Within the context of this specific trade season, where many clubs teetered on selling their big players but ultimately didn’t, the Blue Jays were clear winners.
No, they didn’t get Tommy Pham, Mark Canha, or Teoscar Hernández, but Toronto actually made moves, which is more than some contending clubs can say. And when Bo Bichette’s knee tendinitis heals up, the Blue Jays will be a deeper squad.
Hicks was the best reliever on the market
Toronto’s front office got some heat for being too timid at deadline time, but the brass showed some real gumption in gunning for Hicks, a free agent at season’s end. It’s rare for the Jays to dabble in the rental market, but general manager Ross Atkins said this roster’s current talent made it easier to gamble on an expiring deal.
“I think that's the trajectory that you see with a lot of championship teams,” Atkins said.
When the dust settled, very few elite relievers changed jerseys. Padres closer Josh Hader stayed put, as did David Bednar of the Pirates and Brooks Raley of the Mets. Those who were traded, such as Scott Barlow and Paul Sewald, might compare to Hicks’ numbers, but no one has an equivalent skillset.
Everyone knows about the heater. Hicks’ fastball regularly tops 101 mph – he now owns the hardest pitch in Blue Jays history at 102.4 mph – but it’s even more impressive he can sustain that velocity for extended periods. The right-hander has pitched 1.1 innings or more eight times this season without losing the command or sizzle on his fastball.
“When you're talking about a fully healthy, operational bullpen, [Hicks] could be [in the] seventh, eighth, ninth [inning],” said manager John Schneider.
As if Hicks’ four-seam and two-seam fastballs weren’t enough, watch for the new sweeping curveball, too. He adjusted the grip on that pitch this year, and opponents are batting just .125 off it.
DeJong might be the bat Toronto needed, especially against LHPs
In the short term, DeJong’s elite glove can replace Bichette at shortstop until the Blue Jays star is healthy enough to play everyday. He’ll factor in as a platoon option once Bichette returns, too.
This season, DeJong has an .822 OPS versus left-handed pitchers. That’s a very, very notable number for a Jays squad with a .397 SLG and .741 team OPS against southpaws. It’s worth noting that, prior to this season, DeJong toted reverse splits, meaning he hit right-handers better.
But that’s a thing of the past, the 30-year-old said. He’s eliminated his dramatic leg kick, “rerouted” his swing, and begun diligently handwriting pre-game scouting reports about opposing pitchers. Everything has opened up as a result.
“Maybe just a little luck in there; maybe I see the ball a little bit better,” DeJong said. “But overall, I think a lot of righties hit lefties really well. I'm finally glad that I was one of them.”
Defensively, DeJong considers himself a shortstop, but he’s comfortable sliding to second base. He’s established familiar “vantage points” by playing up the middle, he said, and could presumably flip to second base and start against left-hander pitchers. In that scenario, Whit Merrifield would head to left field or maintain a double-play tandem with DeJong at short and Bichette in the designated hitter spot.
The Blue Jays can also be flexible with DeJong’s future. He’s a free agent at season’s end, when Toronto can opt to buy him out for $2 million or renew him for 2024 at a cost of $12.5 million.
AL East was very quiet at deadline
Considering how competitive the division is, it was surprising to see so few big trades in the AL East. The Blue Jays made their two trades, while the Rays added starting pitcher Aaron Civale and the Orioles snagged Jack Flaherty. This is great news for the Jays.
Flaherty’s name gives him some helium and his command has ironed out after a rocky start, but he’s still allowing a 4.43 ERA and 9.5 H/9 this season. Civale’s been great this year (2.34 ERA), although his 3.54 FIP suggests some regression is coming.
Most importantly, the Red Sox and Yankees didn’t make any consequential moves. The Blue Jays certainly still have a crack at the AL East crown, but it’s far more likely they make the postseason as the second or third wild-card squad.
One could argue the Jays did better at the deadline than any of the five AL East squads. At the very least, Toronto can breathe a sigh of relief knowing it outmaneuvered Boston and New York, a factor that’ll loom much larger during the final days of the October playoff chase.