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Outfielders on the free agent market who might interest the Blue Jays

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Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
4 months ago
The Toronto Blue Jays are heading into the 2024 season with two full-time outfielders on the roster: George Springer and Daulton Varsho. In the past campaign, the Jays employed Springer, Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier, and Whit Merrifield in the outfield for the majority of the year. Both Kiermaier and Merrifield (whose mutual option was declined) are free agents this offseason.
With a return unlikely, the Blue Jays will likely need to find a replacement in the outfield, most probably a left fielder with Varsho moving into center field while Springer continues to hold down the fort in right. The club could utilize internal options like Nathan Lukes or Cavan Biggio in the outfield. Still, considering the Jays’ postseason window is currently at an all-time high (not to mention the lack of productivity at the plate last year), an external option seems more fitting at this time.
That being said, let’s take a look at some of the free-agent outfield fits currently on the open market for the Blue Jays.

Cody Bellinger

Of the position players available this offseason, Cody Bellinger stands at the top of the class. After a scorching start to his career with the Dodgers, the outfielder fell on hard times at the plate starting during the condensed COVID season and couldn’t find a rhythm. The Dodgers later non-tendered him last offseason, and the Blue Jays were reportedly interested in the lefty batter before he signed a one-year deal with the Cubs last winter. That move paid off for both the club and the player, as Bellinger posted a .307/.356/.525 slash line with 26 home runs and an .881 OPS while splitting time between first and center field.
Bellinger is a bit of a gamble, considering the jury is still out on whether the 2023 season was an anomaly or a return to form. A thin position player market will help Bellinger land a lucrative deal. While he has played more center field than left (when the Jays would rather sign), the former Dodger’s left-handed power bat would be a big boost for the Jays lineup should he continue that 2023 form into next season.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

A reunion, anyone?
After spending parts of five seasons with the Blue Jays, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was traded last winter as part of the Varsho/Gabriel Moreno swap with the Arizona Diamondbacks and produced a stellar season during his contract walk year. At the plate, he found his power swing again, hitting 24 home runs while posting a .463 SLG and .772 OPS. Gurriel Jr. had an up-and-down season overall and did well to start the year before riding a slump through June and July that brought down his slash lines before picking things up to finish out the year with a 3.0 bWAR.
He carried that trend into the postseason, adding three more home runs while also contributing 11 RBIs before the Diamondbacks lost in the World Series. Gurriel Jr. also made significant strides defensively in left field, posting a 14 DRS while utilizing his plus arm to amass eight outfield assists. Considering there is already a familiarity with Gurriel and the Jays and the need for a left fielder, the only thing that would make this sweeter is if the Cuban product hit from the left side.

Teoscar Hernández

Speaking of reunions, another former Blue Jays outfielder is on the market this winter, and there is a potential fit in play if the Blue Jays are looking for a bounce-back bat.
In his lone season with the Mariners, Teoscar Hernández collected 26 home runs while posting a .741 OPS, the first time his OPS has dipped below the .800 mark since 2019. The right-handed batter also saw a significant increase in strikeouts, with his rate rising to 31.1%, striking out 211 times. It’s no secret that his power is still present (90th percentile hard-hit% last year), but the strikeouts will remain a concern wherever he goes next season. Defensively, Hernández has worked mostly in right field but can take over in left field if necessary while working with a plus arm, doing so back in 2019 and 2021 for the Jays.
For those who favour nostalgia and don’t want to fully jump off the deep end into a Josh Donaldson reunion, Hernández is a good place to start (and isn’t tied to a qualifying offer).

Joc Pederson

A left fielder who can also hit from the left side? Enter Joc Pederson.
Similar to Bellinger, Pederson found his way out of the Dodgers organization and was looking for a fresh start in 2021, which eventually led to him landing in the Bay Area. Since signing with the Giants, Pederson has been productive at the plate, although his 2022 season was miles ahead of the 2023 campaign comparatively. Last season, the lefty batter finished with a .235/.348/.416 slash line to the tune of a .764 OPS and a 111 OPS+. He saw himself in the DH spot more than the outfield, which was also a step back for the California product that put up a -3 DRS through 173 innings in left field last year and a -12 DRS through 685 innings the year before.
If the Jays are looking for a defensive-minded outfielder, Pederson is likely not the first option for the Jays’ front office. However, Pederson can mash right-handed pitchers (career .834 OPS with 172 home runs) and would be a solid power bat for the Jays in the middle of the lineup that can also swing from the left side.

Jorge Soler

This entry is cheating just a little bit, in that one doesn’t mostly think of Jorge Soler being an outfield option compared to a full-time DH. That being said, the Cuban product has over 4017 innings at the big league level split between right and left field and can still suit up in the outfield if needed, doing so in 2023 (241 2/3 innings) and 2022 (469 innings) for the Miami Marlins.
More important is his bat, which boasts plus power and can leave the yard at any time. A back injury limited him in 2022 to just 72 games, but last season, the right-handed bat collected 36 home runs while finishing with a 128 OPS+ and a 1.8 bWAR (third on the team in terms of position players). It will be interesting to see if his career takes him down the road of just being a DH moving forward, but the Jays could use the 31-year-old in the corner outfield spots if need be.

Tommy Pham

Outfielder Tommy Pham has seen his fair share of MLB teams throughout the years, with the Arizona Diamondbacks being the seventh team he has suited up for in his 10-year career. Split between the Mets and the Diamondbacks, Pham posted a collective .774 OPS with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs while adding 22 stolen bases on the season.
Amongst the group listed above, he has some of the most experience in left field (5055 2/3 innings) and can play average defense with a plus arm (75th percentile arm value). He swings from the right side, which is a bit of a drawback considering the majority of the Jays’ lineup is right-handed as well. Still, Pham could be a low-key bounce-back option for the Jays this winter.

Michael Brantley

Mr. “Almost a Blue Jay” Brantley. While a deal never materialized during the 2020/2021 offseason, Brantley has been a consistent contact hitter in the batter’s box with some sneaky power, boasting five seasons of 35+ doubles while routinely hitting above .300 on the year.
The past two seasons have seen Brantley limited to just 79 games due to injuries, but the left-handed batter continues to hit at the plate, amassing a .286 average and a 121 OPS+ with 16 doubles during that time. He boasts the most experience in left field amongst the group mentioned above (7798 1/3 innings) and can still play plus defense at 36 years old. His bat alone is worth the risk if he can stay healthy, with the added bonus of production in left field.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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