What a ride this week has been.
It kicked off on Monday when the team inked Tyler Chatwood to a one-year deal to pitch out of the bullpen. That move, unsurprisingly, was met without a hell of a lot of fanfare, but Tuesday’s addition of Major League Baseball’s saves leader in 2019, Kirby Yates, moved the needle a bit more.
And then there was this…
Brendon Kuhn came out of left field and told us that the Blue Jays and George Springer, the top position player on this year’s free-agent market, had agreed to a deal. The signing, which ended up being worth $150 million, was the biggest in franchise history, eclipsing Vernon Wells’ massive extension back in 2006 and dwarfing the deal Russell Martin signed ahead of the 2015 season.
Things didn’t slow down on Wednesday. First, Michael Brantley was a Blue Jay, and then he wasn’t. Hazel Mae and Ken Rosenthal both reported a deal was done, but that report got debunked and Brantley ended up re-signing in Houston.
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As nice as it would have been to have Brantley in the lineup, this week was all about adding Springer.
According to FanGraphs, the Blue Jays now have the fourth-highest projected WAR in baseball and the second-highest in the American League. ZiPS projections also indicate that the Blue Jays’ playoff likelihood jumped from 26 percent fo 48 percent after signing Springer, Yates, and Chatwood.
If the Blue Jays didn’t do anything else for the rest of the off-season, they would go into 2021 as a fair bet to make the playoffs. The Yankees, per that FanGraphs projection I linked above, have baseball’s highest WAR projection, so the AL East crown is obviously still a climb, but there isn’t much standing between the Blue Jays and a wild-card spot right now.
And that’s if they do nothing else the rest of the off-season. The Jays could theoretically roll into 2021 with their deep, potent offence, improved bullpen, and shaky starting pitching and have a good season. But all signs indicate that this off-season is far from over.
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Adding Springer solves the Blue Jays’ biggest problem on the position player side of things as he’s the elite centre fielder the team lacked. The focus now shifts to adding pitching, both in the starting rotation and in the ‘pen, and finding some insurance for the infield if Vlad Jr. can’t hack it at third.
In terms of that third-base upgrade, Didi Gregorious’ name was mentioned by Shi Davidi as a possible fit. The Blue Jays apparently have interest in Gregorious, which isn’t surprising given the fact they tried to sign him last winter before he ended up in Philly on a one-year deal.
The talk last year was Gregorious coming in and becoming the Blue Jays’ shortstop and possibly sliding Bo Bichette to second. This time around, it seems that Gregorious is open to playing third base. Adding him would give Toronto a better third base option than Vlad and a very good backup for Bo at short in the case of an injury.
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He would also be a quality bat to add to the lineup. Gregorious slashed a .284/.339/.488 line with the Phillies last season, a nice rebound from the injury-shortened season he had with the Yankees in 2019.
There has also been speculation that the Blue Jays and the Cubs talking about a trade involving Kris Byrant, and Scott Mitchell confirmed that there’s truth behind that. The Cubs already started their off-season cash-save/blow-up when they dealt Yu Darvish to San Diego, so selling off soon-to-be free agent Bryant seems to be the next play.
The 2016 National League MVP is coming off a really bad season in Chicago in which he slashed a .206/.293/.351 line over the course of 34 injury-riddled games. Is this a small sample size, injury-related thing we should just dismiss? Or is it a sign that Bryant’s best days are behind him. He’s only 29 years old.
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The other thing about making a deal for Bryant is that it could be a two birds, one stone situation if Kyle Hendricks is involved in the deal. Hendricks has very quietly been one of the best pitchers in the National League over past seven seasons. Since entering the league in 2014, he has a combined ERA of 3.12 and has never once had an ERA over 4.00.
He’s signed for three more seasons at $14,000,000 with a $16,000,000 vesting option in 2024. You obviously aren’t going to find a pitcher anywhere near as good as Hendricks in free agency at a price like that.
Are the Blue Jays ready to part with a top-level prospect like Jordan Groshans or Alejandro Kirk or even Austin Martin in order to acquire Bryant and Hendricks, who could be the final pieces of the puzzle to becoming the team to beat in the American League? Or are they better off making some more adds in free agency, like the aforementioned Gregorious along with a pitcher like Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, or James Paxton?
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It’s difficult to say, and there’s an argument to be made for either approach. Regardless, there’s plenty of time for the Blue Jays to continue to improve and it’s hard to imagine that their off-season ended with the Springer addition.