Blue Jays: New LHH Free Agent Targets Post Non-Tender Deadline

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 26: Eddie Rosario #20 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Cincinnati Reds on September 26, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 26: Eddie Rosario #20 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Cincinnati Reds on September 26, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /

Following the departures of 3B Travis Shaw and reliever A.J. Cole, the Toronto Blue Jays have two open roster spots to fill. Today we’ll look at some of the newest available free agents following the December 2nd non-tender deadline, with a focus on left-handed hitter upgrades. 

The Blue Jays already right-handed heavy line-up lost LHH Travis Shaw, who was not tendered a contract for 2021. While not surprising given a projected arbitration award of over $4.0 million, Shaw’s departure opens up opportunities for both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to return to 3B and for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., or Bo Bichette to get more plate attempts batting third in the line-up. Shaw made eighteen starts batting third in the Jays’ 2020 line-up and did not reward their patience, slashing .214/.309/.371/.680 with 24 Ks and 3 GIDPs over 81 plate attempts in that slot.

The move leaves the Jays with only Cavan Biggio and Rowdy Tellez as left-handed bats among the regulars, with Derek Fisher, Reese McGuire and OF prospect Josh Palacios the only other LHH on the current 40-man roster.

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has made no secret of the fact that the team is open to being aggressive this offseason, stating in his postseason press conference, “I think we are in a position where we could add to this team with talent that is condensed in one player and a super high impact.”

Jays Journal contributors have been looking in-depth at the various free agents the Jays are already rumoured to be “checking in” on, but now that the non-tender deadline has passed and the free agent pool has been clarified, expect MLB clubs to start filling their offseason needs, especially with the virtual Baseball Winter Meetings next week.

Another consideration is payroll flexibility. Ross Atkins notes,

"“As always, one of the biggest variables in this pursuit will be dollars and cents. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the finances of different clubs in different ways, creating an extremely uncertain outlook as we eventually approach free agency. Some believe this could open up the trade market, with teams more willing to use prospects over cash to acquire talent entering 2021.”"

However, with the departures of Ken Giles, Chase Anderson, Travis Shaw, Matt Shoemaker, Jonathan Villar, Joe Panik, Taijuan Walker and A.J. Cole, the front office now has over $30 million in space just to keep constant with the end-2020 active player payroll, not to mention an additional $10 million freed up by only paying Troy Tulowitzki $4 million in retained salary in 2021 versus the $14 million he was due in 2020. So that’s $40 million+ just to hold the competitive balance payroll constant with the end of this season without even adding. As Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro stated,

"“The reality of the pandemic clearly changes the dynamic of our revenues. However, there has been consistent support from our ownership and consistent encouragement that we continue to progress in our plan, that we continue to move forward. That was evident with [Hyun Jin Ryu], and that was evident at the Trade Deadline in a very truncated season.”"

Which of the new free agents would be upgrades over current players rostered on the 40-man?  Are there any new under 30-year-old left-handed bats or position player upgrades of interest following yesterday’s non-tender deadline?

Arguably the Jays could improve and upgrade their MLB depth over the likes of outfielders Randal Grichuk, Derek Fisher, Jonathan Davis and catcher Reese McGuire, not to mention six or seven of the pitchers. Here’s a list of under-30, potential LHH upgrades from the newly minted free agents:

Eddie Rosario: the former Twins corner OF recently turned 29, and was non-tendered because the Twins have some MLB ready OF prospects in Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, and didn’t want to pick-up Rosario’s expected $9.6 million arbitration award. The knock against Rosario has been his inability to take walks, as evidenced by his career .310 OBP. And while he has a strong arm, his career dWAR is negative given issues with his fly ball route running.

Could the Jays hitting coach tandem of Guillermo Martínez and Dante Bichette work the same magic on Rosario as they did with Rowdy Tellez in 2020, getting him to be more patient, adopt a better two-strike approach, and wait for his pitch?

The upside: Rosario is a LHH who averaged over 2.1 bWAR from 2015-2019. He has averaged 28 HRs and 90 RBI over a 162-game season, and belted 32 HRs with 109 RBI as recently as 2019. The career slash line of .277/.310/.478/.788 is a clear upgrade over current corner OF options Derek Fisher (career OBP .286) and Randal Grichuk (career OBP .295) were the Jays to upgrade their CF with a free agent like George Springer or Jackie Bradley Jr., or trade for someone like Manuel Margot. Rosario could rotate through the corner OF spots with Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and DH and would add some serious left-handed pop to the line-up.

Kyle Schwarber: the former Cubs left fielder and catcher was non-tendered because Chicago wasn’t willing to pay the more than $7 million he was expected to win in arbitration, after a brutal .188/.308/.393 batting line in 224 plate appearances this year. He struck out 29.5% of the time and only offers “passable” left-field defence. He’s entering his age 28 season and was the 4th overall draft pick in 2014.

He averaged a bWAR of about 1.0 from 2015-2019, but his career dWAR of -3.5 is a red flag given how defensively challenged the Jays roster already is, especially in the outfield. However, the 162-game averages of 36 HR, 82 RBI and a slash line of. 230/.336/.480/.816 again compares favourably to both Derek Fisher and Randal Grichuk, not to mention Reese McGuire (although Schwarber hasn’t caught much at all since 2015). He’s also 4th in home runs of players who debuted in 2015 with 121, although Eddie Rosario is 6th on that list with 119.

Nomar Mazara: the 25-year-old, former Rangers top prospect struggled in his first year with the White Sox, slashing .228/.295/.294 with just one home run in 149 plate appearances. Chicago decided to cut ties rather than paying him $5 million plus in arbitration. He’s basically a left-handed hitting version of Anthony Alford in terms of his prospect rankings, when he was a consensus top 25 prospect ahead of 2016. His 162-game averages of 22 HR, 90 RBI and .258/.318/.426/.744 would be a considerable upgrade over Derek Fisher, and it would be a trade-off between a younger and cheaper LHH, with a higher career OBP (.318 vs .295) versus Grichuk’s higher career OPS (.778 vs .744). Given the $5 million salary vs. over $10 million for Grichuk, that appears to be an upgrade that would free up Grichuk as trade capital.

David Dahl: while not great defensively, 26-year-old Dahl can play all three OF positions, bats left-handed, and is only expected to cost in the $2.5-2.6 million range for 2021. The Rockies apparently non-tendered him because he cannot stay healthy and on the field. According to MLBTR, he’s had his spleen removed after suffering a laceration during a violent on-field collision, plus stress reactions in his rib cage, a fractured foot, a high ankle sprain, multiple back injuries and most recently a shoulder injury. The 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Dahl is only one season removed from a 2019 All-Star campaign that saw him hit .302/.353/.524 with 15 HRs, 28 doubles and five triples over 413 plate appearances. I just worry that he may be a bit too much Devon Travis, and not enough Devon White.

Tony Wolters: a LHH catcher known for his defense, 28-year-old Wolters has slashed .231/.316/.307/.623 in Colorado over the past three seasons. Compare that with Jays catcher Reese McGuire’s .243/.281/.444/.725 production over the past three seasons, and Wolters’ cumulative 3.3 dWAR vs. McGuire’s 0.5 should be worth the $2 million likely needed to sign him as a bench/depth player.

Next. Atkins speaking and acting with confidence. dark

Any of these players would improve the Jays 40-man roster, especially if Atkins can manage CF upgrades in the form of either Springer or JBJ. That would allow the Jays to trade Grichuk, sign one of Rosario and Mazara, and DFA Derek Fisher. Tony Wolters is a clear MLB defensive upgrade over Reese McGuire, and I’d be in favour of either Eddie Rosario or Nomar Mazara as LHH power bats in this line-up where they can rotate through the corner OF and DH slots with Teoscar and Lourdes. What do you think?