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Blue Jays’ infield surplus emerging as likely trade route following Isiah Kiner-Falefa signing
By Thomas Hall1 month ago
Things are finally beginning to materialize for the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season.
After coming up short regarding their reported pursuits of then-free agents Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Blue Jays have made a pair of run prevention-related signings in consecutive days, re-acquiring centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier and adding super utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa in free agency.
It has been quite the swing in direction, going from big-game hunting with Ohtani and Yamamoto, expressing significant interest in slugger Cody Bellinger, to landing Kiermaier and Kiner-Falefa – two players unlikely to provide meaningful offensive value in 2024. But, of course, these are undoubtedly only two pieces of the puzzle.
Luckily, spring training doesn’t open for another 57 days. That gives the Blue Jays plenty of time to fill out the remainder of their roster, but after further enhancing their run prevention – a path that was surely a surprise for most – the next logical choice would be to focus strictly on run producing, the club’s most pressing need.
One route, and likely the most headline-worthy, Toronto’s front office could take is signing Bellinger to a lucrative deal, a contract that could reach or even exceed $200 million. But now that Kiermaier’s return is confirmed, that outcome makes considerably less sense, as the fit isn’t as ideal as it once was.
Amidst this year’s thin free-agent market for position players, the trade market may be a more dependable resource to acquire an impact bat, especially since the current class of designated hitters appears a tad overly expensive. And with IKF now in the fold, the Blue Jays suddenly have a surplus of infielders – both in the majors and within their farm system.
At the big-league level, there are options like Davis Schneider, Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal, plus Ernie Clement and Otto Lopez – both of whom are out of minor-league options. Then, at triple-A Buffalo, you have a wave of prospects that includes Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, Leo Jimenez and Damiano Palmegiani.
Of that group, Espinal – who’s due a projected $2.5 million in arbitration next year and features three seasons of club control remaining – is likely among the most, if not the most, expendable following Kiner-Falefa’s arrival.
The Blue Jays don’t have to trade Espinal, who has a pair of minor-league options left, although his rising cost via arbitration could make him a necessary trade chip. As such, management has explored his market with interested suitors this winter, a source with knowledge of the situation said, which began before Kiner-Falefa came into the picture.
Given Kiner-Falefa’s defensive versatility, trade talks surrounding Espinal appear likely to continue as the off-season progresses, making it unlikely that the 29-year-old infielder will remain with the team when players report for spring training next February.
Espinal’s value, even with three seasons of club control and two MiLB options, is undoubtedly diminished from his 2022 performance – which included his first career All-Star selection – as he was worth just 0.1 fWAR in 93 games a season ago. Even so, numerous money-strapped teams appear to be seeking cost-effective position players this winter, potentially positioning him as an appealing trade target.
There probably wouldn’t be much value in trading the 5-foot-10 righty by himself, and understandably so. But packaging him alongside another controllable player, say, Martinez, Barger, Jimenez, Lopez, Palmegiani or Spencer Horwitz, or perhaps some combination involving two of those six, could be a viable path to acquiring a middle-of-the-order threat.
Another factor to consider is the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, which, once the Kiermaier and Kiner-Falefa signings become official, will rise to 39 players and possess just a single vacancy. A few moves will likely need to transpire to clear for future additions. Trading Palmegiani would be the lone exception, as he isn’t Rule-5 eligible until next off-season.
Toronto has more than sufficient defensive versatility to support its run prevention. Now comes the difficult task of locating the remaining pieces that’ll fit within the club’s revamped 2024 lineup, a unit that, in all likelihood, won’t include Espinal.
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