In my previous post, I wrote about three free agents who, while “under the radar”, still made sense for the Blue Jays to consider in the upcoming offseason. To continue with that train of thought, but to push even further out of the conventional, here are three other potential free agent targets to throw into the Blue Jays conversation for 2015-16.
#1 – Kenta Maeda
I know what you are thinking – who?
Kenta is a right-handed pitcher currently playing for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league in Japan. He won the Sawamura Award (the Japanese Cy Young) in 2010 and 2015, pitching to a 15-8 record with a 2.09 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 206⅓ innings this season. Kenta had expressed an interest in pitching in the MLB in 2015, but his team declined to post him last offseason. There is speculation that they will post Kenta in the 2015 offseason, under the new rules whereby any team who offers the maximim $20 million posting fee can negotiate with him.
Why I like Kenta: He is only 27 years old, and has pitched in the NPB for eight years, averaging almost 200 innings per year and without serious injury. He does not have overpowering stuff, but he has a 93 mph fastball and three other major-league calibre pitches, excellent control, and good baseball smarts. He does not have the overpowering repetoire of a Darvish, but instead projects as an inning-eating #3 starter.
Why I see Kenta as a long shot: The success of Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu have raised the profile – and thus likely the price – of top Asian pitchers. Some have projected a contract of 5/$75mil, which (when added to the posting fee) would make him a $20 million AAV pitcher without ever having played a mlb game. Further, Kenta’s 6’0″ 154 lb frame raises questions about how much longer he can continue to pitch at the 200 IP level.
#2 – Greg Holland
So you are probably thinking: what is so crazy about Greg Holland? He has been one of the top closers in baseball over the last few years, and with Osuna (hopefully!) graduating to the starting rotation, he would slide right in, no?
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Start with the negatives. Holland underwentTommy John
surgery in October, and so will miss all of the 2016 year. Even before the surgery, his 2015 ERA of 3.83 was almost 2.5 runs higher than his 2014 ERA of 1.44 … or his 2013 ERA of 1.21. So even if a team did sign him, knowing that he would be out of action for a full season, they would not know which Greg Holland they would be getting when he returned in 2017. And just in case you thought that Greg might be available at a significant discount, given all these negatives, think again – his agent is Scott Boras.
But now consider the positives. This Holland’s first Tommy John, and the successs rate now is far higher than in prior years. He is only 29, so will be coming back in 2017 at 30 years old. And in 2013-14 his 1.32 ERA was the best in baseball (100 IP). And just maybe (say I, foolishly) the injury risk will be sufficient to drive his price down to a level that makes sense for the Jays when the time comes down the road that he is willing to sign?
#3 – Ian Desmond
Right, you are thinking. Just what we need. With Tulo, Gogo and Devo already fighting over two infield spots, and Darwin Barney hiding in the shadows as a potential bench piece, why on earth would we need another shortstop – particularly one coming off an almost-career-worst 83 wRC+ season?
Mr. Desmond has a problem. Going into 2015, he was considered a near-lock for a multi-year $100+ million contract when he turned free agent. But his 1.7 WAR in 2015 may have opened a few eyes, and his Steamer projection of a 1.9 WAR in 2016 is likely not helping either. That multi-year deal for megabucks, while still possible, may be a lot harder to find.
What Desmond may need is a year or two on a pillow contract to re-establish his value. In a hitter’s park, to make him look good. Preferably in a hitter’s division, so his away stats are also strong. On a team full of good hitters, to ensure he sees good pitches and to inflate stats like RBIs and Runs Scored. And finally, playing for a contender so he can demonstrate how well he plays “when it counts” (and possibly get a World Series ring). Sound like any club that we know?
Which brings us to Tulo, who says euphemistically that he found it “hard to feel settled” in Toronto. And whose five 5+ WAR years out of the last seven might bring a top starting pitcher in trade. Leaving the SS position open for Desmond, to hopefully excel in 2016 and then decline a qualifying offer on the way out the door.
The bottom line: There you have it. Three players who could be a fit for the Jays, but each unlikely for different reasons. But as Alex Anthoupolos taught us, in the offseason, the best advice is to expect the unexpected. Especially during a time of Mark Shapiro and organizational transition. So perhaps they are not that crazy after all?