TORONTO – The Blue Jays wrapped up a nine-game homestand with a 7-4 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon and afterward, boarded a plane for the long flight to California's Bay Area.
It will be in Oakland, on Thursday night, where the club begins a 10-game, pre-All-Star Break road trip which will be a grind, both in terms of miles logged and quality of opponents.
After four with the Athletics, the Jays travel down the pacific coast for three with the Angels and then across the southern part of the continent, concluding with three against the Rays in St. Petersburg.
Then comes the Midsummer Classic in Minneapolis, where general manager Alex Anthopoulos expects trade discussions will begin to heat up.
“We still have a month. A lot can change,” said Anthopoulos. “We started out June 5-0 and obviously we did play well down the stretch. I think you reassess at the All-Star Break and this trip will be part of it. As long as you're in the hunt is probably an important way to look at it. Knock on wood; unless we go on a long streak where we don't win some games and our competition goes on a streak, as long as you're still within reach, then it's going to be a battle.”
The Blue Jays approach the break in a unique position, legitimate contenders for a playoff spot for the first time in a generation. The lineup is veteran laden, built to win now. Jose Bautista is 33 years old, turning 34 in October. Edwin Encarnacion 31 and so is Adam Lind. Yet, there's understandable hesitancy to part with pieces viewed as part of the future core, including star pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez, who's now toiling at Triple-A Buffalo.
Anthopoulos wades into unfamiliar territory but he approaches this deadline no different than those previous, willing to make any trade to improve his ballclub. There are no untouchables. He won't divulge priority areas so as to not create a competitive disadvantage in trade talks.
The bullpen and an additional infielder, be it a second or a third baseman (Brett Lawrie can play the other spot), should be points of emphasis.
He would be willing to acquire a third baseman.
“Let's say there's an all-star calibre player, a great player, there, I think we'd be open to doing that,” said Anthopoulos. “That makes the team better. But I don't want to make that a story. That's not the plan. We're not close to doing that. We're not actively pursuing that. Brett's our third baseman. He's got the positional flexibility to play all over the place.”
The starting rotation has been a pleasant surprise this season. Mark Buehrle's 10 wins and 2.50 ERA have led the way. J.A. Happ, with seven more effective innings on Wednesday, has solidified himself after missing the start of the year injured and returning out of the bullpen. Drew Hutchison has run hot and cold but is a promising young pitcher. Marcus Stroman has fit in well and R.A. Dickey is logging innings even though the results have been mixed.
The organization believes Sanchez, 23, has turned a corner with the Bisons after struggling for parts of this season with his command. He's changed his arm slot slightly, staying better on top of the ball as a result. Anthopoulos didn't deny Sanchez could contribute to the Blue Jays down the stretch.
“To me, if he can do it again, I'm convinced that they got him right on track and he'll be ready if we have a need,” said Anthopoulos.
HOFFMAN AND PENTECOST SIGN
The Blue Jays locked in their two first-round picks from last month's amateur draft.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed that Jeff Hoffman (ninth overall), a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher out of East Carolina University and Max Pentecost (11th overall), a 21-year-old catcher who attended Kennesaw State University, signed for their bonus slot.
Hoffman cashes in slightly more than $3-million; Pentecost comes in just shy of $2.9-million.
Hoffman underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in May. It's club policy that no pitcher appear in a competitive game until at least one year after the procedure was completed. Hoffman is in Florida, in the early stages of his rehabilitation.
Pentecost is in Dunedin, getting back into baseball shape after his college season ended about a month ago. Pentecost is waiting for his passport and when it arrives, he'll report to the Blue Jays' short season affiliate in Vancouver.