- Top Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is tackling some goals and having fun at the Dominican winter league, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca writes. In particular, the young phenom has been tasked with expanding his range and improving his footwork at the hot corner. It seems that Toronto is interested, too, in exposing Guerrero to the bright lights and relatively high stakes of playing against strong competition in his home nation.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins met with reporters (including Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm) today to discuss his team’s season and how the Jays plan to move forward going into the winter. Some highlights…
- The Jays will be “open to trades” and “open to any possible way we can make our team better,” Atkins said, stressing the need for added depth and versatility. The GM reiterated that the Jays aren’t looking to trade from their Major League roster unless they find a deal that improves the big league team.
- The Blue Jays want to “add one impact arm and one impact position player for sure,” though Atkins wasn’t necessarily sure that the position player would play right field, which is the only clear opening in the lineup. Teoscar Hernandez has “certainly earned the right” to compete for the everyday right field job in the wake of an impressive September. The “impact arm” also could be either a starter or a relief pitcher.
- Lack of team speed “is a clear issue for us,” though one that Atkins admitted is “really hard to [address] in free agency” given that most of the available veterans are generally on the older side and lacking in quickness.
- Middle infield is an area of concern, as “we can’t rely that we will have an absolutely healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis for the entire year, and we need to build depth around them.” Injuries limited Tulowitzki and Travis to just 116 games combined last year, and both players have exhibited a lack of durability over the last few seasons.
- Atkins confirmed that the Jays will not be exercising their end of Jose Bautista’s mutual option for 2018. (Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi recently reported that Bautista was informed of the team’s decision a few weeks ago.) It is “very unlikely,” Atkins said, that Bautista will return to the Jays even on a smaller deal in 2018, though the door isn’t closed on the longtime slugger eventually returning to the franchise. “When he comes back here, he will be celebrated in a very strong way,” Atkins said.
- No changes are coming to the coaching staff, and there weren’t any strong rumblings about a possible managerial change, Atkins confirmed that John Gibbons would also return to the dugout. “I feel strongly that he’s a part of our solution, and I love going to work with him every day,” Atkins said about the manager.
The 2017 season was easily Jose Bautista’s worst since his memorable breakout campaign in 2010, but the soon-to-be 37-year-old has no plans to retire, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports. If the right fielder does play somewhere next season, it probably won’t be in Toronto, which informed Bautista a couple weeks ago that it will buy him out for $500K in lieu of exercising its half of his $17MM mutual option, according to Davidi. Considering Bautista’s struggles this year, the decision was an obvious one for the Blue Jays, who gave the franchise icon a hero’s sendoff during their final home series of the season from Sept. 22-24.
A Blue Jay since August 2008, when they acquired him from Pittsburgh in a swap for catcher Robinzon Diaz (who had his last of 148 major league plate appearances in 2009), Bautista now stands as one of the greatest players in team history. Across 5,272 PAs with the Jays, Bautista slashed .253/.372/.506 with 288 home runs – second to Carlos Delgado in club history. While Bautista’s regular-season production in Toronto was outstanding, his go-ahead three-run homer and subsequent bat flip in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS against the Rangers will go down as his signature moment as a Jay.
Unfortunately for the Jays and Bautista, his offensive output began tailing off significantly the next season. At .234/.366/.452 with 22 long balls in 517 trips to the plate, Bautista logged above-average numbers in 2016, but they paled in comparison to his previous totals.
Thanks to his offensive decline and his inability to offer much value as either a defender or baserunner, he sat on the free agent market into last January until re-signing with the Blue Jays on a deal that guaranteed him $18MM this season and could have been worth another $37MM had he played out the options over the next two years. But Bautista sealed his fate in 2017 by hitting a mere .203/.308/.366 in 686 PAs and finishing with the majors’ seventh-worst fWAR among position players (minus-0.5). Along the way, he registered his worst strikeout and walk rates as a Jay (24.8 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively), his lowest ISO (.164), and his highest chase and swinging-strike rates (25.3 percent and 10.9 percent). Bautista also wasn’t the Statcast darling he had been in prior seasons, recording a paltry .304 expected weighted on-base average (via Baseball Savant) that nearly matched his actual wOBA (.301).
Judging by his stark dropoff in 2017, the upcoming winter figures to be far less lucrative for Bautista than the last one. Nevertheless, it won’t stop him from seeking another contract. Should Bautista land another deal, it probably won’t come from the Jays, though he told Davidi that he’d like to stay where is.
“All I can do is get ready for next season and be ready to contribute to the team that I’m with at that time,” Bautista said. “Right now I’m a Toronto Blue Jay, and that hasn’t changed. I’ve said it all along, this is where I want to be and finish my career. We’ll see what happens in the future. It’s out of my control now.”
- Machado isn’t the only superstar third baseman in the AL East who has one year left on his contract. The Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson is in the same situation, but if the soon-to-be 32-year-old gets his way, he’ll remain in Toronto for the long haul. Donaldson said Sunday that he’d “be tickled pink” to finish his career as a Jay, per Hazel Mae of Sportsnet (Twitter link). He also revealed, via Shi Davidi of Sportsnet, that he met with GM Ross Atkins to “let him know where I stand and where I stand is I want to be a Blue Jay.” There were no contract negotiations during the meeting, according to Donaldson, and Atkins was reluctant to share details of their discussion. “I can tell you I love Josh Donaldson as a player, he’s been a great teammate, really smart, interesting person, dynamic personality, he’s been great for this organization,” said Atkins. Check out Davidi’s piece for more quotes from Donaldson and Atkins.
- The Dodgers have selected the contract of infielder/outfielder Tim Locastro, as per a team announcement. Outfielder O’Koyea Dickson was placed on the 60-day DL due to a shoulder injury to create space on the 40-man roster. Manager Dave Roberts told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register and other reporters that the Dodgers are evaluating Locastro as a possible pinch-running specialist for the postseason, to the point that Locastro won’t receive any at-bats during his call-up. Locastro, a 13th-round pick for the Blue Jays in the 2013 draft, has a solid .293/.372/.402 slash line over his 2066 career minor league PA but has shown particular aptitude on the basepaths, stealing 143 bases out of 178 attempts.
- The Blue Jays announced that they’ve selected the contract of right-hander Taylor Cole for the final series of the season, with righty Aaron Sanchez shifting from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. He’ll give the team an additional bit of bullpen depth for the final three games, though he’s already been removed from the 40-man once this season, so he’ll again be a candidate come off once the regular season ends. The 27-year-old Cole missed much of the regular season due to injury in the minors but threw 12 2/3 innings of scoreless ball across three levels before being promoted for his big league debut in early August. Cole was rocked for four runs on six hits in one inning of work in his lone big league appearance. He suffered a broken toe in that appearance and landed on the MLB 10-day DL before being released and re-signed to a new minor league deal once his DL stint was up.
- The Cardinals “are expected to strongly pursue” a trade for Josh Donaldson during the offseason, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (via Twitter). The Cards’ internal interest in Donaldson was initially reported last July though at that time, no offers had been made. Jedd Gyorko saw the bulk of action at third base for St. Louis last season (with Greg Garcia getting a fair amount of action as a left-handed hitting complement) and Gyorko could be a possible candidate to be headed back to the Blue Jays as part of a deal. The Cardinals have a surplus of both outfielders and multi-positional infielders, so they’re a fit for Toronto’s needs as potential trade partners. Of course, there hasn’t been any indication that the Jays are actually shopping their star third baseman. Donaldson is a free agent after the 2018 season, though with the Jays planning to contend next year, it would take a massive offer to get them to part ways with the former AL MVP.
- The Blue Jays aren’t expected to retain longtime right fielder Jose Bautista this offseason, writes Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com, making young Teoscar Hernandez’s huge September showing all the more important. Hernandez’s biggest obstacle, to date, has been his lack of plate discipline with the Jays. However, he’s drawn a pair of walks in his past couple of games, and manager John Gibbons said he’s been encouraged by a more measured approach to Hernandez’s plate appearances. “I’ve noticed a big change in his aggression at the plate,” said the skipper. “He’s still an aggressive hitter, but he’s not up there swinging at everything, which is key.” Hernandez is Toronto’s “most realistic” internal candidate to take over an everyday corner outfield spot in 2018, per Chisholm. Hernandez is hitting .282/.313/.667 with eight homers in just 83 plate appearances for the Jays since being called up earlier this month.
- With right fielder Jose Bautista likely playing the final home game of his Blue Jays tenure on Sunday, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet looks back on the team’s 2008 acquisition of the now-franchise icon and some of his most memorable moments in Toronto. When the Jays picked up Bautista in a trade with the Pirates in August 2008 (for catcher Robinzon Diaz), they were merely looking for a stopgap at third base to fill in for the injured Scott Rolen. “I’m not trying to send the wrong message – this guy isn’t like Mike Schmidt,” then-Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. “He’s not going to come out here and hit 40 home runs. But he’s a guy that can hit double-digit home runs for us in a spot where right now we need some help.” Nine years later, Bautista ranks second in Jays history in homers (287), 22 of which have come this season. Unfortunately for both team and player, the 36-year-old’s once-magnificent production began dropping off significantly last season and has cratered in 2017. As an impending free agent, Bautista will move on to a new team or retirement over the winter.
- Steve Pearce has been shut down for the season due to a bad back, Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Pearce will receive epidural injections next week in order to hopefully solve the back soreness that has bothered him for much of the season. Pearce will conclude his first season with the Blue Jays with a .252/.319/.438 slash line and 13 homers in 348 PA, as he was limited to 92 games due to the back problem and a month-long DL stint due to a calf strain.
- Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro took part in a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi (part one; part two) that included some mention of Josh Donaldson’s future in Toronto, though Shapiro said that the team wasn’t planning to publicly discuss such matters. Shapiro wouldn’t confirm or deny if the team had already held any extension talks with the star third baseman, who is set to hit free agency after the 2018 season.
- Shapiro said “Durability. Athleticism. Flexibility” will be three of the Jays’ biggest lineup needs, noting that the team could address those needs via a corner outfielder or in a backup middle infield role behind Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. A large roster overhaul isn’t forthcoming, as Shapiro believes “it’s not a big leap for us” to return to postseason contention given the number of injuries and unexpected setbacks that plagued the Jays’ season. The interview is well worth a full read, as Shapiro touches on such other subjects as player development philosophy, the team’s farm system, plans for a new Spring Training facility and renovations to Rogers Centre.