of swing-and-miss in its bullpen by acquiring Bass (9.1 K/9). Pop, from Brampton, Ont., doesn’t rack up Ks the way Bass does, but he features a heavy sinker that averages 97 m.p.h.
Atkins said he most liked how Bass, who pitched for Toronto in 2020, has evolved his pitch mix.
“One of the things that's a bit different is his slider usage and the effectiveness of that pitch,” the Jays GM said. “But him pitching late in games for us and complementing Yimi [García] and [Adam] Cimber, and Timmy [Mayza] is exciting to think about.”
Bass’s 40.1 percent whiff rate on his slider is a nasty kicker to his 1.41 ERA in 44.1 innings. Pop, on the other hand, will grow as a pitcher once he accumulates more major-league experience.
“He's very sinker-heavy,” Atkins said of the 25-year-old Pop. “And we don't see lots of things that we see as changes. We see small opportunities that we'll work with him on.”
Both players are likely to stick around, too — Bass has a $3 million club option for 2023, which the Blue Jays are likely to renew at season’s end, while Pop isn’t a free agent until 2027.
RHP Mitch White, INF Alex De Jesus for RHP Nick Frasso and LHP Moises Brito
Blue Jays fans likely hadn’t heard of White until just a few hours ago, but the 27-year-old right-hander will now become a key to this club’s playoff aspirations.
As a swingman with a solid pitch mix coming from Los Angeles, White’s acquisition brings about shades of Ross Stripling, whom Toronto brought in for a similar purpose in 2020. He’s expected to play a similar role, too, as the Blue Jays balance Yusei Kikuchi’s volatile performance in the rotation.
“Mitch White complements our rotation and our bullpen,” Atkins said.
White hasn’t missed a ton of bats (7.6 K/9), though his hard-hit suppression is decent, and he’s pitched to a 3.70 ERA through 15 major-league appearances (five starts) this season. Sometimes he’ll hang the breaking ball (.404 xSLG), but he’s earned a minus-8 run value on his four-seamer, per Baseball Savant, a pitch batters are hitting just .220 against.
It wasn’t a deadline of epic proportions, as some Blue Jays fans might’ve expected. Instead, the Blue Jays made modest upgrades, and the deal for White, a free agent in 2028, has a chance to blossom into something decent going forward.
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