Blue Jays: Looking at a worst case free agent scenario
The Blue Jays have heavily pursued the top free agents this winter, but what’s the plan if they end up striking out at the top of the market?
Christmas Day has come and gone, and Blue Jays fans are still waiting for that big gift under the tree this offseason.
That said, what if Santa doesn’t come down the chimney with that big ticket item this winter?
It’s a scenario that is entirely possible for Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office, even if they’ve put forth an aggressive effort to add one of the top free agents. At the high end of that list are four stars that the Blue Jays have been linked to at various times, but it remains to be seen if their offers are going to be seriously considered.
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For example, there’s a scenario where the Blue Jays miss out on all four of George Springer, Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu, and J.T. Realmuto, who have each caught the attention of other clubs around the league. For much of the offseason we’ve heard that the Blue Jays and the New York Mets will be the two teams looking to spend serious money, but we’ve yet to see that come together, and things can change quickly. In my mind, it’s entirely possible that Springer signs with the Mets, LeMahieu returns to the Yankees, Bauer signs with the Angels, and Realmuto stays put in Philadelphia. If that’s how it goes down, what would be the back-up plan for Atkins and his crew?
Fortunately they’ve left no stone unturned this winter, so I’m sure they’ve drawn up “Plan A-Plan Z”. However, the goal seems to be to add a true impact talent to the roster, which could help push this group from good to great.
If the Blue Jay end up missing out on the top of the free agent market, I assume that trade rumours will start to swirl even more than they already have. If they miss out the top four free agents, I suspect that the focus on someone like Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor becomes even more intense. Perhaps Atkins could turn to names we haven’t heard much about this winter that might be available at the right price, like Colorado’s Nolan Arenado (one can dream), or even Whit Merrifield from the Royals. The Blue Jays have the trade chips to acquire nearly anyone that could be considered as available, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit.
While I expect that missing out on the major free agents would push the Blue Jays to the trade market for answers, I don’t think they’ll be done with offering free agent contracts either. In this case, I suspect that the Jays may search for that top-tier player on the trade market, but still look to supplement the big league roster as well. Depending on who they acquire in a trade and how much salary they’re taking on, I’d guess that Atkins will still turn to free agents to improve the pitching staff. He’s talked about the different ways to improve the roster, and adding a few from a group like Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Brad Hand, and more, could make an impact as well. In fact, there’s an argument, for example, that signing both Tanaka and Paxton would be wiser than bringing in Bauer, and the price may not be that different.
The longer this free agency period drags out, the less confident I’m becoming that the Blue Jays will be able to sign one of their top targets. It feels like Springer, Bauer, LeMahieu, and Realmuto and waiting for other teams to join the fold, or possibly for a bigger contract than the Blue Jays are comfortable offering. I could be wrong, and maybe that market never fully develops, but if I’m Atkins then I would thinking more seriously beyond Plan A or B.
We’ll see how it plays out, but thankfully there are several paths to significant improvement for the Blue Jays this winter, whether they sign one of the big four or not.