As Blue Jays and Mariners move in different directions, could they match up as trade partners?

SEATTLE — Even if the Toronto Blue Jays’ record isn’t where they wanted with July underway, the club still looks forward to the trip to Seattle.

It’s become an annual tradition for scores of Western Canadian Blue Jays fans to travel south to Seattle to take in the Blue Jays-Mariners series each season. The Northern invasion largely takes over the city, with the streets around T-Mobile Park streaming with fans clad in Blue Jays gear and duelling Blue Jays and Mariners cheers ringing through the stadium during the game.

“The gates open at 5 and it’s cool to see everyone run down,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “We love the fans that travel and support us, regardless of where we are in the standings. This is always a cool weekend.”

However, outside of a spectacular, catch-of-the-year candidate from Daulton Varsho in the first inning, the Blue Jays didn’t give their travelling fans much to cheer about Friday as they fell 2-1 to the Mariners. Toronto has lost six of its last 10 games and sits a season-high 10 games below .500 as its season slips away.

It was a pitching matchup featuring Kevin Gausman and Luis Castillo. Both pitched well, but Castillo edged Gausman, holding the Blue Jays hitless through 5 1/3 innings until a solo home run from Kevin Kiermaier in the sixth inning. That was the only run Castillo would allow, however, as he held the Blue Jays to two hits in 6 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and two walks. Gausman pitched six innings with two runs, six hits, 10 strikeouts and two walks.

“These guys pitch,” Schneider said after the game. “They’re up there with the best arms in the league. There weren’t many opportunities. Castillo was really good, their bullpen is really good, and they didn’t really give us much room to work with.”

For this series every season, Seattle feels a little like home for the Blue Jays — but it’s also worth wondering if, in a month, a few Blue Jays players could be calling Seattle their new home.

With the Blue Jays 9 1/2 games back of an American League wild-card spot, they’re careening toward their inevitable seller status at this month’s trade deadline. The Mariners, meanwhile, are trying to hold off the suddenly surging Houston Astros, who just won three of four games against the Blue Jays.

While the rest of the American League West teams struggled out of the gate, the Mariners took advantage and built a lead at the top of the division. As recent as June 18, they led the West by 10 games. But since then, the Mariners have hit a slump and gone 5-10. It was enough of a lull that the Astros closed the gap to two games separating the clubs.

In that way, the Mariners may be looking to acquire reinforcements by July 30 to hold off the Astros and win their first division title since 2001. And perhaps the Blue Jays could be a club they call.

Like the Blue Jays, the Mariners have struggled to consistently score runs. After Friday’s win, they sit 27th in runs scored — just behind the 26th-ranked Blue Jays — and have a 28th-ranked team OPS of .659. Needless to say, Seattle could use a bat or two.

Of the Blue Jays who are pending free agents, perhaps Justin Turner could be a fit. The designated hitter is expected to return to the Blue Jays on Saturday, following his three-day paternity leave during which he and his wife welcomed a baby boy.

Following a dreadful May — during which he came down with an illness and hit just .111 with two extra-base hits — Turner has again resumed hitting. He batted .333 with a .914 OPS in June, and his season slash line is a respectable .250/.359/.375 with five home runs and a 115 wRC+. Turner could give the Mariners a middle-of-the-order bat and, importantly, someone who has experience playing in meaningful games in September and October.

Catcher Danny Jansen is also a free agent after the season and could be an appealing power bat for a team like the Mariners. He slumped in June with a .402 OPS, but Jansen has established himself as a legitimate power threat, and damage-inducing swings are needed in big games in September and October.

On the pitching front, a team making a playoff push always needs more relievers, and the Mariners bullpen is no different. While Seattle has reliable arms in Andrés Muñoz, Ryne Stanek and former Blue Jays Trent Thornton and Tayler Saucedo, it could always use another late-inning arm to make the bullpen the shutdown unit it has previously been.

Before Yimi García went on the 15-day injured list for right elbow ulnar neuritis, he was having an outstanding season, pitching to a 2.57 ERA in 28 innings with 37 strikeouts.

García is nearing his return and is scheduled to make his first rehab appearance with Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday, according to the Blue Jays manager. Depending on how the outing goes, García may or may not need another tuneup before he’s ready to pitch in the majors again, but his return is nearing.

That’s a good thing if the Blue Jays want to trade him since opposing clubs would likely want assurance that his injury is behind him and he can resume the career year he was having.

While they’ve developed an on-field rivalry in recent seasons, the Blue Jays’ and Mariners’ front offices have combined on trades in recent years — most notably Teoscar Hernández for Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko before the 2023 season.

That trade addressed a need for both teams at the time of the exchange (and Macko may well prove to be a major-league piece). But if the Blue Jays were to move some of their players now, it might be useful to try to replenish a farm system that ranked in the bottom third of MLB before the start of the season.

The Mariners would be a good club to try to trade with if that’s a priority. Before the season, the Mariners ranked as the No. 16 farm system, but young talent has made significant gains during the first half of the minor-league season. Enough that they have five players ranked in The Athletic’s Keith Law’s midseason top 50 MLB prospects — the most of any club.

With the two teams seemingly going in different directions this season, Seattle and Toronto could match up well as trade partners. And at least if Blue Jays players do get dealt to Seattle, it’s a place they’ve been welcomed warmly before.

(Photo of Seattle’s Ty France blowing a bubble while forcing out Toronto’s Ernie Clement on Friday: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

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