Top Outfielders the Blue Jays Could Target in Free Agency

Top Outfielders the Blue Jays Could Target in Free Agency
© USA Today

If you believe the chatter about the Toronto Blue Jays needing to improve on-base percentage by getting more left-handed batters into their lineup, then the focus turns to free-agent targets, if they go that route.

If what we’re about Nate Pearson is in any ways accurate – an 0.82 ERA with four walks and 15 strikeouts during a recent stint in the Dominican Winter League, indicating perhaps that the 26-year-old fireballer RHP has finally brushed off any lingering injuries or concerns about injuries – then the Jays, by adding Erik Swanson in that deal for Teoscar Hernandez on Wednesday, have suitably addressed their swing-and-miss, back-of-the-bullpen objectives going into the offseason.

The rotation is something for another day. With Ross Stripling now out on the open market, that leaves a Top 3 of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and Jose Berrios. Unless Pearson still has designs on being a starting pitcher that leaves two holes. And here’s hoping Yusei Kikuchi doesn’t fill one of them.

So the outfield, which gets more interesting if George Springer moves to right field, features Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Whit Merrifield, both right-handed batters, Cavan Biggio, who bats left, as of today. 

Here are three leading MLB free agent targets, all left-handed hitting outfielders, from most likely to least likely.

Brandon Nimmo

Loves this for the Jays - a .274 average last year, .269 over his career, .433 slugging percentage last year, .441 over his career, great defence in centre field, and lefthanded bat. Just a very athletic guy, with great on-base percentage, at .367 last season, and a scenario where Springer moves down the lineup, Since Nimmo, 30, likely leads off. Plus Springer doesn’t take the physical pounding as much by playing right field, by decreasing his workload. He had a lot of injuries last season, including elbow surgery. 

Spotrac has Nimmo’s projected market value at $21.1 million per year, probable considering Scott Boras is his agent. He made $7 million last year.

Keep in mind that while Jays GM Ross Atkins said payroll flexibility wasn’t the No. 1 priority in dealing Hernandez, projected to make around $14 million this season in arbitration, the team also cut ties with outfielders Raimel Tapia, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bradley Zimmer. Add that all together and you’re in the neighbourhood of $20 million in salary savings, even after adding Swanson and his projected $1.5 million in arbitration.

Nimmo we see most likely for the Jays – but it’s not like there won’t be competition, likely from the Mets, where he played last season. And remember the Mets competed with the Jays for Springer’s services a few off-seasons ago – and lost.

The downside is he only had three stolen bases last season, so that removes that option for your lead-off guy. Hernandez is a two-time Silver Slugger winner and still hit 25 homers in what some consider an off-season. Nimmo had 16 homers and 64 RBIs, so you’re not replacing the pop there.

Andrew Benintendi

Maybe former Royals teammate Merrifield can pick up a phone and help make this happen. 

Benintendi is still only 28, and had a rougher go after being traded to the Yankees last season. A good line over those first 93 games with the Royals - .320 average, .387 OBP and .398 SLG, 52 strikeouts – then a .254 average and 25 SOs in just 33 games with the Yankees. Just eight stolen bases last year, but he betters your outfield defense. Baseball Reference had him at 3.2 WAR.

Michael Brantley

Brantley, 36, is a more likely target if the Jays turn their resources loose on starting pitching, especially if Stripling signs elsewhere.

And the Jays have danced with Brantley before – remember those erroneous reports two years ago saying they had signed him as a free agent, just after Springer signed with the team? Instead, Brantley re-signed with the Astros.

This time he is coming off shoulder surgery and played just 64 games last year. In 2021 he played 121 games - .311 average, .362 OBP and .437 SLG. 

This is all assuming the Jays don’t take the trade route to address the outfield. Making a trade is very much in play, with their surplus at catcher. Gabriel Moreno has a major league bat, meaning either Moreno, Danny Jansen or Alejandro Kirk gets dealt. Jays GM Ross Atkins has said in recent days there’s plenty of interest around the league in Jays catching.

With their farm system no longer among the league’s elite (a recent Bleacher Report ranking had them at No. 29), that makes the free agent route more likely. 

Honorable mentions 

(left-handed hitters): Joey Gallo, Michael Conforto, Masataka Yoshida (Japan).