Well, 2017 will go down as one of the most disappointing seasons in Toronto Blue Jays. It feels just like 2006 and 2013, when this team made the necessary trades and free agent signings to hopefully contend for a playoff spot.
Given how they reached the 2015 and 2016 ALCS, the Blue Jays were widely expected to be a playoff team once again in 2017. But misery all around has contributed to a forgetful year. Manager John Gibbons still has a job somehow. This team forgot how to score runs, and most of the rotation forgot how to pitch. Injuries to the likes of Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez and Troy Tulowitzki haven’t helped, either.
The good news? There’s always free agency, where the Blue Jays have a chance to sign some impact players that can help them return to the postseason in 2018. Here are eight premier free agents for the Blue Jays to chase, and seven they must stay away from.
*Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and ESPN.com*
15. Chase: Austin Jackson
Austin Jackson was a disappointment in Seattle and for both Chicago teams, but he’s revived his career with a tremendous 2017 campaign for the Cleveland Indians. Though he’s been sidelined with injuries and has been limited to 43 games, Jackson should be one of the highest-paid outfielders this winter.
Jackson is batting .336 this season, and is among the fastest outfielders available in the free agent market. The Blue Jays are by far the slowest team in baseball, grounding into more double plays than any other.
Signing Jackson gives the team plenty of options in the outfield. Though naturally a centre fielder, Jackson is capable of moving to the corner. He’d be a solid candidate to lead off for the Jays, and should come at a reasonably cheap price. Jackson is absolutely worth pursuing, if he’s not commanding too much cash.
14. Stay Away: Mike Moustakas
In the unlikely event that the Blue Jays decide to trade Josh Donaldson this winter, the third base position becomes available. Many may believe they should replace the 2015 A.L. MVP with Mike Moustakas, but there are plenty of factors as to why this would be a mistake for Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro.
Moustakas, who has hit the 30-home run mark for the first time in his career, will easily land a contract worth at least $60 million. The budget-conscious Jays have to be careful with their money. Giving a soon-to-be 29-year-old a long-term contract comes with plenty of risks.
13. Chase: Bryan Shaw
If the Blue Jays want to get ultra-competitive in 2018, then stealing away a key player from one of the American League’s top teams would be a huge win. Reliever Bryan Shaw and the Cleveland Indians eliminated Toronto in the 2016 ALCS, and he has the chance to earn himself a ton of money on the open market.
Shaw owns a 2.90 ERA, and has the chance to reach 20-plus holds for the fourth-straight season. He’s not much of a strikeout machine (just 38 in 49.2 innings pitched), but also doesn’t give up a lot of contact, as opponents are batting just .235 against Shaw this season.
The Blue Jays had to trade a struggling Jason Grilli and dealt Joe Smith to the Indians at the trade deadline. They need a veteran reliever for 2018, and it’s worth ponying up the big bucks for Shaw. Why? Because unlike a box full of chocolates, the Jays know what they’re gonna get.
12. Stay Away: C.C. Sabathia
C.C. Sabathia looked absolutely finished after a miserable campaign each year from 2013 to 2016, but the 37-year-old has bounced back nicely for the New York Yankees in 2017. As such, he should get paid nicely on the open market by a pitching-desperate team.
Sabathia is 9-3 this season with a 3.66 ERA, but that doesn’t mean the Blue Jays should be chasing him. The 6-foot-6, 360-pound southpaw is having a good year, sure. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to pitch like an ace at age 38 or 39.
The Blue Jays already have aging starters in Marco Estrada (33), and J.A. Happ (34). They need to find a younger option to complement Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Sabathia is not that guy, and he doesn’t do much to help them win in the long term. So stay away, Blue Jays.
11. Chase: Howie Kendrick
Howie Kendrick is everything the Toronto Blue Jays need: He’s super fast, he hits great for contact, he’s versatile and he’s tough to strike out. At 34 years of age, Kendrick isn’t likely to attract a whole ton of suitors nor too much cash. For Atkins — who loves his bargain shopping bins — few players could be a bang for your buck like Kendrick.
Kendrick is batting .331 this season and has the ability to steal bases and would certainly be able to reduce the amount of times Toronto grounds into double plays. His defence isn’t that great, but that means he should come at an even cheaper cost.
10. Stay Away: Jay Bruce
The Blue Jays were close to acquiring Jay Bruce prior to the 2016 season, but an injury to Michael Saunders (who was to be part of the deal), held up the deal. So it’s logical to believe Toronto will push hard for Bruce this offseason, but he’s not a great fit for them at this point.
Though Bruce has plenty of power (20-plus homers all but one year since 2008), his .263 batting average isn’t superstar caliber, and he’s not worth a big contract. His outfield defence is lackluster at best, and Bruce has a knack for striking out way too much (almost once a game).
As an outfielder, Bruce also isn’t really that fast. He doesn’t do a whole lot to fix the Jays’ weaknesses, and he’s not going to be worth the cash that he demands. The Jays are better off looking at other options.
9. Chase: Yu Darvish
Depending on how he performs with the Los Angeles Dodgers (including the postseason), Yu Darvish could earn the most money out of all the MLB free agents this winter. Thus far, Darvish hasn’t done much to show he’s worth the $100 million that ace pitchers usually get, struggling with a 4.01 ERA with a 6-9 record in 2017.
But the Blue Jays need to take the risk and go after Darvish, who could solidify an elite rotation with Stroman, Sanchez and Happ. He’s just 31 years of age and should be effective for another three-to-five years.
If the market isn’t huge for Darvish, the Jays should take their chance and give him a contract in the five-year, $80 million range (similar to the one they gave Russell Martin in 2014). Darvish is worth pursuing, and it’s time for Toronto to hand out big money to a big-time player.
8. Stay Away: Eric Hosmer
One of the many prized Kansas City Royals players who’s slated for free agency, Eric Hosmer is setting himself up to make a lot of money. He’s batting .321 with an .874 OPS, 16 home runs and 55 RBI.
Hosmer would be a great fit for the Blue Jays, except for the fact that breakout star Justin Smoak occupies the first base position. Hosmer could easily make around $70-80 million on the market, and the Blue Jays simply can’t dish out that much money to him when they already own Smoak.
Some may believe that the Blue Jays should move Kendrys Morales, which could open up the position to make Smoak a DH/1B. Nope, not worth it. They need to use their spare money elsewhere. As good as Hosmer is, he’s not worth adding.
7. Chase: Jeremy Hellickson
The Blue Jays found good bargains in re-signing Estrada and signing Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal in the winter of 2015. Now, they need to find a solid No. 3 pitcher at a reasonable price, and Jeremy Hellickson could be their best option.
Hellickson is struggling this season, with a 6-5 record, 4.73 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. However, he gets his share of strikeouts and is reliable enough to pitch 150-plus innings a season. If Toronto loses Estrada in free agency, they’ll need to fill his spot in the rotation.
Given his career 3.98 ERA, Hellickson is unlikely to receive that much interest on the market. But the Jays have a history of turning average starters into quality No. 1 or 2 pitchers. Hellickson is worth a chance, and a three-year deal worth around $30 million makes a good amount of sense.
6. Stay Away: Jake Arrieta
Jake Arrieta came out of nowhere to win the 2015 NL Cy Young, winning 22 games while posting a 1.77 ERA. He fell back to earth a bit in 2016, but still put up a solid campaign with 18 wins and a 3.10 ERA. The Chicago Cubs ace led the team to a World Series championship, but 2017 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta.
He’s 10-7 this season with a 4.03 ERA, but many teams may feel so inclined to pay big bucks for a man who’s just two years removed from that historic Cy Young season. The Blue Jays would be taking a huge risk in paying the 31-year-old a lot of money, when they have no idea which version of Arrieta they’d be receiving.
5. Chase: Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas missed almost all of the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, but he’s been one of baseball’s best pitchers in 2017 and should earn a ton of money on the open market. Vargas is 13-4 with a 3.00 ERA, and would be in the running for the AL Cy Young if it weren’t for Chris Sale.
Vargas has been a steady pitcher for most of his career, but being 34 years of age with a big injury history will surely scare off some teams. The Jays will have a lot of cash to spend, and may be able to out-bid other teams for Vargas’ services.
But he’s well worth the risk for the Jays, who’ve made it clear they want to remain competitive while Josh Donaldson (eligible for free agency in 2019), is on the team. If they can get Vargas for three years worth about $9-12 million a season, then the Jays could once again post a solid rotation for a few years.
4. Stay Away: Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez was one of the few bright spots on a miserable Colorado Rockies team for a number of years. Then the Rockies became great in 2017 and are on their way to their first playoff berth in eight years. Yet oddly enough, ‘CarGo’ chose to struggle a lot this season, significantly hurting his free agent value.
A career .287 hitter, Gonzalez is batting just .228 this season. His .640 OPS is also far below CarGo’s career OPS of .852. And as for those constant 20-30 home run seasons? Gonzalez may not even reach double-digit dingers (just six thus far in 2017).
Gonzalez is also 31 years of age and probably won’t be the feared slugger he once was from this point forward. If the Jays think CarGo is a long-term solution to their hitting woes, they’ll be very disappointed.
3. Chase: J.D. Martinez
The Detroit Tigers chose to finally move out one of their top stars, and J.D. Martinez has the chance to boost his value as he leads the Arizona Diamondbacks into the postseason. One of baseball’s elite yet most overlooked players, Martinez is batting .293 with 21 home runs, 51 RBI and a 1.013 OPS. His WAR is also at 1.9, showing Martinez’s all-around value as a great hitter and solid outfielder.
Martinez is also one of baseball’s toughest batters to strike out — something the Blue Jays could really use. Toronto’s offence is simply one of the most horrible in all of baseball, and Martinez is one of the best hitters in baseball.
So it’s not really rocket science. Signing Martinez gives the Blue Jays a star hitter that they truly, truly don’t have and really need. So sign him at whatever price he wants, Mr. Atkins and Mr. Shapiro.
2. Stay Away: Jose Bautista
Sorry, but Jose Bautista should not have come back to the Blue Jays in 2017. It doesn’t matter how many home runs he hit in the past. Yes, his bat flip was one of the best moments in franchise history. But cool, the Jays paid $18 million to a 36-year-old who’s way past his prime and can’t hit much nor field any more.
Bautista barely has any power left. He doesn’t hit for contact anymore. He still draws walks, but he strikes out more than ever before. Bautista simply isn’t much of an impact player at this stage, but Toronto’s front office may feel inclined to add him simply to please the fans.
Too bad. Bautista is nearing retirement as his production continues to drop significantly. If the Jays are serious about winning next year, they shouldn’t even think about bringing back ‘Joey Bats’ next season.
1. Chase: Lorenzo Cain
One of the top free agents available in 2018, Lorenzo Cain is the guy that should be on the top of the Blue Jays radar. The 2015 World Series hero and champion is surely on his way out of town, as the Kansas City Royals don’t have the budget to pay Cain what he’s worth. That’s good news for the Jays, who desperately need Cain’s services.
Why? Well he can run like super, duper fast. He won’t ground into double plays. He will hit home the RISP. He will steal bases. He will play great outfield defence. He will hit for contact and power. He will make the Jays a much better team.
Most of the World Series contenders have enough outfielders. A handful of teams won’t have the financial resources to pay Cain what he’s worth. So give him a five-year deal worth $90 million, Jays. He’s the guy you need. Chase Cain and go win a World Series with him.
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