Four players the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in early this winter
3 months ago
The offseason is officially underway, as the general manager meetings are currently underway in Arizona and the rumour mill is off to a roaring start. With superstar Shohei Ohtani leading the charge this free agency period, the market is thin this winter compared to offseasons prior outside of the Japanese two-way MVP.
The Blue Jays themselves have six players heading to free agency and have a few holes on the roster that will need some filling. Daulton Varsho will likely be moving to centre field with Kevin Kiermaier unlikely to return, so the Jays will need a left fielder. Should Matt Chapman not return, the Jays will need someone to man the hot corner, whether that comes internally or externally. With Brandon Belt and Whit Merrifield also heading to the open market, the Jays would likely benefit from adding a 1B/DH platoon type while maybe promoting from within for a bench infielder. While filling roster holes is a good place to start, the Jays will be looking to add some firepower at the plate in whoever they bring in after seeing a steady dip in production after focusing on pitching and defence in 2023.
With the meetings underway and the hot stove officially turned on to start the offseason, here are four players the Blue Jays have already expressed interest in, whether that be meeting with the player/representatives or history throughout the season has attached them to a player early.
Matt Chapman – 3B
Chapman is an obvious candidate to return and one player general manager Ross Atkins has reportedly expressed interest in bringing him back on a multi-year deal as per Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. He already has the qualifying offer in his court but he’s unlikely to sign the one-year deal worth just over $20 million given the current crop of position player free agents (especially at third base).
The reunion makes sense for the Jays, as the glove-first infielder was solid for the club over the past two seasons to the tune of a .756 OPS with 44 home runs and 130 RBIs while posting a 14 DRS at third base, earning another Gold Glove Award this past season. The 2023 campaign was a rollercoaster for Chapman, as he excelled in April but struggled mightily the rest of the way, posting a similar OPS to his 2022 season (.755 vs. .757) but seeing a dip in power by hitting ten fewer home runs, the lowest mark in his career since his rookie campaign (excluding COVID-19 season). He made up for it by cashing in 39 doubles, three off from his career-high 42 he set back in 2018 and was a high percentile bat in terms of average exit velocity (93.4 MPH), Barrel % (17.1%) and Hard-Hit% (56.4%).
Considering the weak free-agent market, Chapman is one of the better position players and his notable super agent Scott Boras will easily get him the best deal out there, so the two sides coming back together will come at a high cost with some steady competition. The Jays have the advantage of over $35 million in contracts coming off the books in Belt, Kiermaier, Hicks, and Hyun Jin Ryu not returning, so the financials are there for the club to make a reasonable offer.
Jeimer Candelario – 3B/1B
The Jays are notorious for “being interested” in numerous free agents during the offseason, much to the chagrin of the fanbase. Much to Jays fans’ dismay, the Blue Jays are kicking the tires on infielder Jeimer Candelario early this winter, meeting with his representatives earlier this week.
The switch-hitting New York product split last season between the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs, who acquired Candelario at the trade deadline for a postseason push. The soon-to-be 30-year-old posted a .251/.336/.471 slash line on the season while adding 22 home runs to the tune of a .807 OPS. He also added 39 doubles on the season and finished with 70 RBIs and a 119 OPS+ with a 3.3 fWAR, ranking eighth among third basemen across the MLB (and just behind Chapman).
Defensively, Candelario would be a step back compared to Chapman but that can be said with many replacement options given the California product’s elite glove. He posted a -5 DRS at the hot corner last year and a 1 Outs Above Average, finishing in the 65th percentile.
MLB Trade Rumours predicts a four-year $70 million contract after a strong 2023 season and it will be interesting to see if that value fluctuates depending on what Chapman signs for (should Candelario wait for that domino to fall). While he is not attached to a qualifying offer, any team that misses out on Chapman or wants the next best option will be in on Candelario and likely see a multi-year deal around what MLBTR is predicting.
Joey Votto – 1B/DH
It’s always a special moment to see a Canadian-born player don a Toronto Blue Jays jersey. Considering one of the top players born North of the border is a free agent for the first time in his career, it only makes sense that there is a connection to the Jays.
Joey Votto became a free agent after the Cincinnati Reds did not pick up his $20 million contract option, a given considering the Reds boast a handful of young players looking for playing time and Votto hasn’t lived up to the contract in recent years. Battling injuries and inconsistent play, the former Etobicoke Ranger was limited to just 156 games over the past two years and hit for a .204 average with a .712 OPS, posting just 25 home runs from the left side of the batter’s box.
Speaking to Ben Nicholson-Smith at the meetings, Ross Atkins mentioned the interest from the Jays in the Ontario product, “Incredible player, remarkable career… They’re just massive impact in the community if he were to be a Toronto Blue Jay. So definitely something that we would have to consider if that was something he wanted to pursue.”
There is a chance Votto could return to Cincinnati for a victory lap with his former team, albeit in a reduced role, although if the 40-year-old wants to continue his career in the big leagues he may see a reduced role wherever he decides to go. There is reportedly interest in his services from multiple teams across the league, the ball is pretty much in Votto’s court in what could likely be his last year in the Major Leagues.
Eugenio Suárez – 3B
Rounding out the group is Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez, as the Blue Jays are reportedly interested in the right-handed bat.
The two sides are no strangers to brokering a deal, as last offseason the Blue Jays sent Teoscar Hernández out west while the Mariners sent reliever Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko to Toronto. The trade worked out well for the Jays, as they were unlikely not going to be able to retain Hernández, who is currently a free agent, while adding a solid bullpen arm in Swanson who excelled in his first season with Toronto.
With Suárez, the Blue Jays would be getting a veteran bat who has consistently been a power hitter, posting 20+ home runs or more since 2017 (excluding the COVID-19 season). The strikeouts come with the territory (led the AL with 214 last season) but there is no arguing his ability to hit the long ball and his ability to demolish fastballs (.270 average with a .419 SLG). Suárez is also a solid defender, boasting an 11 Outs Above Average last season while committing eight errors to the tune of a -2 DRS and a .980 fielding percentage.
The Venezuelan-born infielder will hit the books at $11 million next season and seems to be a potential fallback option should the Jays strike out on Chapman or Candelario. He has a $15 million club option for 2025 but if the Jays want to let one of their prospects like Orelvis Martinez or Addison Barger get their feet wet this upcoming season without full-time pressure, having Suárez in the mix is a good starting point with the option for the following year at their disposal if they need.
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