Daily Duce: The Blue Jays sign Cole, Shafer traded for cash, an update on the catching market, Jose Bautista, and more!


The Blue Jays made their first free agent splash of the off-season, inking A.J. Cole, who isn’t Gerrit Cole, to a minor-league deal. Seeing the update come in from the At Bat app saying Blue Jays and free agent and Cole all at once nearly made my heart stop, but, unfortunately (and predictably) it wasn’t Gerrit taking his talents north of the border.

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Anyways, A.J. Cole is an interesting low-key addition for the Jays. He’s racked up a lot of airmiles during his career so far. Cole was drafted by the Nationals in 2010, and, a year later, he was sent to Oakland as a part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. A couple years after that, he was sent back to the Nationals in a three-team trade involving Blake Treinen, John Jaso, and Mike Morse. He bounced up and down from the Nationals to their minor-league teams between 2015 2018 before getting sent to the Yankees for cash. After one season in New York, he was claimed off waivers by Cleveland.

Over the course of 26 innings with Cleveland in 2019, Cole posted a solid 3.81 ERA. His peripherals were also strong, as he struck out 10.4 batters while walking 2.4 batters per nine.

Cole will have a legitimate opportunity to crack Toronto’s completely random bullpen this spring. Given where the team is at, I really can’t see the Jays opting to sign a major free agent reliever, so finding a possible low-key gem like Cole on a minor-league deal this early is nice work. Mark Shapiro’s front office has done a good job finding these types of relievers, like Daniel Hudson, Joe Smith, and Seung-hwan Oh, in the past.

Assuming Ken Giles isn’t dealt before the start of the season, the Jays will have Cole, Derek Law, Jason Adam, Anthony Bass, Wilmer Font, and Jordan Romano in the mix for the bullpen, along with younger names like Sean Reid-Foley and Hector Perez, who could potentially be converted into relievers.

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In a somewhat subsequent move, the Jays sent Justin Shafer to the Reds in exchange for cash. Shafer had put up some really good numbers in the minors and showed some nice flashes at the Major League level, but he was never able to establish himself as a consistent bullpen option for the Jays. Ultimately, you can kind of view this as a Shafer for Cole swap. Both pitchers are a similar age, have some upside, but neither has established themselves yet.

Toronto has so many pitching options, including veterans already on the 40-man, starters who might not be able to hack it, and other quality relievers in Triple- and Double-A who might clear through the Rule 5 draft, that letting go of Shafer isn’t the end of the world. Hopefully he can catch on and make it work in Cincinnati.

You can cross another big name off of your Blue Jays off-season wish list. Early on, the Jays were linked to Yasmani Grandal, who made himself the best catcher on the free-agent market after a very good one-year, show-me stint with the Milwaukee Brewers. The logic with Grandal was that the Jays could look to add him to be their quality, veteran catcher, much akin to what Russell Martin was when he was signed in 2015, subsequently opening up one or more of the organization’s young catchers to be dealt for pitching help.

Well, Grandal ended up signing a four-year deal worth $73 million (or $18.25 annually) with the Chicago White Sox. Elsewhere, Alex Anthopolous continued his aggressive off-season, signing Travis d’Arnaud, a name he’s certainly familiar with as he was part of the return in the Roy Halladay trade, to a two-year deal worth $16 million. d’Arnaud was released by the Mets in May, played one game with the Dodgers, then got flipped to Tampa Bay for cash. With the Rays, d’Arnaud would manage to rebuild his career, posting a .782 OPS in 92 games.

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Why does this matter? The catcher market is slowly starting to settle, so we’re getting an idea of where the Jays could possibly ship one of their young backstops, if they decide to go that route. Grandal and d’Arnaud, two of the top options available, have already been signed, so the options left out there are Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, and Francisco Cirvelli.

Who needs a catcher? The Rays just lost d’Arnaud, so they could be looking for somebody young and cheap to split time with Mike Zunino. Milwaukee is another obvious one, as they chose not to pony up the cash to keep Grandal around after his big season. The Rockies and Angels were among the worst teams in baseball last year when it came to wins above replacement from catchers, so they could both be options, too.

Of course, the Jays first need to sign a veteran catcher before finding a deal with one of these teams. Signing a veteran like Castro or Chirinos and dealing one of Danny Jansen or Reese McGuire to acquire a starting pitcher wouldn’t be a bad play.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Ken Giles this off-season. It’s a topic that’s been beaten to death at this point, but, as of right now, Giles is pencilled in to be Toronto’s closer again in 2020. Given how bad the team was last year, it’s easy to forget just how good Giles was, but Major League Baseball noticed, and Giles has been named an All-Team nominee. You can click the above link to go and vote for him.

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Finally, we have this from Blue Jays Legend Jose Bautista. Despite not playing at all in 2019, the 39-year-old Joe Bats hasn’t considered retiring yet. He bounced around three different teams, Atlanta, the Mets, and Philly, in 2018 and wasn’t great, so, given his age, it’s hard to imagine Bautista getting another crack at the Major League level. I wonder if he’ll end up in a role with the Blue Jays in any capacity.