A recent report from Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith gives Toronto fans something to look forward to after MLB’s lockout draws to a close. In addition to having trade discussions prior to the league’s halt on transactions, the Jays reportedly also have money to spend on additional free agents. Nicholson-Smith identifies acquiring an infielder and additional pitching as remaining needs for the club.
It was already expected that the Blue Jays would raise their payroll coming off a highly encouraging 2021 season, but the offseason to date has offered mixed signals about how high the payroll can stretch. Despite handing out a big dollar contract to Kevin Gausman (and a smaller dollar contract to Yimi Garcia) the organization has already seen its three top free agents sign for rich contracts elsewhere.
The Jays ended the 2021 season with $154MM in payroll obligations, per Cot’s Contracts. Including arbitration projections, RosterResource currently places the Toronto payroll, for luxury tax purposes, at $161MM. Nicholson-Smith’s report, though, indicates that the $161MM mark can continue to be pushed further.
It’s also worth noting that the Jays most likely trade chips coming into the offseason were thought to be of the catcher variety. Numerous teams have now picked the catcher market clean, with the Yankees and perhaps the Guardians as the only remaining contenders with questions at the position. An intra-division trade seems unlikely and the Blue Jays certainly have non-catcher prospect capital to deal from, but a lack of demand for one of Toronto’s most abundant resources may drive them to upgrade via free agency.
Fortunately for the 91-win team, the free agent market still has options for a front office looking to upgrade its infield. Kris Bryant and, if he’s open to a position change, Trevor Story can be had at the right price to cover third base. If Toronto is aiming for a more modest expenditure, they can also target the lefty-batting Kyle Seager or reunite with switch-hitting Jonathan Villar to compliment Santiago Espinal at the hot corner. These latter two options would serve as insurance in case Espinal is unable to build on his strong 2021 performance or Cavan Biggio fails to bounce back.
The pitching market is less flush with options but continues to carry upside at various price points. Carlos Rodon and Kenley Jansen represent two players who, for a premium, can help anchor a rotation and bullpen, respectively. Looking into Danny Duffy or old friend Ryan Tepera would serve a similar function for a lower cost, should the Jays prefer to splash their funds around more evenly.
Of course, just yesterday it was reported that Toronto expressed interest in left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (courtesy of MLB Network’s Jon Heyman). For reference on how much the lefty may cost, MLBTR predicted a two-year $20MM contract for the starting pitcher. Yesterday’s report portrayed a competitive market for the lefty, however, with multiple three-year offers potentially shifting the projected amount it may take to sign Kikuchi. Regardless of who baseball’s best team north of the border pursues, it’s clear they will be active when they’re next able.