Even after agreeing to a franchise-record $150MM deal with George Springer last night, the Blue Jays are trying to hammer out a deal with outfielder/designated hitter Michael Brantley, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link). There are “legit legs” to a potential Springer/Brantley package deal, TSN’s Scott Mitchell adds, noting that the Jays are “very open” to such an arrangement despite a glut of outfield options already on the roster.
Of course, few of the Jays’ in-house options can plausibly stack up to Brantley at the dish. The 33-yeaar-old has been among the sport’s best pure hitters throughout his Major League career and, since his power developed in a breakout age-27 campaign back in 2014, he’s been one of the game’s best all-around performers at the plate.
In that time, Brantley has logged 731 games and tallied 3145 plate appearances while posting a brilliant .311/.371/.481 batting line. He drew a walk in 8.3 percent of those plate appearances and has been one of the game’s toughest players to strike out, fanning at just a 10.1 percent pace.
Brantley just wrapped up a two-year, $32MM deal in Houston, where he and Springer were teammates and, as Rosenthal explored over the weekend when first suggesting an NBA-esque “package deal,” where they became close friends. Given Brantley’s consistency and his recent excellence in Houston, another multi-year deal seems likely.
Beyond the relationship between Springer and Brantley, the Blue Jays’ front office knows exactly what type of player and teammate they’d be getting in Brantley. President/CEO Mark Shapiro was the Indians’ general manager when Cleveland acquired Brantley from the Brewers as part of 2009’s CC Sabathia blockbuster, while current Jays GM Ross Atkins was Cleveland’s director of player development at the time. Brantley was still in Cleveland at the time Shapiro and Atkins were hired away by the Blue Jays.
There are myriad avenues for the Jays to make a lineup work, were Brantley to eventually join the fray. Presumably, he’d split his time between left field and designated hitter, joining Springer, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in that outfield carousel. Randal Grichuk and Derek Fisher seem the likeliest outfield bets to be squeezed out of playing time, but that’s largely true even with only Springer on board. Grichuk, still owed $28MM over the next three seasons, would seem an even likelier trade candidate than he already does if Brantley were signed.
Adding Brantley would also chip away at the DH time available to Rowdy Tellez. The Jays could work him into the mix at first base if they’re earnest about giving Vladimir Guerrero Jr. another shot at third base, although the general expectation is that Guerrero will eventually settle in as a first baseman/designated hitter himself. The Jays could look at moving Gurriel from left field back to the infield, be it at second base or third base (depending on where Cavan Biggio settles in), though such an infield alignment would come with some notable defensive questions.
All of that, of course, is putting the cart before the horse unless or until negotiations with Brantley pick up steam. Such “problems” are also the type of headaches that rebuilding teams look forward to having while struggling through their lean years; having “too many” talented hitters for nine spots in the lineup is hardly a bad thing, and the inherent depth associated with that situation has become one of the hallmarks of World Series-caliber clubs in recent years. And, as Mitchell notes, signing Brantley would allow the Jays to be even more comfortable dipping into their outfield and catching depth to improve the pitching staff on the trade market.
Whether Brantley ultimately joins Springer in Toronto (or Buffalo), one of the broader takeaways from the Blue Jays’ interest is that this is a team that is still intent on improving even after adding Springer and agreeing to terms with former Padres closer Kirby Yates. Toronto is still more than $80MM shy of the $210MM luxury-tax barrier and, assuming an even distribution of Springer’s $25MM annual salary, only has about $98MM in guaranteed contracts, spread among 12 players. For a team that has twice hiked its payroll north of $160MM (2017-18), there’s still an enormous amount of space for further additions.