Well, well. Another day, another addition to the Blue Jays rumors. At this point in the off season, it is hard to tell which rumors actually have truth to them, which are credible and which are more than just teams doing their “due diligence”. Take this one form Bob Elliott: Blue Jays have contacted the Phillies about Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Antonio Bastardo.
And, why not? The Phillies have been said to be looking to shed salary. This would be an interesting way to do so.
Chase Utley would solve the 2B issue here in Toronto. At least for the time being. Utley will turn 36 in December.
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He is set to earn $10M in 2015 with vesting options for the next 3 seasons ($15M each) based on 500 plate appearances in the year before. There is also an interesting stipulation in his contract that gives him a $5M raise in 2015 if he spends fewer than 15 days on the DL due to his knees. So, potentially, if this deal had legs, the Blue Jays could have a solution at 2B for 4 seasons at $15M per. This seems like a steep price to pay for an aging infielder with a history of injuries, even if he is a 6 time All Star.
Last season, he was worth 4.1 WAR. His UZR of 8.2 shows us that when healthy, he is still capable of “getting it” at 2B. It may not be as high as in past, “younger” seasons, but it is certainly a sign that age is not hindering him. At least not yet. And, his 36 doubles and .270 average could be a very useful contribution in the 2 spot in the Blue Jays order. Melky who?
The 29 year old Bastardo would be an interesting option. In 64 innings last season, the lefty collected 81 strike outs. His 1.203 WHIP is nothing to sneeze at either. His 91+ mph fastball would be a good addition to Toronto’s bullpen. Of course, the 4.8 walks per 9 is high for a Blue Jay fan base that watched the 2014 bullpen give too many free passes. He made $2M in 2014 and is arbitration eligible. This could be a good pick up.
Then there is Cole Hamels. He will be 31 in December and is set to make $22.5M in each of the next 4 seasons. In 2019 (when he is 35) Hamels’ contract has a $20M team option, $24M vesting option that vests if he 1) has 400 IP in 2017-18, including 200 IP in 2018, and 2) is not on the disabled list with a shoulder or elbow injury at the end of the 2018 season. (Thanks BaseballReference.com) This may seem like a high price tag, but is it? The 3 time All Star is coming off a season where he posted the lowest ERA of his career (2.46) and was worth 3.8 WAR. His 198 K’s in 204 innings is certainly appealing. So too is the fact that he actually threw 200+ innings and has done so every year since 2009.
A move to the Rogers Centre would most certainly see an increase in his 14 HR surrendered. Although, according to FanGraphs.com, his flyball rate last season is the lowest of his career (31.1%). Not that that will provide a lot of confidence for Jays fans. As well, his average velocity on his fastball has actually seen an increase over the last 3 seasons.
Many of the concerns that come with taking on ‘older’ players (the price you’re paying them compared to the increased risk of injury and decline) have been considered by the Phillies in signing these contracts. They have clauses built in to protect against age and injury. It is no guarantee, but it may make this payroll increase easier to swallow.
Ultimately, this hypothetical deal will come down to whether the Blue Jays are going “all in” to increase payroll in order to take the final steps to contend. They have a core set of players they are committed to over the next couple seasons. But, then lots of money comes off the books; all save Jose Reyes. So, it may look like a huge financial commitment for a year or so, after that it may be more bearable. That future lack of financial commitment may put the Blue Jays in a position they’ve not been in for a very long time: the position where they could give this type of deal more than a passing, dismissive glance.