Less than a week away from the Aug. 2 trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays remain in the hunt for pitching and are hoping to add at least a couple of impact arms between now and then.
The problem, however, is that every other contending team is looking to do the exact same thing. Pitching is always in high demand around this time of year, and with the expanded playoff format, there likely won’t be as many sellers this season compared to previous ones.
Luckily, the Detroit Tigers have recently made it known that they’re open for business, which wasn’t always guaranteed. The front office is reportedly making everyone available, including young left-hander Tarik Skubal, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
That’s great news for the Blue Jays as the Tigers feature a handful of intriguing hurlers, making them an ideal trading partner. After all, these two franchises did swing a blockbuster deal at the deadline in 2015 when starter David Price was sent to Toronto.
Perhaps we could witness a similar situation this time around, especially with a pitcher of Skubal’s caliber currently on the trade block.
Skubal, who’s 25 and under team control through 2026, will likely be extremely expensive. If Detroit moves him, it’ll undoubtedly require a massive haul of talented prospects to be sent the other way. But he could be worth paying a premium.
The left-hander is enjoying a breakout performance this season, posting career-highs in ERA (3.88), xERA (3.26), FIP (2.92) and fWAR (2.7) across 106.2 innings in 19 starts. His strikeout (25.5 percent), walk (6.2 percent) and ground ball rates (47.8 percent) have also been impressive.
In his third big-league campaign, Skubal has continued to master his five-pitch arsenal, which includes a slider, four-seamer, sinker, changeup and curveball. The 6-foot-3 hurler has thrown his primary breaking ball 31.1 percent of the time this season — highest among all of his pitches — and opponents are hitting just .236 against it.
For a starting rotation that already includes Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, José Berríos and Ross Stripling, Skubal would perfectly complement that group. Adding him to the mix would easily fill the void at the back end, providing the franchise with an elite pitching staff.
Since he can’t hit free agency anytime soon, the talented young lefty would remain with the Blue Jays beyond 2022, keeping the club’s core of starters intact for several seasons, at least.
One of the only downsides to trading for Skubal is that it’d probably force Toronto to part with its top pitching prospect, left-hander Ricky Tiedemann. That’s likely not something general manager Ross Atkins would be willing to do, but chances are Detroit doesn’t make this deal if the 19-year-old isn’t included.
The Tigers, however, also possess multiple impact relief arms that could be acquired without sacrificing Tiedemann as part of the return. Fellow top prospects Gabriel Moreno and Orelvis Martinez would surely be safe, too.
Joe Jiménez, who leads all Tigers relievers with a 33.1 percent strikeout rate this season according to FanGraphs, would likely be atop the Blue Jays’ wish list.
The 27-year-old is under team control through 2023, meaning he’d be available for two playoff runs before becoming eligible for free agency. And, since Toronto’s bullpen desperately lacks pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff, the right-hander would be a perfect fit.
In 40 appearances, Jiménez has performed to a 3.13 ERA, 2.63 xERA and a 2.18 FIP through 37.1 innings. He has recorded one save — the 19th of his career — and a 0.7 fWAR rating, which is his highest since 2018 (1.4).
Jiménez owns one of the better fastballs in the majors, as its average velocity of 95.7 mph ranks in the 81st percentile, with its average spin rate (2,447 RPMs) placing in the 93rd percentile, according to BaseballSavant.
There’s no question the hard-throwing righty would be welcomed in addition to the Blue Jays bullpen, headlined by closer Jordan Romano.
Andrew Chafin is another Tigers reliever likely to garner plenty of interest on the trade market. Though, his vaccination status will likely prevent him from becoming a Blue Jay.
It’s disappointing Toronto likely won’t be able to pursue Chafin, who’s posted a 2.64 ERA, a 2.29 xERA and a 2.21 FIP across 30.2 innings during his anaugural campaign in Detroit. He also owns a 28.9 percent strikeout rate and a 33.9 percent whiff rate.
That’s one of the unfortunate obstacles the Blue Jays have faced since returning to Rogers Center last July. Their player pool is limited to those who’re already vaccinated or are willing to reach that status after being acquired.
Another pitcher that would be allowed to pitch in Toronto is Gregory Soto, Detroit’s primary closer. The 27-year-old has converted 17 saves and carries a 2.43 ERA, a 4.07 xERA and a 3.33 FIP through 33.1 innings this season.
Soto is capable of inducing swings and misses, resulting in a 25.4 percent strikeout rate. The left-hander’s command has been inconsistent at times, leading to his 10.6 percent walk rate.
The 6-foot-1 hurler is under team control through 2025 and will be an arbitration-eligible this off-season, meaning he’d likely cost a premium via trade. With that in mind, Jiménez’s acquisition cost would probably be cheaper than Soto’s, making him more appealing to the Blue Jays.
Or, if the price is right, they could potentially acquire both players in a much larger deal. In doing so, the team would alter the outlook of its bullpen, adding two impact relievers to a talented group that already includes Romano, Tim Mayza, Yimi Garcia and Adam Cimber.
That’d certainly set them up for a successful post-season.
So while the baseball community wonders if superstars Juan Soto and Shohei Ohtani will be traded, the Blue Jays could make a substantial trade with the Tigers to shore up their pitching needs.
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