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After striking out on Shohei Ohtani, where do the Blue Jays go from here?
By Evan Stack2 months ago
The saga that was the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes has come to an end, as the Los Angeles Dodgers prevailed over multiple (reported) suitors, including the Toronto Blue Jays. A free agency decision that was nearly baseball’s version of LeBron James’ “The Decision” in 2010, this fiasco included prioritizing being as quiet as possible only to culminate in the loudest contract in MLB history.
Now that it’s over, Ross Atkins has to turn the page and his attention to bettering the current Blue Jays roster. However, with a free agent class lacking franchise-altering talent, where can he go from here? Regardless of who it is, you can look at this with a half-full glass and know that none of the names below will cost $700 million over 10 years.
The Designated Hitter
Part of Toronto’s underwhelming 2023 season was their lack of power, directing many fans’ attention to trading away Teoscar Hernandez during the previous offseason. This is the most apparent pivot that Ross Atkins can make here, as obtaining a power threat is what the Blue Jays need at the very least.
Let’s start with Jorge Soler, the well-traveled DH who was a part of the 2021 Atlanta Braves World Series run. Soler is coming off a season in which he slashed .250./.341/.512 with an .853 SLG, 36 home runs, and 75 RBIs. Soler may have been overshadowed by Luis Arraez in Miami’s lineup last season due to Arraez’s batting average, but Soler was by far their best source of power. If Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can return to the 30-home-run per season range, Soler is an outstanding complement and protective piece for the top of Toronto’s lineup.
Although 36 years old, J.D. Martinez hit 33 home runs and 103 RBIs last season with the Dodgers (those two numbers would’ve led the 2023 Blue Jays in those respective categories). It was his lone stint with the Dodgers and he was only due $10 million, so I could very well see Toronto tossing another Brandon Belt-like contract to Martinez in this situation.
Some have forgotten about Rhys Hoskins, who missed the entirety of the 2023 season with a torn ACL. Hoskins enters his first bout with free agency just two years removed from a 30-home runs season, and he’s hit less than 27 home runs only twice across his six MLB seasons.
Other potential additions: Adam Duvall, Mitch Garver
The reclamation projects
Following Ohtani, Cody Bellinger was near the top of the notable free agents list. Bellinger may not count as a “reclamation project,” as he was far better in 2023 with the Cubs than he was for his last three years with the Dodgers. However, there is no guarantee that he will return to his 2019 MVP form. Furthermore, given a lot of teams struck out on the Ohtani and Juan Soto sweepstakes, Bellinger’s price tag will presumably be going up.
This is certainly no slight to Bellinger; it’s just the way free agency works with an interesting player like himself. Last season, he posted a .307/.356/.525 slash line with an .881 OPS, 26 home runs and 97 RBIs. It was recently reported that Bellinger is looking for $250 million this offseason. He passed the prove-it test with the Cubs – was that enough to earn the target contract he is looking for?
Tim Anderson was a name that floated around Toronto’s mid-season trade deadline options last year. Last season was easily Anderson’s worst of his career, batting .245 with a minuscule .582 OPS and only one home run. However, Anderson has a recent track record of success, posting batting averages over .300 in each season from 2019 through 2022, including the .335 batting average he accumulated in 2019.
Anderson has stated that he is willing to play second base or shortstop, so that shores up any interfering with Bo Bichette. The Blue Jays do have several options at second base, but bringing in Anderson could make way for a trade with one of those guys.
The old friends
Could we see a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez reunion? It’s not the most outrageous take ever.
There’s an opportunity for the Hernandez-Erik Swanson trade to come full circle if Toronto brings him back, and it would certainly be good for the clubhouse energy as Hernandez was an evidently beloved member of the Blue Jays team. During his lone season in Seattle, Hernandez slashed .258/.305/.435 with a .741 OPS, 26 home runs, and 93 RBIs. It’s going to be hard to look past the 3rd-most strikeouts in the MLB last season (211), but a return to Toronto would be an easy sell to Hernandez and his team.
It was a season to remember for Gurriel Jr. in his lone season in Arizona. Gurriel was named an All-Star for the first time in his career, and he was fortunate enough to play in last year’s World Series. For the regular season, Gurriel posted a .261/.309/.463 slash line with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs, also sandwiching a rough June and July with a scorching hot May and a solid August and September. Like Hernandez, you’re talking about another clubhouse member with a lot of positive energy who clearly enjoyed his time in Toronto.
A lot of fans were okay with watching these two depart, chalking up their positive energy to “antics” per se. But ask yourselves, if they didn’t play in Toronto earlier in their careers but were still free agents now, would you be interested in signing them?
The international route
The Blue Jays don’t necessarily need a starting pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped multiple reports from coming out about Toronto being in the mix for Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Last season, Yamamoto posted a 17-6 record with a 1.21 ERA and 176 strikeouts across 24 starts for the Orix Buffaloes. He also pitched in two games during the World Baseball Classic, striking out 12 batters across 7.1 innings. The Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers are also rumored to be in the hunt to sign Yamamoto.
Again, Toronto doesn’t need to add starting pitching, but would Yamamoto make them better? Yes.
Jung Hoo Lee was posted by the MLB last week. Lee has posted incredible numbers across seven seasons in the KBO, finishing his stint there with a .340/.407/.491 slash line. While the power isn’t his best attribute, the batting average and OBP% speak for themselves.
The Blue Jays have reportedly been close to singing Ha-Seong Kim and Masataka Yoshida in recent seasons, so it would be no surprise if the Blue Jays were checking in on these big name KBO/JPL free agents.
The trade targets
With a free agent class like this one, the trade market may be the way to go. Toronto has a surplus in their pitching department as well as second basemen, so I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if they use that to their advantage.
Names such as Jorge Polanco and Brandon Drury have been tossed around as potential acquisitions, but the Blue Jays might even try to go bigger than that. The White Sox are reportedly willing to trade anyone, so why not Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert Jr.? Perhaps the Blue Jays make a deal that the Angels can’t refuse for Mike Trout (I know they’ve stated that they won’t trade Trout, but a man can dream). I think Isaac Paredes would be a good option at third base too; coming off a 31 home run season, he checks the power department and third base vacancy boxes.
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