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Daily Duce: A major domino falls as the Winter Meetings get underway

Daily??!?!?!?!

Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings are here! You know what teat means? It’s time to drink exactly one beer and not sign any starting pitchers.

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Things got started with a bang as the Washington Nationals re-signed World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg to a record-setting deal worth a whopping $245 million.

This was a difficult one to predict given that the Nats had both Strasburg and Anthony Rendon out there as free agents. I think most figured they would open up their wallets to bring back Rendon, given that there’s less risk associated with throwing big cash at a position player than a pitcher, but good on them for taking the risk on Strasburg, especially after what he did for them in the playoffs.

Anyways, what does this mean for the Blue Jays? Well, this sets the tone for the rest of the off-season. Strasburg is the first major domino to fall, so things are going to start to heat up now.

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The Dodgers, Angels, and Yankees are the three teams who have been aggressively in on both Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They all have a butt-load of cash and they all want to add a big arm. The Nationals re-signing Strasburg is a bit of a curveball to the whole situation, as it means only one of those teams will end up with their coveted elite arm and then the two who missed out will have to look to the second tier for another option.

So if Cole ends up signing with the Angels, the Yankees and Dodgers will have to pivot and look elsewhere. That makes Hyun-Jin Ryu, a quality name the Jays have been linked to, much less accessible for the Jays, who seem to be allergic to bidding in free agency. If the Dodgers miss out on Cole, I would imagine they just end up keeping Ryu around (as they’ve already expressed interest, but won’t do until Cole and Strasburg are off the table), while the Yankees then push for names like Madison Bumgarner (who’s seeking nine figures!) and Dallas Keuchel.

So, in other words, it might be time to pre-order your Wade Miley Blue Jays jersey.

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Moving away from the pitching market, apparently, the Jays are the “front-runner” to sign Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. By front-runner, this Spanish-based Japanese baseball website references an article by Jon Heyman claiming that Toronto makes the most sense for the 28-year-old to land.

This addition makes quite a bit sense as the Jays seek to add a big lefty bat to the middle of their lineup. Beyond being a powerful slugger (he smacked 29 homers and posted an .899 OPS in what was a down season for him last year), Tsutsugo plays both first base, third base, and left field. We know that the Blue Jays front office is keen on the idea of players having positional versatility, so this kind of addition seems more likely than, say, Edwin Encarnacion, who’s only really a DH at this point.

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Adding Tsutsugo might also put the Jays in a position to deal a guy like Lourdes Gurriel for a pitcher if they do end up missing out on anybody worthwhile in free agency.

Another interesting thing to keep in mind as the Winter Meetings get rolling is the volume of teams out there who need to dump salary. We’ve talked at length about how the Jays could add a good position player in free agency and trade a younger position player in order to acquire a good young pitcher, but we haven’t talked much about the Jays buying talent by taking on terrible contracts. That might be one of the best ways to flex their financial muscle this winter.

Ken Rosenthal did an interesting piece in The Athletic in which he pointed out which directions he believed multiple key teams will go this off-season.

  • The Red Sox creating payroll flexibility by attaching a young player such as outfielder Andrew Benintendi to a high-priced pitcher such as David Price or Nathan Eovaldi (neither of whom has a no-trade clause).
  • The Yankees clearing the $17 million they owe J.A. Happ in 2020 by enabling a trade partner to effectively buy one or two of their prospects.
  • How they will do it, I’m not sure. Bryant is under club control for two more seasons — one if he wins his service-time grievance — and MLBTradeRumors.com projects his 2020 salary in arbitration to be $18.5 million. Catcher Willson Contreras might be easier to move with three years of control remaining and a projected 2020 salary of $4.5 million. In any case, a big move or two seems inevitable. The Cubs were one of three teams to exceed the $206 million luxury tax threshold last season and already are $6 million above the $208 million threshold for 2020, according to rosterresource.com.

Both Price and Happ are familiar names in Toronto.

Price is obviously a much, muuuuuuch bigger investment to take off of Boston’s hands, but, if it results in acquiring a talent like Andrew Benintendi, it’s certainly worthwhile. Price might not be the ace that he used to be, and his price tag of $32 million annually for three more years is big, but he would still have value as a veteran on this staff. I wrote about this a little while ago and still actually quite like the idea of a Price/Blue Jays reunion. 

The idea of getting Happ back isn’t quite as exciting, but it fulfills the same function. Happ had an ugly year in New York and has one more season left on his deal. He would be a decent veteran add to the rotation and the Jays could buy a couple of decent, middling prospects by taking on his salary. But do they want to help New York open up even more cash to sign Gerrit Cole? Seems like a bad long-term move.

Then there’s the Cubs, who, after finally winning the World Series for the first time in a billion years, have gone back to being, well, the Cubs. Kris Bryant isn’t far from reaching free agency, and given the way Chicago dicked him around with the service time manipulation (maybe get Vlad signed long-term now, guys!) he won’t be giving the organization any kind of home-town discount. Would taking on Yu Darvish’s contract net the Jays something worthwhile from the Cubs? It’s basically the same idea as Price, though more realistic as it isn’t in the division.