When the Houston Astro’s owner Jim Crane talked last week about the uncertainty of whether they would re-sign Gerrit Cole, I hope the Blue Jays’ front office was listening.
The season may be over for the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2019 campaign, but the work is just beginning again for the front office. Not much is going to happen until after the playoffs are over, but once free agency opens up then I imagine the Blue Jays should be involved in a lot of rumours and discussions.
We’ve already heard some comments from the front office that described their philosophies and goals this winter, and that they’ll be looking more for the right opportunities than trying to force this team into being a playoff contender next season. That will likely result in a somewhat restrained approach this winter, but hopefully Ross Atkins and company are serious when they talk about looking for the right opportunities.
Because there’s a good chance one or more or those could come up this winter.
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The most coveted free agent this winter will almost undoubtedly be Gerrit Cole, who cemented his resume with a 15 strikeout performance in Game 2 of the ALDS. He’s a true ace in every sense of the word, and entering free agency at the age of 29 should help him secure a lucrative, and long-term contract. However, there’s no guarantee that the Astros will be the ones to offer it to him, at least according to the comments from their ownership this winter.
One of two things is going to happen with Cole this off-season, and either scenario should peak the Blue Jays’ interest. First, Cole could hit the open market, and while it’s a long shot that he would sign with a rebuilding team, he’s the type of premium talent that is young enough to still be a huge difference maker in a few years. If they have to pay him 30 million or more to pitch for a non-playoff team next season, so be it as long as that means they’ll still have him in his prime when they are ready to contend.
As I said, the Blue Jay having a legitimate shot to sign Cole could be difficult, but there is no excuse if they don’t at least explore the possibility. You just never know what kind of market there could be for a pitcher that will earn that type of money, and not every team wants to play in those deep waters. Because of the way the Blue Jays’ payroll is set up for the next few seasons, they could easily make it work.
There’s a strong possibility that Cole ends up returning to Houston on a new contract though, and that could present an opportunity for the Blue Jays as well. Jim Crane, Houston’s owner, talked the other day of a strong desire to get their payroll under the luxury tax limit before next season, which is why re-signing Cole is a tall order. However, the Astros could decide to shed some other contracts instead in order to make room, and it’s possible the Blue Jays could benefit in that scenario too.
If the Astros want to have any chance at all of retaining Cole then they are going to have to get some money off the books, and that likely means that some or all of Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel, and even Roberto Osuna could be made available. We know that the Blue Jays won’t be interested in an Osuna reunion, but the other two aren’t completely out of the question.
I’ll admit that Reddick doesn’t seem like a fit at all, especially with the current glut of mediocre outfielders, but there’s a way this could work in the Blue Jays’ benefit. The biggest problem for the Astros is that Reddick is in the final year of his deal that will pay him 13 million in 2020, and they’d like to get that money off of the books. That’s going to be difficult to do unless they’re willing to attach some prospect capital as well, and that’s where things could get intriguing. The Blue Jays could pick up Reddick’s salary in order to add to their minor league system, and it would give the front office the option of either flipping hime elsewhere, or perhaps trading one or more from their current group of outfielders. Again, it’s not likely to happen but there are ways to get creative.
As for Gurriel, I’ve been intrigued with the idea of the Blue Jays pursuing him as a free agent after the 2020 season for a while now, and adding him to a talented young group that includes his kid brother. Yuli is 35 years old, so while he’s getting closer to the end of his career, I still think he could be a very useful veteran for the Blue Jays. He has the ability to play both infield and outfield corners, and he just had an excellent season at the plate by slashing .298/.343/.541 with 32 home runs. Typically I wouldn’t be in favour of trading for a veteran like this with just one year remaining on his current deal, but with the presence of his brother and the fact that this team should be trending toward a contender in another year or two, I think re-signing him could be an easy sell.
The Astros also have a few pitchers that will hit the market this winter as well that could be of interest to Atkins and company. Wade Miley had an impressive season and has likely priced himself out of a return to Houston next year, and could be a solid short-term fit on the right deal for a needy starting rotation. Will Harris will likely get snapped up elsewhere, but if not he could be a great sign and flip candidate, and the same goes for former Blue Jay, Joe Smith. There’s also the possibility that Aaron Sanchez gets non-tendered this winter, however I don’t think a reunion is on the table, especially after he’s just undergone a pretty serious shoulder procedure.
The fact is, the Blue Jays and Astros are in two very different places right now, and that’s part of the reason they’ve been a match for three trades in the last two years. With the Astros looking to control their payroll situation and keep their window of contention open, and the Blue Jays working toward building a new contender, it’s entirely possible we could see them link up for another deal. If nothing else, watching how a contender operates is never a bad thing, and there are definitely things to learn from the Astros as well. Hopefully the Blue Jays’ front office is paying attention.