Blue Jays break new ground by acquiring premium rental Jordan Hicks

The Toronto Blue Jays' front office has made plenty of midseason trades in past seasons, but their latest move is a mold-breaker

The Blue Jays bullpen will be bolstered significantly by the addition of Jordan Hicks. (Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays have often needed a player like Jordan Hicks at recent trade deadlines, but before Sunday, they hadn't acquired one.

A team in playoff position bringing in a high-leverage reliever on an expiring contract around the trade deadline isn't a revolutionary strategy, but it represents a philosophical departure for this Blue Jays front office.

That's not because the team is unwilling to make meaningful trades. Just two years ago, Toronto's deal for José Berríos cost them far more than the Hicks trade, and the current regime has made blockbuster moves for Matt Chapman and Daulton Varsho in the past 24 months.

While the Blue Jays have done their fair share of wheeling and dealing, they have consistently passed on either top-of-the-market players on expiring contracts or brand-name relievers at this time of year.

Since the current front office took over, they've presided over four trade deadlines in which they've been buyers looking to supplement a team with playoff aspirations (2016, 2020, 2021, 2022). Below is a list of every player they acquired who was on an expiring contract:

None of the position players was producing at a league-average level when he was acquired, and most of the pitchers were having middling seasons at best.

Ray (7.84 ERA) and Benoit (5.18 ERA) stand out as prominent examples of buy-low rentals Toronto acquired hoping for swift reversals of fortune. To their credit, the team was right in both cases, though Ray didn't hit his stride until he re-signed with the team for the next season.

Feldman was having a good year when he was acquired, but he was a long reliever whom no one expected to take the ball in big spots. The closest comparable to Hicks is probably Hand, who served as a closer with the Washington Nationals prior to Toronto scooping him up.

Hand was pitching at the end of Washington's bullpen due to the team's lack of relief talent, though. The Blue Jays got him for a 25-year-old catcher who'd just cracked the big leagues and looked like he might be a Quadruple-A type in Riley Adams. Adams has performed relatively well as Washington's backup catcher, but back in 2021, he wasn't a big-time trade chip.

Toronto's most notable midseason acquisitions in recent years (Berríos, Ross Stripling, Francisco Liriano, Trevor Richards, Anthony Bass, Zach Pop, Adam Cimber, Whit Merrifield and Mitch White) have been players with multiple seasons of team control. It's hard to dispute the logic in that.

Results in the MLB playoffs can be highly luck-driven, especially in a three-game series. Trading some of your best prospect capital for players who will give you two of months of production and as few as a couple of appearances in the postseason can be tough to swallow.

In the case of Hicks, for instance, if he continues to appear at approximately the rate he did as a St. Louis Cardinal, the Blue Jays can expect about 20 innings from him in the regular season and as few as one or two in the playoffs.

Even making the postseason isn't a certainty for a Toronto team that enters Monday just 2.5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox for the final AL wild-card spot.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have relinquished two prospects — Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein — pitching well in Double-A, who could be bottom-of-the-rotation MLB starters in short order. That might not sound sexy, but when the market rate for such players is an eight-figure salary, developing guys such as that internally is extremely valuable.

Sem Robberse could have a promising MLB future. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Sem Robberse could have a promising MLB future. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Robberse and Kloffenstein aren't sure things by any means, but there is a world in which the Blue Jays gave up 12 years of useful MLB production for less than 24 appearances from Hicks.

Sometimes criticism of the Blue Jays front office being risk-averse is unfair, but they've steered clear of the kind of risk Hicks presents in recent years. That has meant bargain rentals and bigger deals for guys with term.

By adding Hicks, this front office is sending the message that this team — not just the Blue Jays but the 2023 Blue Jays — is worth investing in and taking a gamble on. Whether they're right remains to be seen, but with Matt Chapman's contract expiring after 2023, George Springer not getting any younger and the foundational duo of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette locked in for only two more seasons, there's no time like the present.

You could interpret Toronto's change of course as an enlightened reevaluation of priorities or a sign of desperation. Whatever the case might be, a Blue Jays team that has been underwhelming relative to expectations just got a little more dynamic.

Hicks might wind up as the team's most significant add at this year's trade deadline, but Toronto has opened a door that has always been shut before. It will be fascinating to see who else — if anyone — walks through.