In the wild frenzy of free agent signings that preceded the current MLB lockout, the Toronto Blue Jays bolstered both ends of their pitching staff by signing Kevin Gausman for their rotation and Yimi Garcia to the bullpen. Less than 24 hours after the lockout began, it was reported that there would be more spending to come after the lockout. One week after that, another report revealed that the Blue Jays were “very much” in the Corey Seager sweepstakes, before the star shortstop signed with the Rangers for $325MM over 10 years.
The exact size and shape of the team’s offer to Seager isn’t known, but it stands to reason that it had an average annual value of at least $30MM, given that Seager eventually got himself an AAV of $32.5MM from the Rangers. If the Blue Jays were one of the last teams at the bargaining table, they must have at least been in that vicinity.
The possibility of the club having $30MM remaining in their pocketbook isn’t outlandish. Their opening day payroll for 2022 is currently just under $140MM, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. Although that’s already higher than their $135MM opening day figure from this past season, they have been as high as $163MM in recent years. (Past figures from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.) Adding another $30MM to the ledger would get them around $170MM, which would be a franchise record, but just barely, a justifiable move for a team that’s squarely in a competitive window and wants to take another step forward to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, after coming just a hair short of the postseason in 2021.
It’s possible that a signing of Seager would have been followed by the Jays subtracting payroll by sending another contract away in a trade, as there was a report of a deal that would have sent Randal Grichuk to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. But that trade likely would have been close to revenue-neutral, with Grichuk being owed $10.3MM in each of the next two seasons and Bradley getting $9.5MM in 2021 with a $12MM club option for 2023 that comes with an $8MM buyout. Regardless, any revenue-saving plans the Blue Jays had in mind to go along with a Seager deal could also be combined with whatever other moves they make instead.
With the club coming up just short on Seager, how else can they spend that money? Let’s examine some options, keeping in mind that their biggest needs are more pitching and an upgrade at either second or third base.
One Big Infield Splash
If the Jays were willing to consider a big investment on a player like Seager, it seems reasonable to assume that they would consider doing the same for other players with similar skills. On MLBTR’s list of Top 50 Free Agents, there were two players head-and-shoulders above the rest. One of them was Seager, the other was Carlos Correa. Both are 27-year-old star shortstops who were predicted to get contracts of ten years and over $300MM. Seager ended up beating his prediction slightly, with Correa remaining a free agent.
There are some slight differences, however. Broadly speaking, Seager is a better hitter than Correa, but Correa comes out ahead on the defensive side of things. Since the Blue Jays already have Bo Bichette at shortstop, it’s possible they were interested in Seager’s bat and were comfortable with moving him to either second or third base. If Correa were moved off of shortstop, it would detract from his value to some degree. Bichette has previously expressed a willingness to move off of shortstop, but it’s possible that two further years of development and approaching free agency have changed his mind on that topic. Correa would also further cement the Jays as a right-handed heavy team, with Cavan Biggio the only lefty likely to see significant playing time. Perhaps Seager’s left-handed bat gave him an extra layer of appeal that Correa doesn’t have. However, both players are of such a high caliber that the platoon situation likely only makes marginal difference.
There’s also the elephant in the room of Correa’s involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, but the Blue Jays don’t seem to be bothered too much about that, given that they’ve already signed George Springer, Correa’s former teammate with the Astros, as well as hiring the Astros’ former hitting coach Dave Hudgens to be their bench coach. Some people in the baseball industry predicted Correa to sign with the Tigers because of the potential to reunite with former Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch, but could the same logic apply to Springer and Hudgens in Toronto?
Just behind Correa and Seager on MLBTR’s Top 50 was Freddie Freeman in the number three slot, predicted to get $180MM over six years, exactly $30MM per year. Although many expected Freeman to quickly re-sign in Atlanta on the heels of their World Series triumph, he remains unsigned and has been connected to other teams in rumors, including the Blue Jays.
Freeman would be something of an awkward fit, given that the Blue Jays already have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base. But Freeman is such an elite hitter that it could make it worthwhile to have them share first base and designated hitter duties. It would lessen the ability of the club to use the DH spot for an injured player, like they did with Springer in 2021, but Freeman’s bat is so good that the team would have to consider it. He’s had 11 straight years with a wRC+ of at least 115 and nine straight years of at least 132.
Coming in at number four on MLBTR’s list was Kris Bryant, predicted to get a contract of $160MM over six years, just a bit below Freeman. Bryant may be a notch below Freeman with the bat, but he’s younger and is a much easier fit for the Blue Jays, as he could slot into third base, with a Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal platoon then covering second. He could also function as an emergency outfielder, perhaps making it easier for the club to follow through on a Grichuk deal.
One final option for this category is Trevor Story. Although he is also a shortstop, it has recently been reported some scouts in the industry believe he should be moved to second base due to issues with his throwing, as evidenced by his 11 throwing errors this year. The Blue Jays already showed themselves willing to take a similar chance on moving a shortstop to second base with Marcus Semien, which paid off handsomely. If they were to try again with Story, then Biggio and Espinal could cover third base. MLBTR predicted Story to get a contract of $126MM over six years, which is an AAV of $21MM. That’s a notch below the other options mentioned in this section, leaving them some extra cash to upgrade the pitching staff.
Another Big Rotation Add
After losing Robbie Ray to the Mariners and Steven Matz to the Cardinals, the Blue Jays’ rotation was dealt two serious blows. They made one big addition by signing Gausman, joining Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah to form a solid front four. The fifth spot figures to be a competition between Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch, but the team could also add another starter and bump those options into the bullpen or the minors.
The starting pitching market was the most frenzied prior to the lockout, with many of the top and middle-tier arms flying off the board. The highest-ranked starter from MLBTR’s Top 50 that remains unsigned is Carlos Rodon, predicted to get a one-year, $25MM deal. The lefty’s market is difficult to predict due to his uneven 2021. On the one hand, he showed his ace-level upside for the first few months of the year. But on the other hand, shoulder fatigue limited his workload and velocity down the stretch. MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently took a closer look at his market and identified the Blue Jays as one of many potential fits.
Crowd the Outfield
A few weeks ago, it was reported that Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki was garnering a great deal of interest from the AL East, with the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays all listed as his most aggressive suitors. The fit for the Blue Jays is a bit awkward at first glance, as they already have four outfielders in George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk. However, Grichuk has already been discussed in some trade scenarios, as mentioned above, which could make the fit possible.
MLBTR predicted that Suzuki would earn a contract of $55MM over five years. Although that works out to $11MM per year, it would also come with a posting fee of just over $10MM, owed to his former team, the Hiroshima Carp. Still, even with that fee, that’s an outlay of about $20MM for this year, leaving the club with some money leftover to address the pitching staff and infield, in addition to whatever return they could get from a Grichuk deal.
Although this path isn’t as smooth as some others, if they’re willing to consider it with Suzuki, perhaps they would consider it with other corner outfielders as well. Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Michael Conforto and Eddie Rosario are all still available, and all were predicted by MLBTR to get between $23MM and $7.5MM per year.
Spread the Money Around
After Rodon, the other starting pitchers on MLBTR’s Top 50 that remain unsigned are Clayton Kershaw, Yusei Kikuchi, Zack Greinke and Danny Duffy. All the rumors around Kershaw seem to indicate he’s deciding between returning to the Dodgers or joining the Rangers, given his connections to the Dallas area. As for Duffy, he was recently revealed to have had surgery and won’t be an option until June. Greinke’s market has been quiet since the offseason began, making it unclear if he even intends to play in 2022.
The Blue Jays were connected to Kikuchi before the lockout, making him seem like a legitimate option. MLBTR predicted a two-year, $20MM contract for the southpaw. Although he reportedly has received three-year offers, the AAV should still be in the $10MM range. If the Jays have $30MM to play with, they could add Kikuchi and still have plenty leftover for an infield move. Going to the tier below Correa, Freeman, Bryant and Story, there are still some intriguing options, such as Kyle Seager and Jonathan Villar.
Villar has already been a Blue Jay once, having been acquired at the 2020 trade deadline. He had a nice campaign for the Mets in 2021, playing mostly at third, but also seeing some time at second and short. He won’t break the bank, with MLBTR predicting a contract of two years, $14MM. Even with signing Kikuchi and Villar, they could be left with over $10MM to throw at the bullpen, maybe even enough to go after Kenley Jansen, who was predicted to get $26MM over two years.
After missing out on the younger Seager, could the Jays go after the elder? Kyle had a bit of a down year at the plate, seemingly selling out for maximum power, as he had the highest strikeout rate of his career but also set a personal best with 33 homers. That production, combined with his good defense, still amounted to 2.5 fWAR, making him a solid option for an everyday third baseman. MLBTR predicted a two-year contract worth $24MM. With a combined Kikuchi and Seager haul, they could still have enough leftover to bring back former Blue Jay Ryan Tepera, predicted to get $12MM over two years.
There are also many trade candidates that could fit into the team’s plans. The Athletics are expected to undergo a fire sale as soon as the lockout concludes, with many of their trade chips making for nice fits on the Jays’ roster. Starting pitchers Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas have been often mentioned as some of the most likely players for Oakland to trade, given their increasing salaries and dwindling club control. Manaea and Bassitt are both heading into their final year before free agency, projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $10.2MM and $8.8MM, respectively. Montas has two years of control and is projected for a salary of $5.2MM in 2022. Matt Chapman is another trade candidate of note here, as he could fit nicely at third base for the Jays. He also has two years of team control remaining, with a projected salary of $9.5MM for the upcoming campaign.
The Reds have also been rumored to be exploring trades for some players in similar positions, with pitchers Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle all having two years of team control remaining. Gray will make $10.7MM in 2022 and has a $12.5MM club option for 2023. Castillo is projected to earn an arbitration salary of $7.6MM, with Mahle projected at $5.6MM. Any of those Athletics or Reds could make sense for the Jays and leave them with money to spend elsewhere, although they would all come with the additional cost of whatever players are sent the other way.
It’s widely expected that the ongoing lockout will persist into the new year, getting close to the scheduled start of spring training and maybe even delaying it. Whenever that conclusion finally arrives, there figures to be a short window between the signing of the new CBA and the resumption of games. With still so many free agents left unsigned and so many teams with trade business remaining, it’s expected that this period will be a wild frenzy of hot stove activity, perhaps rivalling or even surpassing what we saw just before the lockout. If the Blue Jays have $30MM to throw around, they could be one of the most noteworthy players in the mix, with a wide variety of paths available to them.