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Three teams that could play matchmaker with Blue Jays to solve infield surplus

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Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
1 month ago
The Toronto Blue Jays may need to find themselves a partner… a trading partner, that is.
This team likes its infielders as squirrels like their acorns – you can never have enough of them. While the front office did an excellent job compiling as many as possible heading into spring training, they won’t be able to keep everyone before Opening Day arrives next month, which may necessitate a trade, as Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi wrote recently.
Coming out of the off-season, Toronto’s roster consisted of more big-league-calibre players than spots available. At the major league level, that group included Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., plus new additions like Justin Turner and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. It also featured Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider and Santiago Espinal.
But there’s also Ernie Clement, who filled in admirably when injuries arose on the diamond last season and is out of options.
In the minors, there’s a talented group awaiting an opportunity, including top prospect Orelvis Martinez, Spencer Horwitz, Addison Barger, Leo Jimenez and B.C. native Damiano Palmegiani, who’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster before next winter when he becomes eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
If those weren’t enough, the Blue Jays have since added a pair of veterans to the mix on minor-league contracts, switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar and left-handed slugger Daniel Vogelbach – back for a second stint with the franchise following his brief tenure in 2020.
It’s a fantastic problem to have, and you’ll never catch any general manager or coach complaining about having too much depth, especially during this time of the year. But at the same time, it’s not the most ideal allocation of assets, considering a glaring hole in the outfield still exists.
The Blue Jays could solve this issue in free agency by signing a platoon hitter such as Tommy Pham, Adam Duvall or Robbie Grossman. However, that’d still leave them with too many cooks in the kitchen. So, with that in mind, it probably makes more sense to swap a bit of their infield depth for a reserve outfielder.
Many teams could benefit from acquiring a cost-effective, controllable infielder or two before the regular season opens, although fewer exist that could offer a worthwhile return. Of those that could, let’s examine three potential suitors who could scratch the organization’s back and vice-versa.

Los Angeles Angels

Mike Trout wants more action, eh? Well, that’s precisely what the Angels front office should give him, particularly a transaction involving the Blue Jays.
It’s difficult to predict how Los Angeles will approach this season after losing generational star Shohei Ohtani to the Dodgers in free agency over the winter. One thing is indisputable, though. As currently constructed, their roster isn’t talented enough to claim one of the three AL wild-card spots.
On top of that, the Angels’ bench features little-to-no flexibility as Michael Stefanic is the only player among the projected reserves – also including Matt Thaiss, Jo Adell and Aaron Hicks – with a minor-league option left. As such, they’d be in a tight spot if Anthony Rendon – whose Angels tenure has yet to exceed 58 games in a single season – struggles to stay healthy in 2024.
Acquiring a player like Santiago Espinal could prove beneficial in multiple ways. The 29-year-old could be another safety net for Rendon and would surely be an upgrade over Stefanic, given he owns a career 80 wRC+ and just 50 games of MLB experience.
In return, the Blue Jays could target right-handed outfielder Taylor Ward, a free agent after the 2026 campaign. A hit-by-pitch from Alek Manoah, which required surgery, ended the 30-year-old’s 2023 season after 97 games, though he’s on track to be ready for Opening Day.
An Espinal-Ward, one-for-one trade almost certainly wouldn’t be sufficient to entice the Angels brass to pull the trigger. But it may be enough to, at the very least, ignite conversations.
When healthy, Ward has served as a reliable middle-of-the-order presence over the last two seasons, posting 37 home runs with a .451 SLG, .182 ISO and 124 wRC+. He’d fit perfectly as a platoon bat versus left-handed pitching, based on his 128 wRC+ across 357 plate appearances in those matchups since 2021.
As productive as he’s been, though, the former first-round selection could become a causality if the Angels decide to transition Trout from centre to a corner outfield spot. And since Adell and Hicks are both out of options, trading an outfielder would also ensure both make the team out of spring training.
If another player was packaged with Espinal, say, Horwitz or Barger, perhaps Ward could be pried away from Los Angeles’ grasp, as either could strengthen a minor-league system that added recycled veterans Miguel Sanó, Evan White and Hunter Dozier at first and third base, respectively, over the off-season.

San Francisco Giants

As we witnessed last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Blue Jays front office isn’t afraid to execute multiple trades with the same franchise in a small window of time. So why not repeat that process with the Giants this time, right?
Both clubs completed a deal last week, sending utility player Otto Lopez – granted a fourth option year after failing to accrue five full seasons or major or minor-league experience – to the Bay Area for cash considerations. But that shouldn’t preclude San Francisco from acquiring someone like Espinal, as Lopez could be deployed in the outfield, along with the infield, or assigned to Triple-A.
That move has almost certainly impacted right-handed outfielder Austin Slater’s value to the Giants, reducing it more than it already has. The 31-year-old, a free agent after this season, has excelled as a lefty masher throughout his career, as evidenced by his .285/.374/.463 slash line and 131 wRC+.
But he’ll have to give way to a young outfield trio knocking at the door in the minors, which includes Luis Matos, Wade Meckler and Heliot Ramos. That point may not come until later this summer, though there’s no denying it’s fast approaching.
To avoid a potential DFA scenario, the Giants’ best course of action may be moving on from Slater (out of options) prior to their regular-season opener. And few other teams could benefit more from acquiring his services than the Blue Jays.
Both clubs possess what each other desires – expendable infield and outfield pieces. The only obstacle in the way of a potential swap of assets is the two sides finding common ground on a mutually beneficial deal.
With Espinal’s three seasons of club control versus Slater’s one, you’d think it’d be fairly simple to locate a midway point on the value scale. But perhaps a minor trade-kicker, such as a low-level teenage prospect from Toronto’s system, is the final piece that pushes this trade across the finish line.
Or maybe it’s something that holds a bit more value. Nevertheless, it almost makes too much sense for the Giants and Blue Jays not to complete another deal (if only trades were as easy to make as they are in “MLB The Show”).

Washington Nationals

This may sound like a broken record, but – and stay with me here – plenty of incentive remains for the Nationals to make outfielder Lane Thomas available via trade again, just as they did prior to last season’s trade deadline.
The 28-year-old righty, with two seasons of club control remaining, would be a tremendous addition to the Blue Jays’ lineup following his breakout 2023 performance, recording career-highs in games played (157), home runs (28), RBIs (86) and fWAR (2.7). He also produced the highest slash line (.268/.315/.468), ISO (.201) and wRC+ (109) of his career since his 2019 rookie campaign.
Now is the most opportune time for Washington’s front office to maximize Thomas’ market value. There isn’t any guarantee he’ll enjoy as much success in 2024, given his average quality-of-contact metrics and that most of his power production transpired against southpaws despite logging nearly 300 more plate appearances versus righties.
It also likely won’t be long before the Nationals are forced to create space in the outfield for their next wave of prospects, including James Wood, Robert Hassell III and Dylan Crews, the second overall selection in last summer’s draft.
As of now, though, all three major league spots project to be occupied this season, with Thomas in right, Victor Robles in centre and newcomer Joey Gallo in left field, while right-handed hitter Stone Garrett serves as a platoon off the bench. Jacob Young and Alex Call are Triple-A depth options on the club’s 40-man roster, too.
Washington’s infield, however, is nowhere near as stable or deep in comparison – and that’s where Toronto’s system can assist.
Espinal would be the most obvious choice to centre any package around, as his defensive versatility would be a significant addition for a Nationals squad with Nick Senzel as its projected everyday third baseman. Barger could also help at the hot corner while providing value in the outfield, at least in the short term.
Leo Jimenez could be another potential route if Washington’s front office desired additional middle-infield depth. While in his final option year, the 22-year-old is a capable big-league defender and could backup starting shortstop CJ Abrams, whose minus-eight OAA ranked in the fourth percentile a season ago.
All three might be enough to land Thomas, who the Nationals valued as an everyday player in 2023. Though it’d be worth inquiring separately about Garrett, as Blue Jays Nation colleague Damon outlined earlier this week, the hard-hitting 28-year-old’s acquisition cost would likely be too lucrative as he isn’t a free agent until after 2028.
But if a swap of infielders for Thomas is feasible, the former Blue Jays 2014 draftee would help put a positive spin on an off-season full of underwhelming short-term additions.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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