It looks increasingly likely that the Jays will be making a trade for a fourth outfielder.
Would you look at that, it’s time for another News and Notes. The Jays haven’t been involved in many rumours, but there has been a lot of action as of late which has impacted the Jays. Let’s dig in.
Michael Brantley re-signs with the Houston Astros:
We’ll start with the largest and most recent topic, Michael Brantley signing with the reigning World Series champions, per Fansided’s Robert Murray.
The contract is what you’d expect for a player who will turn 36 years old in May, $12 million with incentives for a single year, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
To me, Brantley didn’t really fit the Jays roster. He slashed .288/.370/.416 with five homers in 277 plate appearances for a 127 wRC+ in 2022. While he is great with that bat (he was also one of six players with a higher BB% than K%), he only played 249 innings in left field in 2022.
Not just that, but he hasn’t been a plus defender at least since 2019, plus I think the Jays would want to lean more toward a right fielder.
The Astros have apparently also been speaking with free agent right fielder, Michael Conforto according to Michael Schwab, but this tweet was before it was announced that they were signing Brantley.
The bat would have definitely helped, but it seemed to me Brantley would DH more often than not if he were a Blue Jay, and they already have a log jam there. Speaking of which…
The Jays could keep all three catchers:
Per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, the Blue Jays were open to trading Danny Jansen for a starter, but it doesn’t seem likely after signing Chris Bassitt. The article (which you can read here) goes on to state that the Jays could trade one of Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Gabriel Moreno, but wouldn’t force a trade for the sake of it.
The article also states that it’s possible that they end up carrying the three catchers, with Kirk DH’ing (honestly, Jansen needs it just as much, if not more), while Moreno could start in Triple-A. There’s also the option of Daulton Varsho’ing Moreno by playing him all over the field. I wrote more about how carrying all three catchers could work here.
Interestingly, a rumour came to light as I was editing this which may point to the Jays even looking to trade a catcher inside the American League East.
That didn’t stop them from trying to trade a catcher to a division rival:
This rumour comes from Buck Martinez on Bob McCown’s podcast, and it’s presented by my favourite Blue Jays memester, Dr.Internet (@grecianfive).
This is an interesting rumour to me, as trading a big leaguer to a division rival usually results in a significant haul. The two teams I could think of this being are the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays recently lost Mike Zunino to the Guardians, leaving them with a combination of Francisco Mejía (0.2 fWAR in 2022), René Pinto (83 career plate appearances in the majors), and Christian Bethancourt (1.9 fWAR in 2022). Moreno, Jansen and Kirk would easily be the best catcher on the Rays, but that begs the question, what would they want in return?
In fact, it doesn’t seem real likely to me that a catcher will be traded, as teams are starting to find their 2023 catcher.
The Pittsburgh Pirates sign Austin Hedges:
It didn’t seem likely that the Jays would trade a catcher to the Pirates, as they have quite a few top prospects at the position. However, Jansen to the Pirates would have made sense depending on what the Jays would get in return. With the Pirates signing Austin Hedges, it now makes it impossible.
Interestingly, had the Jays traded Jansen, Hedgers would have been a good replacement for the departing Jansen. Hedges finished with a Catcher Defensive Adjustment (CDA) of 11.4, which ranked fifth in the league (Kirk had the third highest). The stat is in my opinion, the best measurement of a backstop’s defense, as it measures throwing, blocking, and most important of all, framing.
Just because the Pirates have signed Hedges, doesn’t mean they still may not trade Bryan Reynolds. The Jays may not be able to use one of their catchers in a hypothetical trade, but there’s still a way to make it work.
The Chicago Cubs are targeting catcher Tucker Barnhart:
These next two rumours aren’t done deals, but it’s interesting to bring up for various reasons. Let’s start with the Cubs are looking at Tucker Barnhart.
The 31-year-old catcher isn’t very good, to say the least. He slashed .221/.287/.267 with a single homer in 308 plate appearances for a 63 wRC+. While he was signed to platoon with Yan Gomes, Barnhart isn’t a great defender either, as he had a -5 CDA in 2022.
With the moves that the Chicago Cubs have made this off-season, they’ve said that they want to contend next season, so trading Ian Happ to the Jays is increasingly unlikely. The Cubs also signed Dansby Swanson on Saturday afternoon, which yeah, isn’t something a team would do if they are wanting to rebuild.
While a trade with the Cubs likely won’t materialize, it’s not the only way the Cubs have taken away options from the Blue Jays.
The Chicago Cubs are close to signing left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly:
Like with the other Chicago Cub rumour, this deal isn’t set in stone. However, Jon Heyman reported that the Cubs are close to re-signing the 33-year-old lefty.
Smyly posted a 3.47 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 106.1 innings pitched in 2022. He didn’t register a ton of strikeouts with a career-low 20.4 K%, but also matched that with a career-low 5.8 BB%.
Out of any fifth starter on the market, Smyly made the most sense for the Jays, as he’s a left-handed pitcher with consistency. For his career, he has a 4.10 ERA and 4.29 FIP in 943.2 innings pitched.
The Jays were never connected to him as they have been with Johnny Cueto, but I really do believe they have to add a left-handed starter or hope that Yusei Kikuchi will be good in 2023.
What to make of this:
With three of the four higher-end left-handed corner outfield bats off the market, Michael Conforto remains the best free agent fit for the Jays. There’s still a pathway for a trade, but as we move further into the off-season, teams are finding their catchers.
One team that hasn’t found their 2023 catcher is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who coincidentally, have a plethora of left-handed batting outfielders. Perhaps there’s still a trade possibility there.
While the Jays have quite a few catchers available, they also have a litany of second basemen on the 40-man roster. Could they package one of them with a prospect or two to Minnesota for say, Max Kepler and Sonny Gray? That would fill both the left-handed batting corner outfielder role, as well as add a more credible fifth starter.
Hopefully, moves are made soon, because this team isn’t quite a finished product as of December 18th, 2022.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D.