Blue Jays: Three Areas of Need and How They Can Be Addressed

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - AUGUST 12: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays attempts to field a ground ball during the third inning of an MLB game against the Miami Marlins at Sahlen Field on August 12, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on COVID-19. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - AUGUST 12: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays attempts to field a ground ball during the third inning of an MLB game against the Miami Marlins at Sahlen Field on August 12, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on COVID-19. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

With the MLB offseason underway, the speculators oughta start speculating.

The Blue Jays find themselves in a position to be big spenders this offseason. After a winning season that succeeded three losing ones, the Jays front office really has no reason not to spend, especially in consideration of the faster than anticipated development of the Jays young core. The Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro has been adamant on the resources the ownership has made available. With this in mind, marquee acquisitions should be the expectation from Jays fans.

In light of the offseason outlook, now is an optimal time to access areas of need for the Blue Jays.

1) Starting Pitching

Every year it feels like the Jays have many holes in their rotation and this year was no exception. In the aggregate, the rotation was dreadful this year. Not one starting pitcher other than Hyun Jin Ryu and half of a season of Taijuan Walker produced an ERA better than 4.71. In addition, the Jays only got a starter into the seventh inning once in the entire season. Not to mention, Chase Anderson, Robbie Ray and Matt Shoemaker have all hit the open market along with Walker. That leaves just Hyun Jin Ryu, hybrid starter Ross Stripling, a dreadful Tanner Roark and possibly an inexperienced Nate Pearson in the starting spots.

Acquisition(s) of Interest: Sign Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman

Case for Stroman: Marcus Stroman has always had that ‘bet on yourself’ mentality. Stroman’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns of COVID-19 will surely complicate his standing as a free agent and now just might be the time to ‘bet on yourself’ if you’re Stroman. A 2-year, high AAV deal with the Jays could be just what he needs to prove he’s still the elite All-Star he was in 2019. Stroman enters this free agency at just 29 years old and if he were to perform well on a two year contract, he’d be primed for an even better contract than the long term offers he’d get in this offseason.

Many analysts are predicting that Stroman will land somewhere like a 4-year deal with a total value around 60-70MM. MLB Trade Rumors predicted a 4-year, 68MM dollar deal. A healthy Stroman can produce a much bigger contract. With a ground ball percentage of over 60% between 2015 and 2018, Stroman has been great at pitching deep into games through quick at-bats and an abundance of double play opportunities. Excluding an injury riddled 2018, Stroman pitched at least 184 innings between 2016 and 2019 and that is a testament to a robust in-game regimen to get guys out.

The reason that I think Stroman is going to sign a short deal is because he knows how undervalued he has been (see his twitter) in the baseball grapevine and knowing the ‘bet on yourself’ mentality he possesses, he probably wants to build up his value. The stats speak for themselves. Since 2017 (ignoring his injury mangled 2018 campaign), Stroman has produced an ERA+ between 137 and 145. There is no debating that he is an elite pitcher when fully healthy and taking the mound every fifth day. However, when you look at the recent market for starting pitchers, there are definitely guys who got lucrative contracts that are objectively less effective than Stroman in terms of the stats that matter.

Last offseason, Zack Wheeler signed a 5-year, $118 million dollar contract. Wheeler was looked at as a guy with very high upside due to his spin rate and nasty stuff, but if you objectively look at everything he did leading up to free agency, you can see he was league average. His ERA+ was only 100 with an FIP of 3.71. Zack Wheeler is admittedly great and he had a good 2020 campaign, but Stroman has had a higher ERA+ and lower FIP than Wheeler did leading up until free agency. Case and point: If Stroman can prove to teams he is back to full health, he could produce a 9-figure contract, so why not sign a short term deal with the Blue Jays? Of course, convincing him to come back could be easier said than done.

Case for Bauer: Trevor Bauer had a monster line last season, finishing with a sparkling 1.73 ERA coupled with two brilliant complete game shutouts in the span of 11 starts. It didn’t end there. Bauer was the silver lining to a Reds team that had a historically abysmal offensive showing in the postseason. In his lone postseason start, he went 7.2 IP with 12 Ks, 0 BB and just two hits. This was against a Braves team with elite hitters like probable MVP Freddie Freeman, perennial MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr, and of course RBI and HR leader, Marcell Ozuna. It may have been a small sample size of a season, but numbers this good don’t lie.

Bauer has been adamant on social media about his uncertainty on where he is going to sign this year. In fact, he has famously said he is willing to sign a one year contract, although his agent did recently admit that he’d still consider other offers. A short term deal or long term deal would work out for the Jays in different ways. If the Blue Jays can sign Bauer to a multi-year deal, then they just got a controllable ace. On the other hand, signing a one year contract with Bauer would still fit the bill for the apparent plans of the front office.

The Jays seem to have a desire to transition fresh arms like pleasant surprise Tom Hatch and the 100mph flamethrower Julian Merryweather from the bullpen into the rotation. With that being said, players like this only had a 60 game season to develop and likely need another season or two in the big league bullpen or Triple A starting rotation.  All things considered, Bauer would be an ideal candidate to fill one of these spots, especially in the short-term.

2.) Third Base and 3.) Defence 

The Blue Jays depth chart at the hot corner is underwhelming compared to the rest of their infield, and the rest of MLB for that matter. Travis Shaw is likely slated to be the opening day third basemen as long as they bring him back. Over the last two seasons, his line has been a dreadful .191/.291/.328. With minimal improvement in 2020 and an average dWAR, this low-cost, high-upside experiment that is Travis Shaw can not be plan A.

The Jays need to step back and look at what they are competing with around baseball at 3B: Manny Machado of the Padres, Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, Matt Chapman of the A’s and Josh Donaldson on the Twins. The one thing in common between all these players: they have all finished at least 6th in MVP voting at some point in their career.

One glaring concern for the Jays is infield defence. Guererro Jr was awful at first base with constant misplays on popups in foul territory (even in the wild card series) and other fundamental mishaps. Besides Guerrero’s noticeably poor defence, there were many fundamental errors in the infield. This is reflected by advanced stats like Bichette’s and Shaw’s negative OAA and a variety of other tells that the defence needs some improvement.

Acquisition(s) of Interest: Francisco Lindor and DJ LeMahieu

Case for Lindor: I know what you are thinking: ‘Lindor isn’t a third basemen.’ Correct, but he is an unbelievable shortstop who would push Travis Shaw off the starting depth chart as a third baseman. This acquisition would not only improve the offensive prowess of the Blue Jays infield but it would probably benefit the defence of every single position in the infield.

Bichette would be forced to experiment at second base where he got reps in the minors. By moving Bichette to second base in exchange for a proven sure-handed shortstop, it would take a lot of pressure off of Bichette to hit for high average and field at the toughest position at the same time.

With Bichette at 2B, that slides Biggio to 3B. Biggio has graded average or above average at every position he has played, so you feel pretty comfortable using him as a chess piece when moving positions around. In 10 games at 3B this year, Biggio committed just one error and graded as average on most advanced metrics. So far, I count an improvement at SS in Lindor, 3B in Biggio and probably 2B as well for Bichette.

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As far as the potential logistics of a trade, Lindor only has a year of control left on his contract and is coming off an underwhelming offensive season with a sub .800 OPS, OPS+ of just 102 and a BA of .258. Now would be the perfect time for the Jays to jump the gun and make a move with Cleveland. They have shopped top players like Corey Kluber to Texas and Mike Clevinger to San Diego, and there is little reason to believe they won’t do the same with Lindor. The Jays have the opportunity to buy low for Lindor and probably not give up any blue chip prospects since he’s coming off a down year and only has a season left of contractual control.

Lindor is a perfect bounce-back candidate. First of all, Lindor may not have to “bounce-back” when you think about it objectively. A 60 game sample size is tiny relative to a full normal schedule so when you see players like Lindor and Arenado having bad seasons, you got to take those numbers with a grain of salt. Players usually have cold streaks and hot streaks and the numbers end up working themselves out through big data but in a 60 game season, the math becomes a lot more volatile. At the end of the day, Lindor still had an above average MLB season and there is little reason to doubt that he will be back to vintage Lindor form.

Case for LeMahieu: LeMahieu’s ability to play 1B, 2B or 3B really fits the bill for the Jays agenda defensively. His accolades speak for themselves: .316 BA since 2015, three Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger Award. In terms of his versatility, signing DJ would allow the Jays to structure their team in a variety of ways.

A recent report came out that Vladdy lost over 30 pounds since September and is back in play for third base. Signing DJ would allow Vladdy this chance as DJ could shift to first base if the Blue Jays preferred that set up. LeMahieu also provides security at 2B. As one of the most versatile defensive players in baseball, Cavan Biggio is constantly moving around the diamond and having DJ as a backup is definitely pretty comforting security if you’re the Blue Jays.

Next. Free agent market waiting on another deadline?. dark

All in all, LeMahieu’s player profile would fit nicely in the Jays clubhouse and as it turns out, I am not the only one who sees the Jays and DJ as a match. MLB Trade Rumors came out with their annual free agency prediction list and penciled in LeMahieu for a 4 year, $68 million dollar deal with the Jays.