The Blue Jays subtracted from their outfield mix earlier today when they dealt Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners. In the wake of that deal, they are now showing interest in adding free agent Brandon Nimmo, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com.
Toronto’s general manager Ross Atkins spoke with members of the media on a conference call after the deal and, though he didn’t mention Nimmo by name, nothing he said would seem to preclude the club from such a bold move. “We’re in a better position to do so now from a resource and from a playing time and recruitment standpoint,” Atkins tells Shi Davidi of Sportsnet on the subject of adding a free agent outfielder. One option that’s on the table is acquiring a center fielder and pushing George Springer over the now-vacated right field position. “I know George will be open to it,” Atkins tells Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.
If the Blue Jays are indeed interested in adding a free agent center fielder, they could hardly do better than Nimmo. Excluding Aaron Judge since he’s more of a right fielder, Nimmo is the clear top option available on the center field market. Then it’s a steep drop down to the next tier, consisting of veterans coming off injury-plagued seasons such as Kevin Kiermaier and Adam Duvall.
Having spent his entire career with the Mets thus far, Nimmo is a quality hitter, primarily for his ability to get on base. His career walk rate is 13.6%, well above the 2022 league average of 8.2%. That’s helped him produce a batting line of .269/.385/.441 for a wRC+ of 134, indicating he’s been 34% above league average in his time in the majors. He’s also been generally regarded as a quality outfielder, though perhaps not elite. Defensive Runs Saved gave him a 5 last year but a -3 in 2022. Ultimate Zone Rating had him at 3.4 in 2021 but -0.4 this year. Outs Above Average, however, had him at a 3 last year and a 6 this year.
Given that excellent production and his ability to also play the corners, Nimmo would likely be able to upgrade the outfield of the majority of teams around the league. It’s possible that Nimmo’s left-handed bat makes him extra appealing to the Blue Jays given their lineup is predominantly right-handed, though that wasn’t really a problem for them in 2022. Against right-handed pitching this year, the club collectively hit .266/.329/.432. That amounts to a 118 wRC+, indicating they were 18% above league average. Only the Dodgers at 122 wRC+ and Mets at 119 wRC+ were better against northpaws, which doesn’t suggest the club needs to make a left-handed bat a specific target.
Regardless, there’s an argument to moving Springer out of center field and into a corner, where the rigors of the position are generally agreed to be lesser. Springer is now 33, more than three years older than Nimmo, who is 29 and turning 30 in March. He’s also dealt with his fair share of injuries since joining the Blue Jays, only getting into 211 total games over the past two years. He’ll recovering from elbow surgery this offseason but is expected to be recovered in time for Spring Training. The advanced defensive metrics have him hovering around average in recent years, not terribly dissimilar to Nimmo. Of course, Nimmo has also dealt with injuries throughout his career, but his only significant absence of the past three seasons was a two-month stay on the IL in 2021 due to a left index finger contusion.
Since the Blue Jays aren’t the only team that could benefit from Nimmo’s skills, they will have competition and he won’t be cheap. The Mets are already known to be interested in bringing him back to Queens. MLBTR recently predicted a contract of $110MM over five years, which works out to $22MM per season. After today’s trade, Roster Resource puts Toronto’s 2023 payroll at $176MM. That means they’re already on track for an increase over last year’s franchise record Opening Day figure of $171MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. A few non-tenders could bump that down a hair but it still means that the club will have to spend into uncharted territory, or make a sizable subtraction, to make a significant free agent splash. Though they upgraded their bullpen today by acquiring Erik Swanson, they likely still need to do some work on the rotation as well. Regardless of where the final number ends up, Atkins seems to think they have the funds necessary to address their needs. He told Nicholson-Smith that today’s trade added payroll flexibility but “we didn’t need it.”