If the Toronto Blue Jays are going to make a big splash this offseason, it seems unlikely that free agency will provide the opportunity
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The Toronto Blue Jays are poised to build on the (relative) success of 2020. Recently, club President, Mark Shapiro, gave some insight into what that might look like. He highlighted the need for improvement on defense and strike throwing. He also says that there will be resources available to go after players who meet those requirements. But, given the free agent outlook, impactful additions may need to come via trade.
If we look at MLBTR‘s list of free agents – which is based on the current landscape and could change a bit given non-tenders, contract options being picked up, etc – there isn’t much to be found in the way of significant upgrades.
For example, infield defense has some interesting names, but one has to wonder if they provide any interest for Toronto. Take Andrelton Simmons. He has established a name for himself as a premier defensive shortstop. His glove alone may have given people the feeling they could move Bo Bichette off his position. However, after multiple seasons with a 12+ OAA rating, he saw that drop dramatically in 2020 (-1 OAA). Now, he did suffer a sprained ankle (not his first time) and then opted out of the season with 5 games remaining, so perhaps his defensive numbers are just a blip.
The real issue lies in his offensive numbers. He has some ability to hit and get on base, but has little power to speak of. And, according to Statcast, he is near the bottom (Barrel %, xwOBA) and top (K%, Whiff %) of the league in the wrong categories. He might be one of the top defensive options, but for Toronto to pursue him, they would have to feel very confident in the offense they have and/or feel that Simmons’ 2020 defensive numbers are an outlier.
After Simmons, the defensive options available via free agency don’t exactly inspire. The Blue Jays need a third base option, but the Tommy La Stella, Brad Miller types can’t be seen as impactful. Sure, D.J. LeMahieu is on the list, but for how long? Will the Yankees just let him walk after he’s meant so much to their offense? It seems unlikely. So, if Toronto is looking to upgrade its infield, free agency may not provide enough options.
As for the outfield, one has to imagine that Lourdes Gurriel Jr.and Teoscar Hernandez have the corner positions locked up, even though Hernandez is a work in progress and has seen time in CF. Randal Grichuk is the ‘for now’ option in CF, but he shouldn’t be seen as the best option available to them moving forward. Whether Austin Martin fills that role in a couple years remains to be seen, but for right now, an outfield upgrade should be considered.
The problem is that no one really jumps out at you from the free agent list. Well, that is not entirely true. George Springer is tentatively on the list and would represent a meaningful upgrade, certainly on the offensive side of things. His defense is solid enough at CF (1 OAA in 2020 and 3 in 2019), but does not represent a major improvement on Grichuk’s -1 OAA in 2020 and 2 OAA in 2019. Again, if Toronto feels confident in their offense as is, it is difficult to imagine them paying top dollar for someone who is 31 years old and not much of an upgrade over the in house options.
Given that Grichuk is really more of a corner outfielder, it doesn’t make sense for Toronto to consider pursuing a Joc Pederson or a Marcell Ozuna. Sure, they’re big names and would bring offense, but if defense is the priority, spending big money on these guys seems wasteful and, if we know one thing about Toronto’s front office, we know they are not wasteful.
Shapiro’s comments are interesting in that he has set expectations for some interesting additions this offseason, which is exciting. Sure, there is the backdrop of an unknown economic situation in MLB due to Covid. In fact, there is lots of unknown to be found. We don’t even know if the Blue Jays will be able to play in Toronto in 2021. But, wherever they play, it feels very much like they will have an improved roster as Shapiro expects to have an offseason like he did a year ago.
How they go about improving said roster is anyone’s guess. But, looking at the current list of free agents, it is difficult to imagine that the resources that Shapiro says will be available will be spent in that manner. Instead, it seems far more likely that a significant upgrade can be found via trade and for the first time in Shapiro’s tenure, we could see Toronto take a deeper dive into their well stocked prospect pool.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.