What to expect from the Toronto Blue Jays at the MLB Winter Meetings
5 months ago
Starting Sunday, December 4th, general managers, executives, players, and agents alike will descend upon San Diego for the annual Winter Meetings.
The four-day affair will conclude on Wednesday with the Rule 5 Draft, which makes its return after a hiatus last offseason due to the lockout. During this time, it is expected that clubs across the league will be wheeling and dealing to improve their rosters, with trades being made, connections being made/discussed, and free-agent signings likely to ramp up after a somewhat slow start to the offseason (last night aside). Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has already hinted that fans should be expecting some news coming from the meetings in San Diego and with quite a few high-profile free agents still on the board, it could make for a very quick and interesting weekend that has fans hoping the Jays are part of the mix.
For Atkins and the Blue Jays front office, there are a few areas that need a bit of tweaking and improving in order to improve upon their 92-70 campaign last year, one that saw the Jays exit the playoffs via a Wild Card sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.
Let’s take a look at the Jays’ needs that could be addressed at next week’s Winter Meetings.
Adding a Starting Pitcher (or two)
With the news of Jacob deGrom signing with the Texas Rangers last night, one would expect the rest of the remaining dominoes to fall with one of the biggest starting pitchers this offseason now off the board.
At the higher echelon are names like Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón, both of whom had fantastic 2022 seasons.
Verlander returned from Tommy John surgery and finished the season with a World Series ring and a Cy Young Award after posting a 1.75 ERA and a 0.829 WHIP through 28 starts. The right-hander was pursued by the Jays’ front office last winter before he re-signed with the Astros and Atkins could be interested in going down that avenue again, although he will likely cost the most out of the remaining options. Rodón is no slouch either after posting a 2.88 ERA and a 12.0 K/9 through 178.0 innings but unlike Verlander, the southpaw is tied to draft pick compensation after rejecting a qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants.
With the Winter Meetings a day away, the Blue Jays need to address a few different areas this offseason
Given the Blue Jays 2023 payroll is heading towards the CBT threshold (and no word on whether ownership will allow them to go past although money doesn’t seem to be an issue per Atkins), the Jays could be looking more towards adding a back-end rotation arm, especially after Ross Stripling became a free agent this winter. With his departure, the club rolls into 2023 with Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and José Berríos in the rotation, with other options in Mitch White, Yusei Kikuchi, and Thomas Hatch (amongst others). After both Berríos and Kikuchi’s struggles last year, Hyun Jin Ryu potentially out for the season, and Stripling’s departure, adding a starter should be high on the team’s priority list at the Winter Meetings. There is also no guarantee that Kikuchi begins the year in the rotation as well, which really puts pressure on the front office on acquiring a starter this winter.
Depending on how much the club wants to spend, some other free agent options include reuniting with Stripling or signing Chris Bassitt (QO decline), Nathan Eovaldi (QO decline), Taijuan Walker, Andrew Heaney, Noah Syndergaard, Sean Manaea, José Quintana, and Michael Wacha while the club could trade for a starter like Pablo López, Blake Snell, or Shane Bieber as well, utilizing their abundance of catching depth to do so. These aren’t the only free agents or tradeable pitchers available but the Jays have been in on Heaney and Syndergaard before and traded for Walker during the 2020 season, so there is a connection there as well.
Considering the likes of Mike Clevinger and Matt Boyd both received deals over $10 million already this winter, if the Blue Jays decide to focus their attention on signing a free-agent starter, it will likely cost a pretty penny depending on whom they decide to pursue.
Adding an Outfielder (preferably a lefty-batter)
After the front office traded Teoscar Hernández earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays have a hole in their outfield core. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and George Springer are on the roster heading into 2023 with other depth options including Cavan Biggio, Whit Merrifield, and Nathan Lukes who could take on more of an outfield-oriented role this year but adding another starting outfielder is likely high on the Jays wish list.
One of the biggest hot stove rumours involving the Blue Jays this offseason has been their connection to centre fielder Brandon Nimmo, who posted a .274/.367/.433 slash line with seven triples, 16 home runs, and a .800 OPS while batting leadoff for the New York Mets. Nimmo is a lefty bat who can play centre field, which sits well for the Blue Jays considering the LHB could provide some balance to the right-handed heavy lineup while also pushing Springer to right field, which could help avoid injury next season and beyond.
Cody Bellinger is another option as well after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers but there is a risk associated with his signing considering his regression at the plate over the past three seasons (74 OPS+ with a .203 average through 1032 at-bats while striking out 25.0% of the time). The Blue Jays have already been in contact with Bellinger and he could fit the narrative of a one-year “prove-it” deal, something the hot stove is reporting the lefty-batter is interested in compared to a multi-year contract.
A deal for either player likely won’t come cheaply and there are other free-agent outfield options out there like Joey Gallo, Kevin Kiermaier, Mitch Haniger, and Andrew Benintendi, but comparatively, behind AL MVP Aaron Judge, Nimmo is one of the best options out there free agent wise while Bellinger is risky but could pay off in a hitter-friendly park like the Rogers Centre.
Atkins and co. could look to trading for outfield help as well, moving one of their catchers to facilitate the deal. Potential teams looking for catching help include the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, and the Cleveland Guardians, with each squad boasting different outfielders (or starters) who could fit the bill.
The Cardinals have Lars Nootbar and Dylan Carlson who could be part of a potential trade and the club needs a catcher after Yadier Molina retired this winter. The Cubs have Ian Happ, who could fit the bill for a swap for a Blue Jays catcher considering Willson Contreras is likely not returning. The Diamondbacks are intriguing as well but as Ben Nicholson Smith mentioned in his article last month, there might need to be a bigger deal in play to entice the Blue Jays to trade one of their backstops.
There are a few different ways a potential deal or two could be made and if the Blue Jays decide to move one of their catchers, there is a scenario where a bigger deal could be made to satisfy the Jays’ needs for both an outfielder and a back end starter. This is difficult to speculate considering there are lots of teams and moving parts in play or fit the scenario but if a deal is going to be made, the Winter Meetings is a good place for it to either happen or for the framework of a deal to start taking shape.
Is Another Bullpen Arm Needed?
After the Hernández deal brought Erik Swanson to Toronto, the Blue Jays bullpen seems to be in good shape heading into the 2023 season. Jordan Romano holds down the ninth inning while the club will have Yimi García, Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber, Tim Mayza, Trevor Richards, and Zach Pop returning next year as well. Internally, the Blue Jays have a few intriguing arms who could see some action next year as well, including Nate Pearson (depending on his role), Julian Merryweather (out of MiLB options next year), Matt Gage, Trent Thornton, Yosver Zulueta, Hayden Juenger, and Adrian Hernandez (Rule 5 eligible).
After the Swanson addition, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for additions to the bullpen but Richards could be DFA’d and Pop has a MiLB option at his disposal should the front office decide to add another arm. So far, the free agent market has boded well for relievers, with top-tier closer Edwin Díaz inking a five-year deal at $102 million while Rafael Montero, Robert Suárez, and Chris Martin have already cashed in this offseason in lucrative multi-year deals.
One could argue the Jays’ bullpen doesn’t need any more improvements given the other roster concerns and even if another arm or two is required, the 2023 trade deadline could be a beneficial avenue to explore.
For argument’s sake, if the Blue Jays are looking for a swing-and-miss free agent reliever this offseason, a few options out there include Andrew Chafin, Taylor Rogers, and Kenley Jansen but all three will not come cheaply. Veteran David Roberston had a resurgent 2022 campaign and could be one pitcher to look into while a left-hander like Matt Strahm could be an intriguing free-agent option as well.
I personally don’t see the Blue Jays trading for a relief option unless there is a bigger trade package at play involving a Blue Jays catcher but stranger things have happened. While another bullpen arm could be beneficial next season, I believe it is lower on the priority list compared to adding another starter or a lefty-bat.
Leaving California with One Less Catcher?
Heading into the offseason, it was widely known that the Blue Jays had one of the deepest catching pools in the MLB. Danny Jansen had a strong campaign that saw him mash a career-high 15 home runs even though he missed some time on the IL and Alejandro Kirk was one of the top bats for the Jays for most of the season, turning heads as he earned his first All-Star appearance and his first Silver Slugger Award. Gabriel Moreno is shaking off the prospect narrative and should be looking for playing time on the active roster by the time Opening Day rolls around, so the Jays have three backstops who could easily slot in as full-time catchers.
Do the Blue Jays have to trade a catcher this winter? No, they don’t, and they also aren’t afraid to carry three on the roster as well if last season was telling. The Jays could experiment with Moreno in other positions as well, which could help in other areas on the roster but he possesses a rocket of an arm that threw out 41% of base stealers at the MLB level last year, posting a 1.92 pop time from behind the plate to second base. Should they carry all three heading into the 2023 season, Ross Atkins could dangle one of them at the trade deadline as well if the front office so desires, which has its benefits as well once the season is in full swing but comes with risk should either any of the three fail to replicate the success of the 2022 campaign and brings their trade value down.
If the Jays want to find a starting pitcher or an outfielder for next season when they have a strong core with playoff potential right now, moving one of these three is a good place to start and they arguably hold some power with quite a few teams needing help behind the plate. There are free agent options available and Sean Murphy on the Oakland Athletics is a trade candidate as well but many are predicting the Jays will leave San Diego next week with one less catcher on the roster.
If that is the case, the return will vary depending on who is moved amongst the trio, as Jansen will bring less in return given his arbitration salary being higher than the other two. While a trade is not guaranteed, the Jays will likely be fielding quite a few questions at the Winter Meetings about their catchers and their availability.
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