The Toronto Blue Jays will be in the market for at least one starting outfielder when free agency opens next week
With champagne still spilling in Chicago, the MLB offseason has arrived as it always does: abruptly.
The Toronto Blue Jays and other MLB teams will have a five-day window to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents, but at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday morning, the market officially opens. Contract options being picked up or declined will impact that market, as will player’s opt-out clauses (see: Yoenis Cespedes).
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Nori Aoki was claimed on Thursday by the Houston Astros from the Seattle Mariners, eliminating him from the Blue Jays list of potential targets. Aoki had been incorrectly listed as a pending free agent when he is actually arbitration eligible after falling just short of the plate appearances necessary to make his $6 million option vest with the Mariners (needed 480, had 467). He is now arbitration eligible with Houston.
Aoki will be 35 when the season begins, but did hold some niche value to a team like Toronto with his on-base tool and ability to bat leadoff. A model of consistency, Aoki remains a safe bet for an on-base percentage of .345-to-.360 annually.
In trade news, the Detroit Tigers shipped outfielder Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim soon after picking up his $9 million option for 2017 (essentially a sign-and-trade).
Maybin has been a plus defender with the Marlins and Padres in the past, but has been forced to rely more on his bat to produce value recently. He was still worth 2.0 Wins Above Replacement in 2016 despite playing just 94 games. His numbers relied largely on an inflated BABIP, but with his physical tools that still remain, Maybin would have generated a decent salary on the open market had he reached it.
The final headlining move involving an outfielder yesterday centred around Matt Holliday, whose 2017 team option worth $17 million was unsurprisingly declined.
Holliday is entering the twilight of his career, but can still offer the right lineup a bat capable of 20-to-25 home runs with a strong on-base tool. He posted a fWAR of 3.5 of better in every season from 2006 to 2014, but his bat has not been enough to balance his defensive limitations these past two seasons.
Regardless, if the Blue Jays reach a point where other options haven’t panned out and they desire affordable power, Holliday would be in that group.
These moves do not have a direct impact on the Blue Jays or negatively alter their offseason, of course. Players like Aoki, Maybin, and Holliday would not have been — or should not be — primary targets. This does serve as a reminder of how quickly the open market begins to churn, however, even before it’s really “open”. The Blue Jays will be forced to move quickly between their ideal candidates and backup plans when the dominoes begin to fall.