Given apparent payroll flexibility this offseason, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins could look at 3rd-year arbitration (arb 3) eligible players as potential trade targets.
These are players who are eligible for a third and final year of salary arbitration if they are tendered a contract for the 2021 season. Assuming they aren’t offered contract extensions, they’ll become eligible for free agency after next season after reaching six years of Major League service time.
A number of teams may be sellers this offseason after lost ticket and concession revenues in the pandemic shortened 2020 season. The Jays appear to be willing buyers, with a current 2021 payroll that stands just under $95 million leaving $115 million under the 2021 luxury tax threshold of $210 million.
Assuming ownership and the front office is willing to flex that muscle as their competitive window opens, perhaps they could target younger arb 3 players in trades, assuming they can sign them to longer-term extensions, and that the players’ current teams would rather recoup something now rather than watch them leave after next season in free agency?
Depending on the level of talent upgrade, we can assume trades will take a mix of prospects and MLB ready talent. Toronto has a strong farm system with consensus top prospects. I also believe now is the time to be proactive in MLB roster management and move 29-year-old OF Randal Grichuk, as well as an excess catcher.
Top catching prospect, Gabriel Moreno (the Jays 8th ranked prospect), will have to be rostered on the 40-man by November 20th to protect him from the Rule 5 draft on December 10th. This potentially means the Jays would have four catchers including Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Reese McGuire on their 40-man. The same goes for 22nd ranked prospect, catcher Riley Adams.
If the Jays were to look to acquire an elite SS or 3B, that would likely block the development of other young infield prospects, potentially including Jordan Groshans (#3), Orelvis Martinez (#7), Miguel Hiraldo (#9), and Otto Lopez (#13).
Plus, we all realize that pitching prospects can be hit or miss, so could youngsters like Simeon Woods Richardson (#4), Adam Kloffenstein (#10), or Elvis Luciano be moved in package offers for the right trade?
2021/22 Free Agent Class
MLBTR lists the 2021/22 free-agent class here. Obviously, not all of these potential free agents are arb 3 players, and the list will change should extensions be offered or players be traded. With deference and acknowledgment to a regular Jays Journal reader, in the post steroid era, position players over 30 tend to decline faster than pitchers, so this article will focus on only the arb 3 position players culled from that list who would still be 30 and under entering the 2022 season, and arb 3 pitchers from that list who are 33 and under, given that’s the age Hyun Jin Ryu was entering the 2020 season after signing with Toronto.
Arb 3 Trade Targets
I’m going to assume that GM Ross Atkins would ask their current teams for permission to negotiate long-term extensions with these players before trading for them. That way he can control the player now instead of waiting for them to declare free agency next year, potentially necessitating draft pick compensation should any of their targets be given qualifying offers after the 2021 season.
I’ll also focus on positions where the consensus view is that the Jays could use clear talent upgrades: starting pitching, CF, 3B, and potentially an elite SS that could move Bo Bichette to 2B and allow Cavan Biggio to become a super-utility player.
The highlighted players are the most likely trade candidates 30 years old or under as of the 2022 season. The ages of the arb 3 players below in parentheses would be their 2022 year age:
CF: Delino DeShields Jr. (29)
Only really the SP and SS talent there is exciting enough to merit trading top prospects for. Bryant would cost an estimated $18.6 million in 2021 which is well above the projected $4.8 million for Travis Shaw.
Certainly, Baez (outs above average (OAA) +4 in 2020) and Lindor (OAA +5) could slot in and provide both elite defense and offense at SS to upgrade the overall team defense. Both players appear to be available on the trade market.
All of those pitchers above would, however, be upgrades over Tanner Roark and the plethora of back-end starters currently on the Jays 40-man roster. It might be hard to pry Bundy, Davies, E-Rod, and Syndergaard from their respective teams given pitching depth concerns, but Gray and McCullers Jr., could potentially be available.
Other Potential Trade Targets
The Tampa Rays may consider trading CF Kevin Kiermaier and ace Blake Snell given how badly they were affected by lost gate revenues and revenue sharing in 2020. While Kiermaier will enter his age 31 season in 2021, he is under contract through 2022 with a team option ($13 million or a $2.5 million buyout) for 2023 which would offer a nice bridge to Jays #2 prospect Austin Martin,
The 27-year-old Snell is under a team-friendly $39 million guaranteed contract remaining through 2023; however, Snell’s salary jumps to $10.5 million for 2021, nearly 20% of what the Rays like to carry for their entire annual payroll. The Rays’ model has always been to sell early on starting pitching, so this wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility despite Charlie Morton‘s free agency.
33-year-old SP Carlos Carrasco has 2 years, $24M to go on his current deal with Cleveland (plus a $3 million buyout in 2023) and pitched well in 2020 with a six-year low 2.91 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP, with 82 strikeouts in 68 innings.
The Rangers could also be sellers this winter, making 33-year-old SP Lance Lynn a target given his modest $8 million salary for 2021 after posting a 4 year low 3.32 ERA, 4.19 FIP, and 1.06 WHIP with just 25 walks in 84 innings last season.
Who not on the Chicago Cubs isn’t available in a trade? Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez are all attracting trade interest as Jed Hoyer takes over as team president for baseball operations from Theo Epstein.
This is the fun part of the offseason, when we can all be potential GMs and reimagine the Jays roster for Opening Day 2021 as they build upon the 2020 wildcard playoff team and enter their competitive window.
Baseball’s Winter Meetings will be held from December 6-10, so with the rumour mill and trade talk about to heat up further, who would you like the Jays front office to target?