With the departure of Blue Jays AAA star Matt Hague, the shrinking 40-man leaves Toronto open to additions.
The Toronto Blue Jays have reportedly agreed to send 1B/3B Matt Hague to the Hanshin Tigers of the Nippon Profesional Baseball League in Japan. According to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Blue Jays will receive $300,000 in the transaction. Hague starred for the AAA Buffalo Bisons in 2015, earning International League MVP honors before receiving a long-earned call-up to the Blue Jays late in the season.
Originally an 11th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2007, Hague has bounced around as a career minor leaguer outside of 43 MLB games split between Pittsburgh and Toronto. This hasn’t been for a lack of success at the plate, though, which Hague showed in 2015 with a slash line of .338 / .416 / .438 to go along with 33 doubles, 11 home runs and 92 RBI.
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This loss won’t make or break the Blue Jays by any means, but a bat like Hague’s coming off a season of that calibre with a boatload of team control is never something you hope to see go. This move likely adds some context to the signing of veteran first baseman Casey Kotchman on Monday, who now aligns with the full-time role at first for the Bisons.
Given his professional track record and plus plate approach, it’s not out of the question for Kotchman to fill most of the offensive void left by Hague. Kotchman posted an .800 OPS for AAA Omaha with the Royals organization in 2015, and while his bat lacks a ‘wow’ factor, he’s undeniably steady.
So, outside of the Bisons, why does this matter? In releasing Hague, the Blue Jays bring their 40-man roster down to 34 players with several of the current names not being locks to hold their place through the entirety of this offseason. Players like Matt Dominguez, Pat Venditte or Steve Delabar, among others, are candidates for a replacement if and when a suitable one comes along.
Of the 34 names currently listed on the 40-man, just 17 are pitchers. Obviously, that’s not going to fly. Expect to see the Blue Jays churn through waiver wire and minor league pitchers quite aggressively. Don’t forget the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, either. Mark Shapiro has referred to the current roster construction as “fragile” given the shallow depth in the upper minors, and the majority of that worry comes on the pitching side of things.
Naturally, such additions will be scoffed at, but their value cannot be understated. The Tuesday signing of Canadian lefty starter Scott Diamond should be the first of several rotation depth additions, but the bullpen is equally in need. Given the volatile year-to-year nature of bullpen arms, it’s very possible for the Blue Jays to catch lightning in a bottle with even the smallest transaction.