Blue Jays and the Ideal Free Agent

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 27: The shoes of Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox are shown before a game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 27, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 27: The shoes of Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox are shown before a game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 27, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

There are a number of outstanding players coming up for free agency in the upcoming two offseasons. Which one should the Jays target?

Play the game of “what if” with me. Suppose that Rogers tells Shapiro that they were willing to give him the budget to afford one $25-40m per year uberstar. But only one. Which player would you target?

Ground rules

Assume (for purposes of this exercise) that the Jays could sign any of the players below at the contract values I guesstimate. So (for the purposes of this game) none of them sign extensions with their existing teams, and the Jays do not have to prioritize a “[Blue} bird in the hand”


Mookie Betts (2020-21)

Mookie’s 35 fWAR from 2015-19 is second only to some fish from Anaheim. But 10.4 of that was earned in 2018, Boston’s cheating year. His average WAR over the last 5 years excluding 2018 was 6.25.  More Arenado-like than Trout-lite.

But on the other hand – Mookie has played above-average centre field in the past (and excellent right field), and he will start the 2021 year at 28 years old.

Contract:  10/$350m, with multiple opt-outs.

J. T. Realmuto (2020-21)

JTR is not the offensive beast that some of these players are, and he will play 2021 at 30 years old.  That said, he is an elite defensive catcher with a near-elite bat. He earned 5.7 fWAR in 2019 despite having a down year with his bat (*only* a 108 wRC+). On the one hand, you could argue that the Jays are set at catcher with Dan-Jan and McGuire. But Jansen was recently named the catcher with the third-highest trade value in baseball, so if the Jays *did* sign JTR they could trade Danny for a top prospect.

Contract:  4/$100m

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

George Springer (2020-21)

Springer put up a 6.6 fWAR in 2019. On the plus side, he plays an above-average centre field and a well above average right field, and while he may have benefitted from the Astros’ trash can in 2017 and 2018 he put up his best career fWAR in 2019 when the cheating had (?) stopped. On the other hand, he will play 2021 at age 31 and the PR of signing a “Houston Asterisk” would not be great.

Contract:  5/$125m

Francisco Lindor (2021-22)

Lindy is a career 119 wRC+ hitter with plus defense at shortstop. And he will play 2022 at 28 years old. And he bats leadoff and is an above-average baserunner. Do I have your attention yet?

But that said, his average 5-year fWAR of 5.4 is very good, but perhaps not the holy-cow-Batman level you would expect for $300m. And 2019 was a below-average year, with only 4.4 fWAR in 654 PAs.

Contract:  10/$300m with opt-outs

Javier Báez (2021-22)

Javy was an All-Star in 2018 and 2019 and finished second in ’18 MVP voting. He plays short, second, and third (his +26 DRS at short in 2019 was tied for third in the majors at *any* position, despite his only playing 1116 innings there). His breakout to all-stardom is relatively recent but appears very real.

Contract:  6/$150m

Carlos Correa (2021-22)

Correa’s career 129 wRC+ leads all active shortstops.  And his +34 DRS for the last 5 years is 7th among shortstops – perhaps not elite, but pretty d*ng good. When he is healthy, he is a beast. But that is the issue. Carlos has averaged less than 110 games played per year and played only 75 in 2019. A team like the Jays might hesitate to go all-in on a player who has difficulty staying on the field. But CC will play 2022 at age 27, so it is likely too early to write him off as injury-prone.

Contract:  6/$150m

Trevor Story (2021-22)

Story broke out in 2018, with a 5.1 fWAR and the first of two All-Star and Silver Slugger years. He holds the MLB record for the fastest shortstop to reach 100 home runs, and his 40 DRS in the last 5 years is 6th among shortstops. The issue with Story is the Colorado factor.  Of his 123 career home runs, 79 (64%) have been at Coors. He is .301/.368/.630 for his career at home in Colorado, but only .250/.313/.443 on the road. Still, he will play 2022 at 29 years old and the Rogers Centre also favours players with power (though not quite at Coors levels)

Contract:  5/$120m

Corey Seager (2021-22)

Seager was a monster in 2016 and 2017.  His 12.9 fWAR over those two years was 5th in baseball, and he was an All-Star and Silver Slugger in both years (and third in NL MVP voting in 2016). But Tommy John surgery in 2018 followed by a strained hamstring in 2019 limited his production in those two years. Still, he will play 2022 at 28 years old. A healthy 2020, with production returning to the 6+ fWAR (full year) levels he put up in 2016-17 could make him a highly attractive bounce-back candidate.

Contract:  6/$150m

Next. Blue Jays: Reese McGuire pleads guilty. dark

The bottom line

So which would you pick?  On pure talent and best fit, Betts would likely be my first choice – though the term he would require and his opt-outs would be troubling. If Betts were unavailable, I am not sure who I would pick. It would largely depend on the 2020 performance of players like Springer and Correa and Seager. Clearly, I would prefer to make the signing in the 2020-21 off-season rather than wait a year for 2021-22, so (to relax my rules) if I really wanted (say) Lindor I might try to trade for him now rather than wait.