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Power is essential, and Blue Jays still need more of it

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Photo credit:Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
2 months ago
In just over a week, Toronto Blue Jays pitchers and catchers are due to report to Dunedin, Fla. But at this point, the front office likely can’t afford to be finished conducting business this off-season.
That’s especially true on offence for a club that’s lost three position players to free agency: Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt and Whit Merrifield. They have made additions, albeit subtle ones, re-signing Kevin Kiermaier and landing free agents Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Justin Turner.
Turner, in particular, has added some much-needed thump to this lineup after the 39-year-old crushed 23 home runs while posting a .455 SLG with the Boston Red Sox in 2023. But he alone likely won’t be sufficient to ensure another underwhelming power display doesn’t occur for a second consecutive season.
The Blue Jays are betting on positive regressions from core pieces like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Alejandro Kirk and Daulton Varsho, as they should. This team probably isn’t doing anything relevant if those four fail to meet expectations again. However, we can also gather they’d benefit from making at least one additional external addition.
Even with spring training on the horizon, a few holes remain within Toronto’s roster, including at third base and left field. There are pathways for those to be filled internally, given the defensive versatility of Kiner-Falefa, Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal and Davis Schneider.
Still, if the goal is to compete for an AL East Division title, which it should be, more must be done outside the organization if the gap between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees – and, to a lesser extent, the Tampa Bay Rays – is to shrink.
So, with that in mind, let’s examine which impact hitters – both in free agency and via trade – could move the needle forward for this Blue Jays offence in 2024.

SS Willy Adames

Ah yes, there’s no better place to start than with the Milwaukee Brewers, who appear open for business, at least for the right price, following last week’s Corbin Burnes blockbuster.
In that deal, the Brewers acquired an MLB-ready infielder from the Orioles, Joey Ortiz, a player most believe is now the franchise’s shortstop of the future. As such, the front office has reportedly informed teams they’re open to having trade discussions involving Adames – conversations the Blue Jays brass should definitely be a part of.
Adames, a free agent after next season, as is Burnes, would check several boxes for Toronto at the plate and in the field.
Offensively, the 28-year-old righty doesn’t profile as a high-contact, low-strikeout hitter – characteristics management has prioritized the last few seasons. But what he lacks in bat-to-ball skills, he makes up for in power, as he ranks second in home runs (80) and third in ISO (.210) among big-league shortstops since 2021.
The former Tampa Bay Ray doesn’t generate much hard contact, though he’s very effective at squaring up pitches, with his barrel rate placing north of the 80th percentile over the previous two campaigns.
As a lifetime shortstop, Adames hasn’t played third base since his first professional season in 2013, where he logged just 76.0 innings at the hot corner in rookie league. But with a 99th percentile range (+16 OAA) at short, plus a 73rd percentile arm strength (88.1 m.p.h.) in ’23, changing positions almost certainly wouldn’t be a concern.
Milwaukee could keep Adames into next season, forming an Ortiz-Adames duo on the left side of the infield before revisiting negotiations closer to the trade deadline. So, Toronto’s front office would have to make an offer that might not be available several months from now – perhaps one centred around Damiano Palmegiani and a young arm like Adam Macko.
But for an already depleted farm system, the Blue Jays may not be willing to surrender those assets for a player with just one season of club control remaining.

OF Lane Thomas

Unlike Adames, Thomas would feature two seasons of club control and enter free agency at the same time as many current Blue Jays, most notably Guerrero and Bo Bichette. While that’d further add to GM Ross Atkins’ plate, his right-handed power stroke would be a welcomed addition, providing another layer of middle-of-the-order depth.
The 28-year-old outfielder, a fifth-round selection by Toronto in 2014, is coming off a breakout season with the Washington Nationals that led to career-highs in home runs (28), RBIs (86) and fWAR (2.7). Though he was deployed as an everyday player, compiling innings across all three outfield positions, he’d fit perfectly as a lefty-hitting specialist with the Blue Jays.
Thomas thrived in matchups against southpaws last season, slashing .331/.375/.573 with a .401 wOBA, .242 ISO and 153 wRC+ across nearly 200 plate appearances.
All things considered, though, the veteran right-hander will be difficult to acquire unless he’s no longer priced as an everyday contributor by Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, which was reportedly the case prior to last season’s trade deadline.
Toronto’s offence would receive plenty of upside from Thomas. But considering his sub-100 wRC+ versus righties and below-average outfield range – despite featuring elite arm strength and quickness – the front office will likely look elsewhere if his current employer insists on valuing him as a full-time player.

OF Austin Slater

If the Blue Jays are to acquire a right-handed-hitting platoon outfielder this winter, a feat they couldn’t accomplish last off-season, Slater might be the most sensible name to target.
The 31-year-old is an above-average hitter who effectively generates hard contact and doesn’t chase outside the strike zone. That meant he was on the Giants’ roster for one reason last season: to crush left-handing pitching, and he did exactly that.
In 132 plate appearances, Slater clubbed four home runs while driving in 15, producing a .288/.361/.439 slash line, .350 wOBA, .152 ISO and 123 wRC+. For his career, he owns a 131 wRC+ in lefty matchups.
Based on San Francisco’s crowded outfield, plus Slater entering free agency after the 2024 season, he may be fairly inexpensive to acquire. Given the Giants’ need for a cost-effective middle infielder, someone like Santiago Espinal – who possesses three seasons of club control – could be the headliner going the other way in a win-win trade.

OF/1B Cody Bellinger

Now, let’s make our way toward what’s left of the free-agent position-player market.
The most prominent name remaining, of course, is Bellinger. There have been two teams primarily associated with the 28-year-old superstar for much of this off-season: the Blue Jays and the Chicago Cubs. Barring a dramatic decline in his asking price – or, more specifically, Scott Boras’ – it’s tough to envision the former winning out against the latter here.
As currently constructed, the moves Toronto’s front office has made thus far wouldn’t make much sense if they made a late push to sign Bellinger to a contract that, by most reports, could reach as lucrative as $200 million. With Kiermaier, Turner and Kiner-Falefa in the fold, fitting all the pieces together would be, while not impossible, far more challenging than compared to earlier in the winter.
Thus, it’d be shocking if Bellinger doesn’t re-sign with Chicago once his demands are met.

3B Matt Chapman

Signing Turner likely hasn’t completely ruled out a potential return for Chapman, but there’s no question it has significantly reduced those odds. But, like with Bellinger, money and term will probably be the biggest factors determining the 30-year-old’s future.
Most of the DH reps will be occupied by Turner next season, but the Blue Jays will also need to rotate multiple players through that spot throughout the summer, like Springer and Gurrero, as well as Danny Jansen and Kirk. That means the former Boston Red Sox will have to play elsewhere occasionally, probably shifting him to third and second base.
Operating under that design would be more challenging with Chapman on the roster, as fewer third-base reps would be available. And since the Cubs and Giants still have needs at the hot corner, either club might be more inclined to outbid the rest of the field for his services.

DH/OF Jorge Soler

From a pure hitting-the-crap-out-of-a-baseball standpoint, there are few better alternatives available than Soler, whose 2023 Baseball Savant player card is covered in bright red thanks to his dazzling quality of contact metrics.
But so far, the 31-year-old’s desire to earn a multi-year contract, which most experts believe would include a guaranteed third year, has exceeded Toronto’s price range.
One potential suitor that appears to be emerging is the Giants, who, per the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, have recently expressed interest in the right-handed slugger.
The Blue Jays remain in need of a righty bat to platoon versus left-handed pitching, making them, in theory, a potential landing spot for Soler – who dominated lefties in 2023 – even after the Turner signing. However, it seems unlikely he’d favour that limited role over earning regular playing time elsewhere.

DH J.D. Martinez

After landing a 39-year-old primary DH last month, there’s very little chance of the Blue Jays acquiring another 35-plus bat-only player in free agency, especially with Martinez likely to command a lucrative one-year deal worth around $20 million.

OF Adam Duvall

When healthy, Duvall was an excellent addition to Boston’s lineup a season ago, as the 35-year-old righty registered 21 home runs, 58 RBIs, a .531 SLG and a 116 wRC+ across 92 games, worth 1.9 fWAR.
That value would’ve likely been even higher had the Red Sox not played him close to 500 innings in centre field, where he issued minus-five DRS and minus-four OAA. The 2021 World Series winner would be utilized differently with the Blue Jays, though, as he’d strictly be a corner outfielder – a role he’s better suited for, given his above-average fielding.
There would be a few drawbacks to signing Duvall, particularly his swing-and-miss concerns and considering he’s been more effective against righties than lefties in recent years, producing a sub-100 wRC+ in two of his last three seasons versus southpaws.
Since he maintained an everyday role with Boston last season, odds are he’ll be seeking more at-bats than what the Blue Jays can offer.

OF Tommy Pham

If free agency is the preferred route, Pham should be among the Blue Jays’ top choices for a platoon outfield role.
The 35-year-old, who received interest from Toronto ahead of last season’s trade deadline, according to multiple sources, showcased his impressive quality-of-contact skills and knowledge of the strike zone during his time split between the New York Mets and Arizona Diamondbacks.
With those tools, Pham conquered left-handed pitching, as he has throughout his career, blasting nine of his 16 home runs in those situations. He also earned a .465 SLG and .219 ISO – the second-highest of his career, excluding the shortened 2020 campaign.
The veteran right-handed hitter would also add another layer of post-season experience, with four seasons (16 games) under his belt, including last fall’s magical ride to the World Series with the D-backs.

OF Robbie Grossman

Grossman seems like someone the Blue Jays brass has probably had their eyes on for a while now. Or, at the very least, they’ve admired him from afar over the last few seasons, and it’s pretty easy to understand why.
Just look at what he’s done against left-handed pitching since 2021.
In 492 plate appearances, the 34-year-old has slashed a ridiculous .300/.407/.483 with a .183 ISO, .385 wOBA and a mind-blowing 148 wRC+. For a player of his stature, he’s likely not someone you’d expect to put up these types of results. And yet, he’s done just that.
On top of his eye-popping splits, Grossman has been a monster at earning walks and avoiding chases, as each has finished in the 89th percentile or higher over the previous three seasons.
While he’s historically operated as a switch-hitter, the veteran corner outfielder could be a savvy under-the-radar acquisition in a platoon role that brings additional World Series experience to the roster following his 2023 victory with the Texas Rangers.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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