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Five trade chips the Blue Jays could use to address position player holes on their roster
By Thomas Hall3 months ago
Amid another pivotal off-season, the trade market could become a valuable tool for the Toronto Blue Jays, as the front office aims to acquire multiple position players this winter to beef up a lineup that underperformed significantly in 2023.
This year’s underwhelming class of free-agent position players has already been well-documented. There is Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger, and then way, way, way below them, you’ll find everyone else. So unless you’re willing to shell out a lucrative contract to either of those two, it’ll mean sharing the wealth across multiple platoon-level players rather than splurging on one marque bat.
Some may be intrigued by that approach, while others could strongly oppose it. Regardless of your stance, Toronto’s marque off-season splash might transpire via trade, repeating a trend from last winter.
The farm system isn’t nearly as stocked as it was 12 months ago, and management doesn’t possess a surplus of catchers this time or a pair of outfielders (Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.) with one year of team control remaining on the roster. Even so, the organization still features valuable assets that could draw plenty of interest if made available.
Top prospect Ricky Tiedemann is the Blue Jays’ most obvious – and by far most valuable – trade chip. But assuming the 21-year-old is off-limits, let’s explore five players that, if dealt, could net an impact position player in return.
The Alek Manoah trade rumours likely won’t dissipate anytime soon, and for good reason.
Following a tumultuous 2023 campaign, which ended in controversy after the 25-year-old reportedly disagreed with his second minor-league demotion, many throughout the industry believe a trade could benefit both parties this winter. But is that the correct call?
It is impossible to determine fact from fiction on the true story behind Manoah’s fall from grace, at least for those outside the Blue Jays organization, making it difficult to decide how matters should proceed over the off-season. Plus, it’s not like GM Ross Atkins would be operating from a position of strength if he explored potential trade scenarios.
Atkins put on his boxing promoter hat at the GM Meetings in Arizona last week, saying the 2022 AL Cy Young finalist already has “a strong leg up” on the club’s vacant starting rotation spot for next season. But most of that was likely the usual posturing we hear from executives during this part of the calendar.
In all likelihood, Manoah will have to earn that No. 5 gig in Toronto’s rotation while competing against fellow arms like Bowden Francis, Mitch White, Wes Parsons, an external addition and possibly Tiedemann next spring.
That is, of course, if the 2022 All-Star remains with the franchise through this winter.
But as FanSided’s Robert Murray recently described on The Baseball Insiders podcast, Manoah is a “prime change-of-scenery candidate” and could be a match with the St. Louis Cardinals, who could part with one of their talented outfielders for a front-line starter.
Beyond last season’s prolonged struggles, there’s still a fair amount of upside attached to Manoah, who’s under club control through 2027 and has two minor-league options remaining – two leverage points that could prove beneficial for a team that acquires him if his struggles return in 2024.
Next up is his track record in the majors. He was a two-win pitcher per FanGraphs as a rookie in 2021 and worth slightly above four wins the following season. There were several red flags regarding his ability to repeat that level of success this past season, but none of them suggested he’d fall below replacement level in his third big-league campaign.
It’d be shocking if the Blue Jays traded Manoah this winter, especially considering the skyrocketing prices for free-agent pitchers. One element to consider, though, will likely be how repairable his relationship is with the front office.
It feels like eons ago that Pearson – not unlike Manoah – was being groomed as a future front-of-the-rotation starter by the Blue Jays. But after failing to deliver on that expectation, largely due to repeated injuries, the 27-year-old has developed into a hard-throwing reliever who showed promise of being trustworthy in high-leverage situations last season.
Nevertheless, if Toronto’s front office intends to explore his trade value, now is the time to pull the trigger.
Pearson, a free agent after the 2026 season, will have just one option remaining at the start of next season. So if he’s assigned to the minors at any point in 2024, he’ll be left with none in future seasons, making him subject to waivers if removed from the big leagues.
Flexibility is pretty much its own currency in professional sports. Thus, with Pearson entering what’ll likely be his final optionable year, his value will continue to diminish the longer he remains on the outside of a major-league roster. At the moment, he doesn’t exactly have a clear path to breaking camp with the Blue Jays next spring.
White, who’s out of options, must occupy either the club’s No. 5 rotation spot or eighth reliever position to remain with the organization. Furthermore, with Jordan Hicks unlikely to return, management will likely aim to add another back-end arm to its trio of Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza.
Where does that leave Pearson, you ask? Probably at triple-A Buffalo. And that’s where we find another vital aspect of this equation, as Hagen Danner (also one option remaining) and Connor Cooke (Rule 5 eligible next winter) could each make considerable impacts at the big-league level in 2024.
The stuff is electric for Pearson – who led all qualified Blue Jays pitchers (min. 20 innings) in Stuff+ at 127 this past season but finished last in Location+ (93) – although his development would be better served in an environment with more room for growth.
Now here’s where a few of Toronto’s top position player prospects could come into play, beginning with Jimenez.
The 22-year-old infielder broke out in 2021, hitting .315/.517/.381 with a 1.46 BB/K ratio and 168 wRC+ across 54 games at single-A Dunedin, prompting the organization to protect him from that winter’s Rule 5 draft. Since then, though, they’ve used up two of his three options and will undoubtedly spend his final one next season.
Given Toronto’s positional need at second base, Jimenez – who finished the 2023 campaign at triple-A – could make his long-awaited MLB debut at some point next season. But if he does, it’ll likely happen because of his big-league calibre defence up the middle.
Jimenez could provide quality fielding at shortstop and second base. But he’d likely struggle against the sport’s top arms, and his elite strike-zone knowledge could also take a hit without the assistance of an ABS system or having the ability to challenge – an obstacle Davis Schneider struggled with upon his arrival.
For a young infielder who’ll be out of options in 2025, it’d be wise to maximize his current value this winter, especially considering the contact-oriented hitter blasted a career-high eight home runs last season, suggesting he may just be starting to tap into his power stroke.
There might not be another hitter in the Blue Jays’ prospect system that enjoyed a better performance than Palmegiani in 2023, raising his stock to an all-time high.
The 23-year-old hit for contact and power across two levels (double-A, triple-A) while maintaining a double-digit walk rate in New Hampshire and Buffalo. He combined for 23 home runs, the second-most in the organization’s minor-league levels behind Orelvis Martinez’s 28. And he added another six in 22 games this fall en route to an AFL championship.
Speaking of Palmegiani’s tenure with the Surprise Saguaros, he also made a fantastic diving grab at third base in the championship game, denying a run-scoring, extra-base hit with his glove.
That play, of course, has caused several Blue Jays fans to fantasize about Palmegiani’s future at the hot corner with Matt Chapman now a free agent. While the 2023 Fall-Star has already logged many highlight-reel plays in his young career, he also committed 13 errors in almost 600 innings at double-A in 2023, suggesting his defence requires additional seasoning in the minors.
Long-term, a move to first base could eventually be in the cards, but that’s probably a discussion to be tabled for later. Considering he won’t be Rule 5 eligible until next winter, he’d hold immense trade value for a team looking to reset its infield corps with a power-hitting righty.
Unlike Jimenez or Palmegiani, the Blue Jays likely won’t be as inclined to include Martinez in trade discussions this off-season, which would adhere to the front office’s previous approach. But never say never.
With two options remaining, the conservative strategy would be to have the 21-year-old return to triple-A in 2024, where he could continue his development – particularly at second base – and strive to force his way up to the majors throughout the summer.
What if that doesn’t happen, though? What if, instead, Toronto approached San Diego about a Juan Soto or Manny Machado trade, using Martinez as one of the centrepieces? It’d be unlikely and totally out of character for this front office, yes, though it still might be worth exploring.
The Blue Jays are in a win-now mode, and while one way to maintain their competitive window is by receiving contributions from young, inexpensive players, they’re also the key to making franchise-altering deals.
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