- The Cardinals are interested in upgrading the left side of their infield, perhaps by way of a Josh Donaldson acquisition and/or the addition of a defensively gifted shortstop, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests. This isn’t the first time the Cardinals have been connected to Donaldson, but the Blue Jays are unlikely to trade the soon-to-be 32-year-old in advance of 2018, his final season of team control. The 2015 AL MVP is projected to rake in a $20.7MM arbitration award this offseason.
- Jay Bruce’s camp is reportedly setting its sights high and asking for a five-year deal worth $80-90MM, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported yesterday. High asking price notwithstanding, Heyman reports today in his weekly notes column that the Blue Jays, Giants, Mariners and Cardinals are four potential landing spots for Bruce in free agency. Heyman notes that Bruce should be able to comfortably land a three-year commitment that could price him out of the comfort zones of the Mets and the Indians.
The Blue Jays announced on Monday that they’ve claimed right-hander Taylor Guerrieri off waivers from the Rays. Additionally, Toronto announced that catcher Rafael Lopez and right-handers Leonel Campos, Luis Santos and Taylor Cole have been outrighted off the 40-man roster after clearing waivers.
Arm troubles have persistently slowed the career of Guerrieri, a former first-round pick (No. 24 overall, 2011) that from 2012-14 was a consensus top 100 prospect in all of baseball. Guerrieri had Tommy John surgery back in 2013, which limited him to 9 1/3 frames the following season. He slowly built back up over the next two seasons, topping out at a career-high 146 1/3 innings at the Double-A level in 2016. However, further elbow complications limited Guerrieri to that exact same mark of 9 1/3 innings once again in 2017, though he didn’t require surgery this time around. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that Guerrieri is believed to be healthy and ready for Spring Training 2018.
Santos (27 in February) and Campos (30) made a handful of appearances each in Toronto this past season, totaling 31 1/3 innings between the two of them. While Santos posted a solid-looking 2.70 ERA in his 16 2/3 frames, he also walked four and served up four home runs in that time. He turned in a 4.07 ERA in 108 1/3 Triple-A innings, mostly as a starter. Campos, meanwhile, showed promising strikeout numbers but shakier control both in the Majors and minors — a common trend throughout his career.
Cole, 28, saw more limited action yet, missing most of the minor league season with an injury before going on a 12 2/3-inning scoreless streak and earning a late look in the Majors. He was hit hard in his lone MLB appearance and suffered a fractured toe after one inning, which cut short his chances of further auditioning.
Lopez, meanwhile, had a great season in Triple-A, hitting .293/.368/.551 in 223 plate appearances. The 30-year-old saw just 63 PAs with the Blue Jays late in the season, though, and has never established himself in the Majors to this point in his career (nor has he demonstrated the level of offensive prowess he did at Buffalo this season).
The Blue Jays officially declined their end of Jose Bautista’s $17MM mutual option for 2018, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (Twitter link). The Jays informed Bautista of the move back in September, and GM Ross Atkins confirmed during his end-of-season talk with reporters that the option wouldn’t be picked up. Bautista will receive $500K for the option’s buyout.
It seemed as if Bautista and the Blue Jays would part ways after winter, but after Bautista failed to drum up much interest in free agency, he re-signed with Toronto for a one-year, $18.5MM deal (which included the 2018 mutual option and a 2019 vesting option worth $20MM). Any hopes the Jays had of scoring a bargain were dashed after Bautista followed up an injury-plagued down year in 2016 with a sub-replacement level (-0.5 fWAR) 2017 season. Bautista hit just .203/.308/.366 over 686 plate appearances, managing 23 homers but creating 20 percent fewer runs (80 wRC+) than the average batter.
Bautista said he wants to continue his career, though at age 37 and with two declining years now on his record, he may be hard-pressed to even find a Major League contract this winter. He has expressed an openness to playing first base in the past, so that extra bit of versatility could help his case, particularly since his right field defense has been subpar over the last few season. Atkins described the chances of Bautista returning to Toronto on a smaller contract next season as “very unlikely,” which isn’t a surprise since the Jays are looking to get younger and more athletic, plus the DH spot is filled by Kendrys Morales.
- The Blue Jays “were after” Jay Bruce during the season and are likely to pursue the outfielder in free agency, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. Bruce reportedly didn’t draw much trade interest prior to the July deadline, though the Mets were able to deal the slugger to Cleveland in August. It should be noted that the Jays were one of eight teams on Bruce’s no-trade list, so it could be that Bruce nixed the idea of moving to a team that was only on the outskirts of the AL wild card chase and never reached the .500 mark all season. The Jays’ inclusion on Bruce’s list also doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t consider them as a free agent destination — given the Blue Jays’ past interest in his services, Bruce could have been trying to leverage some extra financial incentive in the event of another trade offer. MLBTR’s top 50 free agents list predicted a match between Bruce and the Jays, as Toronto is sorely in need of a right fielder and a big left-handed bat.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here to read the other entries in this series.
After an injury-riddled season, the Blue Jays are looking to rebound back into the AL East race. With Josh Donaldson and several other key veterans only under contract through 2018, however, it remains to be seen if the Jays will acquire upgrades that will only help them next season, or if they’ll aim for longer-term assets.
- Troy Tulowitzki, SS: $54MM through 2020 ($15MM club option for 2021, $4MM buyout)
- Russell Martin, C: $40MM through 2019
- Kendrys Morales, DH: $23MM through 2019
- Lourdes Gurriel, IF/OF: $18.4MM through 2023
- Marco Estrada, SP: $13MM through 2018
- J.A. Happ, SP: $13MM through 2018
- Steve Pearce, OF/1B: $6.25MM through 2018
- Justin Smoak, 1B: $4.125MM through 2018 ($6MM club option for 2019, $250K buyout)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Josh Donaldson (5.158) – $20.7MM
- Aaron Loup (5.040) – $1.8MM
- Tom Koehler (4.090) – $6.0MM
- Ezequiel Carrera (4.039) – $1.9MM
- Marcus Stroman (3.148) – $7.2MM
- Kevin Pillar (3.113) – $4.0MM
- Ryan Goins (3.106) – $1.8MM
- Aaron Sanchez (3.069) – $1.9MM
- Devon Travis (3.000) – $1.7MM
- Roberto Osuna (3.000) – $5.6MM
- Dominic Leone (2.123) – $1.2MM
- Non-tender candidate: Koehler
One major bit of offseason business has already been handled, as Marco Estrada agreed to a one-year, $13MM extension to return to the Jays next season. 2017 was easily the worst of Estrada’s three seasons in Toronto, though much of the damage was came during a midseason slump that Estrada has said was partially caused by off-the-field issues. Given that Estrada looked closer to his old form during the second half of the season, he’ll give the Jays another solid arm to slot in behind Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez in the rotation.
Of course, that’s assuming Sanchez is able to recover from the blister and fingernail problems that kept him on the disabled list for much of the season. A full offseason of recovery time would theoretically have Sanchez ready to go for Spring Training, though given the unpredictable nature of his recurring injury, re-signing Estrada was particularly important for the Jays.
Sanchez’s blister was essentially a metaphor for the entire 2017 Blue Jays season. The team was simply never able to get rolling due to a swath of injuries and a lack of performance from most of the players who were able to stay healthy. The starting rotation couldn’t duplicate its 2016 success, and the lineup delivered some of the poorest offensive numbers of any team in baseball. A 2-11 start put the Jays behind the eight ball from the very beginning, and the club wasn’t able to achieve as much as a .500 record at any point during the year.
Better health will only go so far in solving the Jays’ problems. The team can reasonably count on Donaldson, Happ, and Russell Martin delivering closer to full seasons, though Martin turns 35 in February. Sanchez’s status is yet to be determined, and the substantial injury histories of Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis and Steve Pearce make them question marks rather than reliable regulars for next year’s lineup.
As one might expect in the wake of such a season, GM Ross Atkins has stated that adding roster depth is a big priority for the club. The challenge will be in deciding where to acquire that depth, since the Jays are thin at several positions and don’t have much in the way of MLB-ready talent at the upper levels of the minors.
One such area is starting pitching, as the Blue Jays don’t have a fifth starter lined up. Joe Biagini is the current favorite for the job but was inconsistent as a starter last season. Tom Koehler (if he isn’t non-tendered) or prospect Ryan Borucki could be candidates, while other internal options like Chris Rowley seem more like minor league depth options. The case could also be made that Biagini and Koehler are better utilized as relievers.
Between the fifth starter opening and Sanchez’s blister concerns, the Blue Jays could have cause to add a veteran starter on a short-term deal. Jason Vargas, CC Sabathia, Jaime Garcia, Doug Fister, and familiar face Brett Anderson are a few of the experienced arms available in free agency, though with Estrada and Happ both under contract for just one more year, I’d argue that Toronto could make a bigger splash for a front-of-the-rotation type. Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta seem like long shots, but the Jays have already been cited as a likely suitor for Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn is another second-tier rotation arm who would require a substantial, but not a bank-breaking multi-year contract.
Of course, Shohei Otani would be a great fit for Toronto, as he would in the rotation of every other MLB team. The Jays’ interest in Otani is known, though it doesn’t seem like they are frontrunners for his services, if he is even made available to MLB teams at all this winter (which is looking less clear than ever). If Otani did sign with the Jays, one would think the team would look to trade Kendrys Morales (even while eating some money in a deal) to free up the DH spot for Otani to get at-bats.
Even without an Otani signing, the idea of dealing Morales or another veteran regular may still have to be explored. Morales and Tulowitzki have little to no trade value given their poor 2017 seasons and the money remaining on their contracts; Martin is also owed $40MM through the next two years, and there aren’t many contenders in need of catching help.
Atkins has said that the Jays aren’t looking to trade from their MLB roster, though that may be a necessity given their lack of minor league trade chips (and obviously top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette aren’t going anywhere). A rebuilding team could have interest in Travis given his youth and the potential he’s shown when he has been able to play. Justin Smoak’s breakout year turned his contract into a bargain, and Toronto could look to sell high on him, though teams could prefer to just sign a free agent first baseman rather than make a trade. Teams could be interested in Kevin Pillar’s elite center field glove, and the Jays could conceivably replace Pillar in center field with Teoscar Hernandez or Anthony Alford.
The biggest trade chip, of course, is Donaldson, though he reportedly isn’t on the table as a trade candidate since the Jays plan to contend next year. The star third baseman has expressed interest in an extension that would keep him in Toronto beyond 2018, though if contract talks fail to materialize over the winter, trade speculation will only increase. The Cardinals are known to be one of several teams interested in Donaldson’s services, and they’re a particularly interesting potential trade partner since they can offer outfielders and multi-positional infielders. Even if Donaldson isn’t up for discussion, I’d imagine the Jays will have some talks with the Cards this winter.
These may seem like bold moves for a team that doesn’t seem to be planning any sort of huge shakeup. That said, if the Jays intend to add (in the words of president/CEO Mark Shapiro) “Durability. Athleticism. Flexibility,” to the roster, one way to achieve those goals is to move some of the players that don’t fit those categories. Trading Travis, for instance, would make it easier for the Jays to sign a multi-position infielder like Eduardo Nunez, as Toronto could then offer Nunez regular time at second base and then have the option of bouncing him around the diamond as the situation warrants. As mentioned, Morales couldn’t be dealt without eating a big chunk of the $23MM remaining on his contract, though moving a DH-only player who posted below-average hitting numbers last year would go a long way to giving the Blue Jays a more well-rounded roster.
If Toronto eschews bigger moves in search of pure depth additions, someone like Stephen Drew stands out as a left-handed hitting utility infield option. Backup catcher is a notable area of need, as Jays backup catchers combined for -1.5 fWAR last year — a particular issue given that Martin played in just 91 games. Miguel Montero struggled badly after joining the Jays last summer and isn’t likely to be re-signed.
The corner outfield positions are the most obvious areas to add much-needed speed and left-handed hitting into the mix. The team has already confirmed that it won’t be picking up its end of Jose Bautista’s mutual option, ending the franchise icon’s tenure in Toronto on a sour (-0.5 fWAR) note. This leaves Pearce as the top option in left field and Hernandez as the current favorite in right field after his impressive September performance. Alford and Ezequiel Carrera are also in the mix as platoon or backup options, with former top prospect Dalton Pompey slated for Triple-A after missing almost all of 2017 due to a concussion and a knee injury.
There is clearly room for improvement here, as Pearce and the youngsters could be slated for left field and a new face could play right. Jay Bruce has been a Blue Jays target in the past and would bring some much-needed left-handed pop to right field, so Toronto is likely to check in on his availability in free agency. Left-handed bats like Curtis Granderson or Jon Jay aren’t quite ideal for everyday roles, though the Jays can use Pearce and Hernandez as their corner outfielders when a southpaw is on the mound. If the Indians decided to decline their club option on Michael Brantley in the wake of Brantley’s recent ankle surgery, you’d expect Atkins and Shapiro to be all over Brantley given their past Cleveland ties.
Beyond free agents, teams like the Marlins, Indians, White Sox and (as mentioned) the Cardinals all could have outfielders for sale this winter. Jays fans may cringe at the idea of another big trade with the Marlins, but since Toronto had some interest in Dee Gordon last summer, Miami fits as a trade partner that could address the Jays’ needs at both second base and in the outfield in a single blockbuster. This is just my speculation, however — the Blue Jays may not have the prospects necessary to attract the Marlins’ attention on their star outfielders, and the Jays reportedly balked at Gordon’s remaining salary ($38MM through 2020).
Speaking of salary, the Jays have approximately $142.5 MM tied up in 19 players (eight guaranteed salaries and their 11-player arbitration class) for next season. This gives them some room to spend if they approach their $163.3MM payroll from last Opening Day, though even with Bautista off the books, big arb raises for Donaldson, Pillar, Stroman, Koehler, and Roberto Osuna will wipe out a lot of those savings. Koehler’s $6MM arbitration price tag is probably too high for the Jays’ liking, though they could look to re-sign him at a lower salary given his potential value as a swingman, multi-inning reliever, or fifth starter candidate.
Now that Osuna’s strong numbers no longer come with the benefit of a pre-arbitration salary, there will likely be some trade talk surrounding the 22-year-old closer. Osuna had a career-high 3.38 ERA and ten blown saves in 2017 while also dealing with some anxiety issues. S everal advanced metrics, though, indicate that the young closer was as dominant as ever last season and just ran into some bad luck (only a 59.5% strand rate) and perhaps some complications from increased usage of a cutter rather than his normal fastball-heavy arsenal. While teams will surely approach the Blue Jays with offers, it would be a surprise to see Osuna dealt given that his salary is still quite reasonable for a closer with his track record.
The Jays also need Osuna to anchor a bullpen that posted some decent numbers last year despite being heavily overworked; Jays relievers pitched 596 2/3 innings, the third-most of any club in baseball. Beyond Osuna, Toronto has some solid options on hand (Danny Barnes, Dominic Leone, Ryan Tepera, Carlos Ramirez) and could be further bolstered depending on what happens with Biagini or Koehler. Aaron Loup is the only southpaw in the pen, so expect the Jays to check in on left-handed relievers this winter. The club could look to replicate its low-cost signings of Joe Smith and J.P. Howell from last offseason, hoping for a better than their .500 return — Smith pitched well and was flipped at the trade deadline, while Howell battled injuries and was released in August.
The Atkins/Shapiro regime hasn’t made many big splashes in its two offseasons running the front office, though more is required this winter in the wake of the Jays’ disappointing 2017 campaign. Counting on better health to fix the problems is a big risk, especially since the club’s roster is old enough that decline is just as big a concern as injuries at this point. As intent as the Blue Jays are on contending, the AL East is competitive enough that another slow start could quickly turn the Jays into deadline sellers. Some significant roster shuffling is needed for the Jays to make 2017 into an aberration, rather than the first sign that their contention window is closing.
Schultz, 32, underwent Tommy John surgery late in camp, so he’s unlikely to be ready to participate fully in Spring Training. That said, he ought to have a chance of pitching for much of the 2018 season. Schultz, who owns a 4.54 ERA over 67 1/3 career MLB frames could either sign early or wait and put on a showcase once he’s ready.
Valdez, who’s also 32, has sparse MLB experience but has functioned as a depth swingman option. He has pitched well at Triple-A over the past two seasons since returning from a few years in the Mexican League.
As for Ceciliani, the 27-year-old has spent the past two seasons in the Toronto organization but hasn’t earned much time in the majors. A shoulder injury kept him out for much of the 2017 season, and Ceciliani struggled badly (.156/.198/.169) in the 81 plate appearances he was able to take at Triple-A.
The indispensable Matt Eddy of Baseball America provides an overview of a vast number of players electing free agency following the 2017 season in his latest Minor Transactions roundup. Eddy largely focuses on players with big league service time (significant service time, in some cases) that were outrighted off the roster that are now hitting the open market for the first time. (Players with three-plus years of service that are not on the 40-man roster at season’s end can elect free agency, as can any player that has been outrighted on multiple occasions in his career.)
While the vast majority of these players seem likely to sign minor league pacts this winter — they did, after all, go unclaimed by 29 other teams on waivers — a number of them are still intriguing with recent success in their past and/or multiple years of arbitration eligibility remaining. Eddy’s rundown also contains a number of re-signed minor leaguers and released minor leaguers without big league experience as well as Arizona Fall League assignments on a per-team basis, so it’s well worth a full look.
We’ve updated our list of 2017-18 MLB free agents accordingly, and here are some of the new names now checking in on the list…
Depth options in the rotation
Collmenter is just two seasons removed from being the D-backs Opening Day starter but hasn’t had much success of late. Hutchison had solid Triple-A numbers and once looked like a long-term rotation piece in Toronto before Tommy John surgery. He can be controlled for another three seasons in arbitration. Locke was injured for most of an ugly first (and likely only) season in Miami, and Kendrick made just two starts for the Red Sox.
Wojciechowski (6.50 ERA in 62 1/3 innings with the Reds), Bolsinger (6.31 ERA in 41 1/3 innings with the Jays), Bergman (5.00 ERA in 54 innings with the Mariners) and Holmberg (4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings with the White Sox) all soaked up innings for injury-plagued pitching staffs. Bolsinger has had the most MLB experience of the bunch.
Van Slyke has long been a solid bat against left-handed pitching but appeared in just 29 games with the Dodgers and didn’t hit well with their Triple-A affiliate or with the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate. (He was included in the Tony Cingrani trade to balance out the financial side of the deal.) Moore, also a right-handed bat, showed power but struggled to get on base.
Once one of the Phillies’ top prospects, Asche hit well in Triple-A Charlotte but flopped in a brief stint with the ChiSox. Gillaspie was unable to replicate his 2016 rebound with the Giants, while Decker showed some on-base skills in the Majors and minors but didn’t hit much overall. (He can play center but hasn’t graded well there in the Majors.)
Each of the four can play all over the diamond, but none provided offensive value in 2017. Tejada has the most big league experience but hasn’t received much playing time since 2015 (and hasn’t performed well when he has gotten opportunities). Gosselin has a solid defensive reputation but a light bat through 551 MLB PAs. Coleman hit four homers in 71 PAs in his MLB debut this year but logged a .268 OBP. d’Arnaud saw his fair share of 2016 action with the Braves but has never produced much at the plate.
Siegrist and Edgin are intriguing names for clubs in need of left-handed bullpen help. Both have recent success on their track records, though Edgin wasn’t as sharp in 2017 as he was prior to 2015 Tommy John surgery. Siegrist’s control eroded in 2017 as he missed time due to a back/spinal injury and tendinitis in his left forearm, but he was one of the Cardinals’ top setup options in both 2015 and 2016. Both lefties are controllable through 2019.
Maness drew headlines for returning from a torn UCL in roughly seven months thanks to an experimental new “primary repair” procedure, but while he stayed healthy in 2017, the results weren’t great in the Majors and especially not in Triple-A (6.13 ERA in 47 innings). Quackenbush was excellent as a rookie in 2014 and solid in 2015-16 before imploding in 2017 (7.86 ERA in 26 1/3 innings). He was better but not great in Triple-A (3.90 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9). Maness could be controlled through 2019, while Quackenbush would have three more years of control.
- 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.