The deadine for clubs to decide whether or not to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players is Friday, which means that there is about to be an interesting bit of player movement taking place across the league. Earlier, in my Jays mailbag for VICE Sports, I looked at some of the Jays’ potential non-tender candidates. Now, let’s take a look at some non-tender candidates from other teams that might be fits for the Jays, should they suddenly find themselves free agents at the end of this week — or (perhaps more likely) who the Jays could consider trading for before the deadline hits.
We’ll do this by turning to the invaluable MLB Trade Rumors, where Steve Adams and Jeff Todd went through the list of arbitration eligible players for every team in the league and picked out the most likely non-tender candidates.
Here are some of the possible fits that show up on their list!
Evan Gattis, C/DH, Houston ($6.6M projected salary) – It’s maybe surprising to see Gattis on this list, but Houston’s MLB.com reporter Brian McTaggart suggests that his time behind the plate in Houston might be done, and that the Astros may indeed non-tender him or trade him because of his escalating price tag. He’s not a great defensive catcher, but for a Jays team in need of a backup and some versatility, there are some things to like here. Though he’s only got a .303 on-base for his career, by wRC+ he’s never been a below league-average hitter, posting a 105 mark in 2017, with 12 home runs in 325 plate appearances. He could provide cover at first base, DH, and (if you’re really desperate) in the outfield — and, maybe more importantly, he might look close enough to an everyday bat to allow Russell Martin to provide cover at second or third base. I’m not sure the Jays want to go that way, but if you’re paying almost $7 million, you need a little more than just a backup catcher.
Mike Fiers, RHSP, Houston ($5.7M projected salary) – Mike Fiers has been bad the last two seasons, and if the Jays are going to spend this much on someone trying to recapture his success of a couple years ago, maybe their own Tom Koehler — himself a non-tender candidate — is the way to go. But Fiers has had higher peaks than Koehler in his big league career, for sure. He posted a 3.1 fWAR in 2012, then was worth almost six wins combined from 2014 to 2016 (five per Baseball Reference). He’s been fairly durable, too, making 30, 30, and 28 starts over the last three years — which is usually going to be a case for a starter whose four seamer doesn’t quite average 90.
Brad Miller, Util, Tampa Bay ($4.4M projected salary) – Brad Miller was a tick below replacement in 2017, he strikes out too much, and his salary is a little high, but he definitely checks a bunch of boxes for the Jays. In his big league career he’s played nearly 1000 innings at second base, over 3000 at shortstop, over 300 at first base, over 250 in the outfield, as well as some time at third. He hasn’t been great at any of those positions, but he’s passable. He’s also a lefty hitter, a league average hitter for his career (100 wRC+), and posted a .327 on-base in 2017 (thanks to a great walk rate), and per FanGraphs compiled 6.2 WAR over four seasons from 2013 to 2016. If the Rays move on from the former second overall pick, the Jays would likely have interest.
Brock Holt, Util, Boston ($2.0M projected salary) – BROCK HOLT was an All-Star in 2015, and was worth 2.5 WAR that year, and 2.2 the year before, as a jack-of-all-trades for the Red Sox, but he’s struggled since, and Boston may not think he’s worth the roster spot at $2 million. He slashed just .200/.305/.243 this season, and has had trouble with injuries (concussion, vertigo), but wasn’t so spectacularly awful in 2016 — he was just run-of-the-mill bad. If his bat’s got anything worth left believe in, he’d certainly be an intriguing option for the Jays, though, as he’s played every position but pitcher and catcher over the last four seasons.
Sandy Leon, C, Boston ($2.1M projected salary) – Leon’s dumbly great 2015 season (125 wRC+) was like nothing in his track record, so I sure as hell wouldn’t want to believe he’ll ever repeat it. But he doesn’t necessarily have to in order to provide a club with some value as a backup catcher, DRS gives him good marks for his glove, and with a little upside in the bat — even if that big year was driven by a ridiculous .392 BABIP — maybe he’s worth looking into if he becomes available. Meh.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHRP, Milwaukee ($2.2M projected salary) – The former Blue Jay (he pitched 13 times for the club between 2013 and 2014) has had some good years since, but 2017 was not one of them. He struck out just 51 in 65.1 innings, posting a 4.68 ERA and walking 34. His 2016 wasn’t great either, despite the fact that he saved 27 games for the Brewers (before moving to Texas in the Jonathan Lucroy trade), and posted a 2.33 ERA on the year. But he still throws hard, and the price tag is cheap enough that a team like the Jays might have interest — even though there are a bunch of relievers who are already free agents.
Stephen Vogt, C, Milwaukee ($3.9M projected salary) – Vogt was an All-Star in 2015 and 2016, but things have gone downhill for him since he entered the 2016 All-Star break slashing .277/.320/.442. He’s not a terribly good defensive catcher, and maybe a better option for a club that was better equipped to use him at DH or first base on the days he isn’t catching, but his offence the little bit of versatility he has might be good enough to make taking a chance on him worthwhile, even at a little bit of a high price tag. Even in his poor 2017 (83 wRC+) there were some silver linings in his bat: namely his uncharacteristically low BABIP (which probably isn’t sustainable), and the fact that from the start of May through the end of August he actually posted a 109 wRC+, with awful months in April and September dragging his season numbers down.
Héctor Rondon, RHRP, Chicago (NL) ($6.2M projected salary) – Rondon is due to make a little too much (hence the possibility of the non-tendering), but could be an interesting pickup even at that price. Formerly the Cubs closer, Rondon was worth more than three WAR in total between 2014 and 2015, but over the last two seasons home runs have become a problem — and in 2017 his walk rate was a little high, too. But despite his ERA escalating from 1.67 in 2015 to 3.53 to 4.24 last year, there are things to like. Namely, he’s been durable, he still throws very hard (his fastball averaged 96.4 this year, up from 96.0 the year before), and he still can miss bats — his swinging strikeout rate has stayed steady throughout his career, and in 2017 he struck out 69 in 57.1 innings. Add in the fact that he came from the Cleveland organization (he moved to the Cubs via the Rule 5 draft in 2012) and maybe there’s some interest there. He’d certainly look pretty good among the Jays’ relief crew — but so would a number of FAs.
Justin Grimm, RHSP, Chicago (NL) ($2.4M projected salary) – Grimm isn’t as sexy a name as Rondon, but he also wouldn’t cost nearly as much. FanGraphs pegged him as worth 0.6 WAR for four straight seasons, from 2013 to 2016, and though he walks too many guys, and was plagued by the home run in 2017 (his HR/FB rate was an ugly 22.2%), he’s been durable (over 60 appearances in each of the last four years), a hard-thrower (94.9 this year), and still strikes ’em out (59 in 55.1 innings this year, and 65 in 52.2 the year before). His salary projection is less than what the club gave to Joe Smith and J.P. Howell last winter, so maybe it makes some sense.
Jordy Mercer, SS, Pittsburgh ($6.5M projected salary) – The Jays will probably be hoping to find a middle infielder who is either better or cheaper than Mercer, but they could do worse than bring him on. Mercer has produced 6.4 fWAR over his last five MLB seasons, including a 1.4 mark this year. His 88 wRC+ this year and last (and for his career) is unspectacular, but he can take a walk, is above average at avoiding strikeouts, generally has gotten good marks by the defensive metrics, and has produced an on-base of .328 and .326 in 2016 and ’17 respectively. If money was no object, I think you’d certainly take him over Ryan Goins, but with Goins looking at a projected salary of $1.8 million, I’m not sure that the Jays would do that — at least not in trade, where they’d go through the arbitration process with Mercer themselves. But if he were to be non-tendered and available as a free agent, and could be had for less than his $6.5 million projection? I could see it.
Matt Adams, 1B, Atlanta ($4.6M projected salary) – There’s no room for Adams to play first base or DH for the Blue Jays, so he wouldn’t exactly be an ideal fit, but you could perhaps put him in left field as a the lefty side of a horrific defensive platoon with Steve Pearce. Ezequiel Carrera is surely a better defender, but it’s not like he’s set the bar that high. Adams played just 129 innings in the outfield in 2017, and in that short time DRS said he cost his team five runs (UZR pegged him at -0.7), so it could be really, really bad (though we should keep in mind that’s an utterly meaningless sample). But Carrera’s DRS and UZR in 702 innings this year were -14 and -6.9, so… maybe? Adams would be a definite upgrade with the bat, posting a 112 wRC+ to Zeke’s 107 this year, and is not nearly the regression candidate that Carrera is. Zeke’s .358 BABIP probably isn’t sustainable, and his career wRC+ is 89 through 1,300 big league plate appearances, compared to a 111 mark for Adams — right in line with his 2017 — over 1,850 PA. For a $2.7 million difference in projected salary, maybe you consider it. A proper outfielder would probably be ideal though.