- The Blue Jays are known to be looking for some veteran rotation help, though they apparently weren’t “serious bidders” for the recently-signed Charlie Morton or Lance Lynn, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith writes. Morton signed a two-year, $30MM deal with the Rays that includes an option year, while Lynn reportedly got a three-year, $30MM commitment from the Rangers. It would be somewhat surprising if Toronto signed an experienced starter to such a contract, either in price or perhaps anything longer than two years, given how the Jays are in a rebuilding phase. The Blue Jays reportedly at least checked in on Lynn, though it isn’t surprising that they balked at giving him a three-year deal. Toronto’s lack of moves on the pitching front makes them a team to watch as various hurlers continue to come off the board, particularly if the team is also weighing offers for Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
Blue Jays Rumors
There are six teams currently in the running to sign shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). Tulo and his agent plan on narrowing the field as early as tomorrow.
Though they’ve been rumored as a logical landing spot, the Oakland A’s are not one of the clubs with expressed interest. Tulo was an A’s fan growing up, but according to his agent Paul Cohen, Oakland has not been in touch with the California native. Speculatively speaking, the Pirates, Mets, Yankees, Padres or Brewers could be potential fits for the 5-time All-Star.
One team that has checked in with Tulo is the the Cubs, per Fancred’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter). Considering the financial restraints and lofty aspirations of Chicago’s Northsiders, Tulo makes sense as a low-cost, high-ceiling target, despite the presence of Javier Baez at shortstop. Addison Russell will also be an option for Chicago when he returns from his suspension, but there’s obviously enough uncertainty there for the Cubs to take a look.
There’s not a team in the league that wouldn’t want a healthy and productive Tulowitzki on their roster, but after missing all of 2018 with bone spurs in his heels, it’s unclear how much of peak-Tulo remains. Tulowitzki, 34, hasn’t been a significant contributor since 2016, his first full season in Toronto.
For the first decade of his career, however, he was perhaps the preeminent two-way shortstop in the sport. He boasts a career .290/.361/.495 line with 224 home runs and 9.4 BB% against 16.6 K%.
Defensively, prime Tulo was as good as they come. He posted positive defensive metrics at short as recently as 2016, lending credence to his stated desire to stick there. After his somewhat surprising release from the Blue Jays, however, his agent indicated a willingness to move off that spot if needed.
The trade that sent Tulo from Colorado to Toronto in the summer of 2015 was dispiriting and disillusioning for the superstar – nonetheless, he mentored Josh Donaldson as the latter blossomed into an MVP for competitive Blue Jays clubs in 2015 and 2016, per the Athletic’s John Lott (subscription link). Tulo’s intensity sometimes plays poorly with the media, but his presence ought to buoy whichever clubhouse welcomes him next. Whether or not he has anything left to offer on the diamond is the open question.
- The Rockies have at least given internal consideration to pursuing Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak, according to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (Twitter link). It seems the Rox could also consider some free agent bats, with MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writing that Daniel Murphy, Neil Walker, and Logan Morrison are all on the club’s radar. Colorado received National League-worst production at first base last season, putting it in the market for help there. Smoak, meanwhile, put together his second straight solid offensive campaign. He’s due an affordable $8MM in 2019, and MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk noted in October that he’d make sense for the Rockies. Murphy, Walker and Morrison were less successful than Smoak in 2018, but they’ve experienced varying degrees of success and should come at affordable prices this winter. Further, both Murphy and Walker are versatile enough to line up at multiple positions.
- It’s still far too soon to know how the market will develop for Kikuchi, but we keep hearing of teams that wish to be involved to some degree. The Blue Jays intend to sit down with the 27-year-old lefty, per Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter), adding another organization. Though the Toronto club in no way profiles as a 2019 contender — most of the talk has surrounded its possible marketing of its own pitching — it surely has designs on a fairly quick bounce back and may view Kikuchi as a nice target to provide some good innings both now and in the future.
- There has been a bevy of rumors surrounding the Reds, who seem to be knocking on quite a few doors at multiple positions. Pitching, though, remains the key. The Cincinnati ballclub is still “active in trade discussions” with the Yankees on Sonny Gray and the Blue Jays on Marcus Stroman, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link). It’ll surprise few to hear that the Reds see those two hurlers as more reasonably achievable targets than Indians ace Corey Kluber, as Morosi adds. Both Gray and Stroman profile as bounceback targets, marking quite a distinction from Kluber, with the former clearly set to be dealt but the latter occupying a less-certain position on the trade market. With two years of control remaining, the Jays are said to be putting a high price on Stroman.
- Blue Jays right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, though teams are finding it especially difficult to pry them loose. Per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet, interested clubs have found the Jays’ asking price for both pitchers to be “uncomfortably high.” Because Stroman and Sanchez each have two years of control left, Nicholson-Smith suggests the Jays are holding out for a return similar to the one the Mariners received from the Yankees for James Paxton. That doesn’t seem realistic on Toronto’s part, however, as both Stroman and Sanchez struggled through injury-limited seasons in 2018.
7:41pm: Both Happ and former teammate Lance Lynn are “engaged with” the Astros, Yankees, Reds, Rangers and Blue Jays, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com tweets. Happ’s also continuing to draw the attention of the Phillies, while Lynn has received interest from the White Sox, according to Feinsand.
9:53am: It has seemed for the past few days that veteran lefty J.A. Happ could be the next domino to fall in the starting pitching market, and there are signs this morning that talks are advancing. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that Happ’s market is “heating up,” while Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter that Happ is sitting on multiple two-year offers.
The key question remains whether Happ will secure a guaranteed third season. Passan says that he has yet to receive such an offer. Happ’s representatives have “indicated he’ll sign with the first” team that meets that asking price, however, so it seems possible that something could come together swiftly.
Entering the offseason, MLBTR predicted that Happ would indeed secure that third season in a new deal, riding his solid recent track record to a $48MM guarantee. There certainly seems to be sufficient interest to support such an outcome, though organizations are understandably hesitant to commit to Happ through his age-38 campaign.
To this point, the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, Brewers, Reds, Angels, Astros, Twins, Blue Jays, and White Sox have all been connected to Happ. It’s certainly not impossible to imagine a few other organizations with possible interest as well, though at present it’s tough to gauge the likeliest landing spots.
The Blue Jays announced today that they have released veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The Toronto organization will remain obligated to pay him the remaining $38MM in guaranteed money on his contract (including a buyout of a 2021 option).
Tulowitzki, 34, missed all of the 2018 season due to bone spurs in both heels. He had been sidelined for a long stretch of 2017 as well, all while enduring an offensive decline, making for quite an uncertain future for the former superstar.
Still, it’s surprising that the Jays ended up moving on in this fashion. With two more guaranteed seasons on his contract, Tulowitzki could have been given a shot to work back to health and perhaps build up some trade value. Evidently that was not seen as a workable solution by the organization, which is transitioning to what it hopes will be a new core.
Teams that wish to take a shot on a rebound can now employ Tulowitzki for the league minimum salary for the next two campaigns, with the Jays footing the remainder of the bill. He’ll surely be guided by the chance at playing time, among other considerations, though even with that appealing contract situation it remains to be seen whether any MLB clubs will consider Tulo a reasonable candidate for semi-regular time (and, if so, whether he’ll still be seen as a shortstop).
The Cardinals are among the many teams pressing the Giants with interest in southpaw Will Smith, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic (Twitter link). Another San Francisco lefty, Tony Watson, appears to be of secondary interest to the Cards, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets. Goold notes that the St. Louis club is interested in swapping slugger Jose Martinez for a lefty reliever, though it’s fair to wonder whether he’d be of much interest to the Giants.
More on the pitching market:
- There’s at least some preliminary interest from the Reds in southpaw Wade Miley, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link). Given the Cincinnati organization’s need for significant rotation help, and its recent hiring of former Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson, it’s not particularly surprising to hear of this link. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of deal the 32-year-old Miley is ultimately able to secure after an odd 2018 campaign in which he worked through injury to compile 80 2/3 innings of 2.57 ERA ball. He managed only 5.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 on the year, though did sport a healthy 52.8% groundball rate while allowing a stingy (but perhaps not sustainable) 0.33 homers per nine.
- Pitching appears to be a key focus of the Blue Jays this winter, with the club occupying a potentially interesting place in the market. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Toronto ballclub is considering players that’d require multi-year commitments as well as bounceback types. But GM Ross Atkins emphasizes that the club won’t be “looking for free-agent pieces with the goal of trading them,” though of course future dealmaking would always be a possibility. Meanwhile, as Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi explores, Atkins evinced an increasing openness to weighing deals for existing starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in his most recent comments. While the team’s own valuation of the two talented-but-uncertain hurlers has surely not changed, Atkins suggests that rivals have shown sufficient interest that it’s worth further exploring trade scenarios. Whether any deal will come together isn’t clear, but it does seem evident that the Toronto club has gained clarity on the demand for these pitchers and that, as Davidi puts it, there’s at least a realistic path to trade outcomes.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman indicated yesterday that his club is taking a look at Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports. The New York powerhouse is presently engaged on other players, via trade and free agency, but Cashman says that Kikuchi is “somebody that’s worthy of having conversations about potentially landing.” Having taken a long scouting look at Kikuchi already, the Yanks surely have a price point in mind. Cashman says the team will continue to stay “very active, but disciplined” in its pursuit of pitching.
- The Mariners are another clear possibility for Kikuchi, as TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto made clear that the club both holds the Japanese hurler in high regard, calling him a “very good” starter, and is interested in trying to work out a deal. While they are taking a step back in the near-term, the M’s feel the 27-year-old “does fit our timeline,” per Dipoto.
- It seems there’s at least some interest around the game in Orioles righty Alex Cobb, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. While his early showing in Baltimore was simply brutal, Cobb did turn things around in the second half, when he held opposing hitters to a .232/.288/.377 slash and carried a 2.56 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. Of course, the $43MM still owed Cobb over the next three seasons presents quite a barrier to a deal.
- The Blue Jays have been drawing interest in Russell Martin and other catchers, while a rival executive describes closer Ken Giles as “available” in trade talks, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports. It stands to reason that the rebuilding Jays are open to just about any veteran on their roster, though Giles’ market may not develop until some of the other notable relievers on the free agent or trade fronts have been moved. Another rival executive believes Martin has trade value despite a $20MM salary owed in 2019, though the Jays’ willingness to eat a significant portion of that money will determine if a deal is realistic or not. Absorbing more of the salary would improve the quality of the prospect(s) Toronto received, Davidi writes.