Blue Jays: Middle infield targets via free agency
The Toronto Blue Jays are going into the 2017-2018 off-season knowing that one of the top priorities, if not the top priority, is to solidify the middle infield depth in the almost inevitable event that the team can’t count on Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis for even 100 games.
The depth was exposed with the likes of Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney playing nearly every day. Based on this and the words of Ross Atkins, I present the top middle infield targets via free agency as part of a two-part series which will be followed up with the top targets via trade.
There isn’t a whole lot of intriguing free agent options at both 2nd base or shortstop. Below is a list of free agent second basemen and shortstops that don’t have any club or player options attached to them:
- Darwin Barney
- Andres Blanco
- Emilio Bonifacio
- Stephen Drew
- Danny Espinosa
- Ryan Flaherty
- Howie Kendrick
- Eduardo Nunez
- Cliff Pennington
- Brandon Phillips
- Adam Rosales
- Eric Sogard
- Chase Utley
- Neil Walker
- Erick Aybar
- Zack Cozart
- Alcides Escobar
- Jhonny Peralta
- Trevor Plouffe
Then, there are those who have club options attached to them. There are very few that I think will not have their options picked up, so it’s unlikely they’ll hit the market:
Of all of those names, it is entirely possible that Cabrera and Hardy hit the free agent market, which could make things interesting for the Blue Jays, but there isn’t a whole lot of intriguing names out there. Considering the Blue Jays are banking on having their depth play a considerable amount of games next season, the free agent list doesn’t inspire much confidence.
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The Blue Jays want position flexibility when adding to their middle infield depth. That could be in the form of a guy who plays some 2nd, short, third, and the outfield or some combination of the 4. It is unlikely the club decides to bring back Darwin Barney and his 58 wRC+. Ryan Goins is arbitration eligible and according to the MLB Trade Rumors, he is scheduled to get a raise to a 2018 salary of around $1.8 million. I don’t believe Goins is a non-tender candidate, so let’s operate under the assumption that Ryan Goins will be back with the team and not Darwin Barney.
Based on the free agent list, there is going to be a high demand for the services of Eduardo Nunez. Nunez can play all around the diamond (except 1st) and is the perfect fit for what the Blue Jays need. With the rise of Rafael Devers, it’s unlikely Nunez will return to the Red Sox unless they overpay for him to be a super utility guy. Nunez is my top target and I do believe the front office will give him a look, but he will come expensive given the demand.
Outside of Eduardo Nunez, Neil Walker and Zack Cozart are intriguing names. The Blue Jays have been linked to both in the past. It’s unlikely the Blue Jays pursue Cozart because they have Troy Tulowitzki. If the Blue Jays make a play for a full-time player to add to the middle infield depth, it’s at 2nd base. That makes Neil Walker an interesting target. Since you can’t count on Devon Travis at all, I do believe Ross Atkins will look for a more permanent/everyday position player up the middle. If Travis is healthy, great! It’s a good problem to have which could see Travis play in the outfield.
Neil Walker has shown through his career that he can provide decent defense and bring an above average bat, as evidenced by his 115 career wRC+. Neil Walker would be my top target on the free agent market which would make Ryan Goins the utility man at 2nd and short.
If the Blue Jays simply want to add a somewhat decent bat and a decent glove as purely depth, then you can look for the likes of Howie Kendrick or Trevor Plouffe, who can both play at different parts of the infield and the outfield. If the Blue Jays decide to go the cheaper route, Plouffe and Kendrick are my top targets here.
Ultimately, the Blue Jays can go many different ways with how they build up the middle infield depth. Here are my top targets broken down based on the different routes they can take.
- Top Target in general: Eduardo Nunez
- Full-Time 2nd baseman: Neil Walker
- Cheaper Route: Howie Kendrick or Trevor Plouffe
Next: Blue Jays: Could Tony Watson be a free agent target?
It will be interesting to see how they handle this situation. In my next piece, I’ll present the top targets via trade to fill the middle-infield depth.