Center field is a question mark for the Blue Jays, as Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, and Derek Fisher are all imperfect defensive options while the likes of Anthony Alford or Jonathan Davis are lacking in MLB experience. There has been some speculation that the Jays could look to upgrade the position, though a notable acquisition like Starling Marte or Shogo Akiyama isn’t likely, as The Toronto Star’s Gregor Chisholm hears from sources within and outside the Blue Jays organization that Marte and Akiyama are “not viewed as a potential solution.”
Marte was perhaps a longer shot, as a Jays team that didn’t have plans to contend in 2020 didn’t seem like an ideal suitor for a player only under control (via a club option) through the 2021 season. A very notable link between the Jays and Pirates did develop, however, when Blue Jays senior VP of baseball operations Ben Cherington hired as Pittsburgh’s new general manager. There has been increasing buzz about the possibility of a Marte trade as part of a wider Bucs rebuild process this winter, as Pirates owner Robert Nutting said that Cherington had free reign to deal any player on the roster that he saw fit to be moved.
GM Ross Atkins said a few weeks ago, however, that the Jays had some interest in Akiyama, as well as two Japanese players available through the posting system — Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Ryosuke Kikuchi. Unlike Tsutsugo or Kikuchi, Akiyama is free to be signed without any additional posting fee, and has already received some degree of interest from clubs like the Mariners, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Cubs.
Over the last five seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions, Akiyama hit .320/.398/.497 with 94 homers and 78 steals, displaying the kind of well-rounded skillset that theoretically would’ve helped a Toronto club that struggled to either steal bases or reach base in general in 2019. MLBTR projected Akiyama to land a modest two-year, $6MM deal on the open market, so he wouldn’t have been an expensive purchase for the Jays.
That said, Akiyama also turns 32 in April, and is recovering from a broken bone in his foot suffered in a late October game. Given the injury concern and the unlikelihood that Akiyama would be a long-term answer, the Blue Jays might simply prefer to see what they have with their internal candidates before considering other center fielders. As Atkins recently stated, the team will explore position player acquisitions “based on the opportunity to add, the cost to add that player and determine what that means in terms of sacrifice for playing time. It’s too hard to say exactly how we’ll weigh that. It depends on the position we’re acquiring, which player is coming off or losing playing time.”