Baseball Winter Meetings Put the Blue Jays in the Spotlight
Look for your mobile phone to light up with Major League Baseball news updates this week as the Winter Meetings unfold in San Diego.
The Toronto Blue Jays are going to be front and centre, as they look to upgrade their roster and take advantage of a closing competitive window led by star players like Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero, and Alek Manoah. Bichette will be a free agent in 2026, as will Guerrero. Manoah’s a free agent in 2028.
The Winter Meeting’s run through Wednesday, with former Mets ace Jacob deGrom already breaking the bank by signing a five-year $185 million deal. All eyes are on slugger Aaron Judge, who is looking to cash in north of $300 million as a free agent.
The Jays? They’ve already laid some pavement with the Teoscar Hernandez trade to Seattle a few weeks ago, with relievers Erik Swanson (3-2, 1.68 ERA, 70 strikeouts in 57 appearances in 2022, four-seam fastball with elite spin, great splitter and better-than-average slider, one of the best whiff-rates in baseball) and Adam Macko coming back to Toronto.
That move muscled up the back end of the bullpen, with Swanson moving in nicely next to closer Jordan Romano. World Series futures this morning have the Jays at +1500.
Everyone knows the opportunity is right there for their young core with the right additions, especially over the next few days.
Needs are starting pitching (at least one body), an outfielder, preferably left-handed hitting, and more bullpen help.
Here are three factors to follow over the next few days that will impact the Jays’ World Series odds:
Do The Blue Jays Sign a Free Agent OF or Trade for One?
If we just want to look at left-hander hitters, the primo targets remain Brandon Nimmo (CF, .274 average, .367 OBP, .800 OPS, 16 homers and 64 RBIs with the Mets in 2022), Andrew Benintendi (LF, .304 average, .373 OBP, .772 OPS, 5 homers and 51 RBIs with the Yankees and Royals in 2022), and Joc Pederson (LF, .274 average, .353 OBP, .874 OPS, 23 homers and 70 RBI with the Giants in 2022), seem to top most people’s rankings.
Or what about Cody Bellinger (CF, .210 average, .265 OBP, .654 OPS, 19 homers and 68 RBIs for the Dodgers in 2022), on a shorter reclamation contract? Does new Jays bench coach Don Mattingly, who managed Bellinger in Los Angeles, impact that?
Do The Blue Jays Trade One of Their Catchers?
There has been a lot of chatter and rumours about what the Jays do with their bounty of catchers – Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Gabriel Moreno. Smart money is on them trading one of them (or two – Jays broadcaster and former MLB catcher Joe Siddall theorized on Twitter about trading Jansen and Moreno to beef up the roster, while signing free agent catcher Christian Vazquez, while keeping Kirk), possibly this week, since there’s been plenty of interest from other teams.
Media reports this week had Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, a 2021 all-star, asking for a trade. Reynolds signed a two-year $13.5 million contract last April and would not become a free agent until 2026, so the Pirates don’t have to do anything. Through four seasons, he owns a career .281/.361/.481 slash line with a 126 wRC+
But he’d be perfect in Toronto, even as a right-handed hitter, with George Springer then moving to the less-physically-taxing right field position.
Trading from their catching strength to fill out their starting pitching staff is another option.
There’s justifiable hesitancy to go back with LHP Yusei Kikuchi in the starting rotation again (6-7, 5.19 ERA) but bringing free agent Ross Stripling back into the fold would solve that challenge. Kikuchi and his swing-and-miss stuff (124 strikeouts in 32 games) might be better suited for the bullpen.
Does Toronto Look for Free Agent Pitchers Now that Justin Verlander is Not Available?
Verlander was a longshot, especially since the New York Mets led the chase for the 40-year-old Cy Young Award winner after deGrom left, and then closed this morning (two years, $86 million), but it sparked the senses for a few weeks there after Verlander reportedly strongly considered joining the Jays last winter.
While Jays GM Ross Atkins has said team ownership has given him the necessary payroll flexibility, signing Verlander to that ticket would have put the Jays in luxury tax territory.
They could also target Canadian Jameson Taillon, or Nathan Eovaldi (Spotrac market value at $14.6 million and $16.3 million, respectively) for the starting rotation.
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