Blue Jays focus on finishing touches at deadline after getting good news on Bo Bichette

TORONTO — The best news for the Blue Jays on deadline day was that they appear to have avoided a worst-case scenario with Bo Bichette, who exited Monday’s game with a knee injury but had no significant structural damage. But a sparse position-player market meant all the Blue Jays achieved in the final 24 hours before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET trade deadline was acquiring shortstop Paul DeJong from the St. Louis Cardinals.


Blue Jays acquire SS Paul DeJong from Cardinals

DeJong, 29, will be a free agent at the end of the season and is primarily an insurance policy in case Bichette misses time with an injured list stint, which is still to be determined. Yes, DeJong is a right-handed bat, and yes, he’s hit left-handed pitching well this season, which addresses their team need for lineup balance — but the Blue Jays didn’t acquire the sort of right-handed power bat that could’ve added thump to a lineup that hasn’t scored runs at the rate many expected they would. The Blue Jays were sitting 14th in runs scored prior to play on Tuesday.

But along with DeJong, the Blue Jays did add hard-throwing relievers Génesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks, also acquired from the Cardinals. Hicks was one of the best relievers to move this deadline period and he especially helps fortify an already strong bullpen and gives the club back-end protection while they weather closer Jordan Romano’s back injury. That bullpen was battered on Tuesday, however, as Cabrera and Nate Pearson combined to allow seven runs in two innings against the Orioles.

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Hicks had a 117 ERA+ and a 3.01 FIP with the Cardinals this season in 41 2/3 innings pitched (Lucas Peltier / USA Today)

The Blue Jays were a fairly complete team coming into the second-half of the season and adding at the margins always seemed like the most likely outcome for them this deadline, especially given a dearth of sellers and a lacklustre position-player market. Without an experienced right-handed power bat arriving, the overall outcome feels a bit underwhelming, and it’ll put the onus on the Blue Jays who are already in the clubhouse to step up offensively — especially if Bichette misses extended time — but this was a front office that seemed inclined to live or die with the team they had built. And, without any other team in the American League East making a huge move, the Blue Jays will hope that there is enough untapped upside on their roster, especially offensively, for a strong final push.

“We have a really good projected offence and we have a good performing offence. I think it’s just not closed the gap on what its overall potential is and I’m confident that it will,” said Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.

Speaking about 45 minutes after the deadline had passed, the Blue Jays GM said a deal for a big righty bat just did not come to fruition.

“The guys that would be the quote-unquote, bigger bats weren’t necessarily available or as readily available as many assumed or implied,” Atkins said.

Following the DeJong deal, which was made official around 2 p.m. ET, Atkins said the Blue Jays only discussed “smaller” trades.

“Obviously, there weren’t a ton of players traded with a lot more (teams) in it. A lot of the teams that speculated on potentially moving players didn’t,” Atkins said. “Some of the players that were rumoured to be coming our way or even available didn’t seem to be as available to us and so most of the deals today that were available to us were smaller in nature and more roster management.”

As a club that does its due diligence, the Blue Jays checked in on right-handed bats such as Tommy Pham, who the Mets dealt to the Diamondbacks, and former Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk, who was traded to the Angels, according to a league source. Meanwhile, a trade for Teoscar Hernández, who ultimately remained with the Seattle Mariners, never seemed likely to transpire.

But Atkins was pleased with the team’s ability to acquire DeJong, a player he called an “interesting fit” even without Bichette’s injury.

“He’s hitting left-handers relatively well,” Atkins said. “Very good defender that complements our organization and depth. Has great experience and I think it heightened the need with Bo’s injury.”

During Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Bichette pulled up around first base and limped off the field, which looked at first glance like a potentially devastating development for a club trying to hang onto a playoff spot. But a day later, the Blue Jays said an MRI on Bichette’s knee revealed “no significant structural damage, just some inflammation,” according to manager John Schneider.

Bichette is considered day to day and the team will learn more about his status in the next coming days. Schneider described the news as “the best possible outcome.”

“He’s feeling OK. He was moving around in the clubhouse a little bit. But we all know Bo, he wants to be out there every single day,” Schneider said. “Won’t be in there today. But he’s doing all right.”

The Blue Jays are still determining if Bichette will need an injured list stint, but in case he does, they’re now covered with DeJong, who they acquired for right-handed pitcher Matt Svanson, who has split his time between Low-A Dunedin and High-A Vancouver this season.

DeJong is expected to join the Blue Jays on Wednesday. When he is activated, we’ll likely get a clear answer on whether Bichette is headed to the IL since the club will need to make a roster move.

“I think time is critical with any injury. The fact that we’re taking it (time), I think is a good sign for him. It’s not just a clear-cut case,” Atkins said of Bichette. “There is inflammation in the patellar tendon where we’ve had experiences with that with other players. And, learning more today was exceptionally important to us before we just jumped to an IL (situation).”

Bichette has been the team’s most important offensive player this season, and he currently leads the American League in hits (144) and batting average (.321), not to mention his steady and quiet confidence as a leader who lets his play do the talking. He is a focal point, and losing him for any extended period of time will be a massive blow, no question.

DeJong is not going to be able to replace Bichette’s offensive output, meaning guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer and Matt Chapman will have to step up. But DeJong is an elite defensive shortstop, with his 8 Outs Above Average ranking in the 97th percentile, per Statcast.

An All-Star in 2019, DeJong hasn’t had an above-average offensive season since. But despite his below-average production this season overall, he’s put up strong numbers against left-handed pitching, which should help the Blue Jays lineup, even if he’s not a perfect platoon fit for their left-handed outfielders. DeJong has slashed .266/.368/.453 against lefties this season with a 129 wRC+, though only three of his 13 home runs have come off lefties.

As for what happened in the rest of the division, the Orioles added starter Jack Flaherty from the Cardinals, while the Rays added starter Aaron Civale from the Guardians. Neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees made a significant trade.

“It was an interesting market and an interesting year that way and that the AL East wasn’t quite as busy as it sometimes can be,” Atkins said. “I think it also speaks to how strong the teams are. If you look at each of them, it seems everyone was more focused on acquiring depth and protecting their ability to stay in the shape that they’re in.”

Akins said he thinks they’re “in a good spot” with the players they acquired, who all complement the roster in various ways. “We’ve continued to add depth and talent to the organization and are excited about where we are.”

The team also has reliever Chad Green returning from injury soon and Hyun Jin Ryu started on Tuesday after more than a year of recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The Blue Jays have added depth and reacted quickly to recent injury developments, but this deadline proved more so to be about adding finishing touches to a mostly complete roster that the front office believes is a championship contender. Now, they have two months left to show it.

(Top photo of DeJong: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

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