The Toronto Blue Jays have been a team to watch this offseason; the rumours have been flying and they’re exciting, but let’s take a look at some targets that are flying under the radar.
The Toronto Blue Jays have thrown their hat in the ring of just about every big-name free agent and trade candidate out there. While meetings with top free agents like George Springer have reportedly gone well, the club has historically had trouble bringing high profile free agents north of the border and need to address the starting rotation before they dish out big contracts to position players.
The club will continue to touch base with the camps of J.T. Realmuto, Springer and DJ LeMahieu but in the event, they are outbid like they were for Ha-Seong Kim or simply being used as leverage, there are plenty of intriguing options available in the second tier of talent. Here are five, less flashy, but highly effective moves the Jays could make this offseason:
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Walker is coming off a bounceback year with the Jays, rebuilding his value in a walk year while serving as a formidable number two behind Ryu in the last 30 games of the 2020 season. Walker is 28 with an athletic 6’4” 235-pound frame, and although he’s a California boy at heart, he has been vocal about warming up to the idea of playing in the North-East after last year.
He hasn’t been consistent enough throughout his career to earn a three or four-year deal but a deal in the 2 years 20 million dollar range is feasible and Walker could very well end up outplaying the contract if he continues to make tweaks in the right direction. He spoke recently about how he has just begun to use player development technologies like Rapsosdo and has felt like he finally understands the numbers in a way that will actually translate to results on the field. This deal is low risk and could potentially be a bargain if Walker continues to refine his pitches and execute anywhere close to the level he did in 2020.
James Paxton — 2 year $32 million deal
Paxton is coming off of an injury-ridden season in which he started only five games for the Yankees posting a 6.64 ERA. With that said, Paxton has never had an ERA over 4.00 in his career aside from 2020 and his forearm injury and lacklustre season make him a more affordable option for the Jays. He’s a Canadian and even dons the nickname ‘Big Maple’ so you can safely assume the typical challenges the front office faces in terms of selling players on Toronto would not be an issue.
Fangraphs has Paxton signing a one or two year deal with an AAV of $15 million; the Jays should be willing to meet that price tag and I expect they will fork over a little extra cash to alleviate some of the pitfalls of the Canadian tax system. Overall, this would be a solid move that would sure up the starting rotation, and in turn, improve the Jays postseason chances immediately.
Archie Bradley — 1 year $1.3 million deal
It’s no secret the Blue Jays bullpen is in desperate need of an overhaul, especially with the expected departure of closer Ken Giles. Jordan Romano looked extremely promising in 2020 but beyond Romano, the Jays are thin when it comes to bullpen arms that can pitch high leverage innings. Archie Bradley offers a cheap option for filling a late-inning slot, bringing experience, quality innings and flexibility to a bullpen that at the moment, doesn’t have a set 7th, 8th or 9th inning guy.
Bradley, after being traded from the Dbacks at the deadline last year, was non-tendered by the Reds in the offseason and will surely be a target for several clubs. Bradley has posted sub 3.00 ERA’s twice in the last four seasons including last year, has had a K/9 rate of over 9 in four of the last five seasons and has had experience closing games, totalling 28 saves over his career. He is certainly not a closer by any means but he could very well be an undervalued, effective piece in the Jays pen and well worth a one-year deal.
Alex Colome — 2 year $15 million deal
Colomé has been an effective high leverage reliever for the past eight years, splitting time between the Rays and White Sox. He has a career ERA of 2.95 and is coming off a year in which he posted a sub 1.00 WHIP, 0.81 ERA, shut the door on 12 games and didn’t give up a single long ball in 21 innings. Similar to Hendricks and Bradley, Colomé can be used in high leverage situations and although he is going into his age 32 season, the numbers don’t suggest he’s on the decline. His fastball and cutter velocity have remained steady and his production over the last two seasons has been on par if not better than his career averages.
This goes for Colomé as well as Bradley, but if they are pitching well and the Jays are not where they want to be by the deadline, they can do what they have done so often in years past and deal them to a contender for prospects. Overall, Colomé is another extremely effective reliever on the market that would provide pedigree to a Jays bullpen that is in desperate need of a revamp.
Liam Hendriks — 2 year $24 million with a $10 million club option
Hendricks, the former Blue Jay, has had two extremely productive years closing games for the Oakland A’s, posting sub 2.00 ERA’s in 2019 and 2020 while notching 39 saves. Hendricks is different from other guys on this list because he is not a player that will be undervalued on the market, he will be demanding a two to three-year deal in the 30-35 million dollar range, and rightfully so. A big part of his success over the last two seasons is his uptick in fastball velocity, adding 2 MPH to his fastball from 2018 to 2019, resulting in a massive 16% spike in his strikeout rate in the same time frame.
A reunion makes a lot of sense for both sides; the Jays are looking to be in the playoffs over the next three years and Hendricks wants to continue to close games for a contender. The Jays have money to spend, and if past postseasons have taught us anything, it is that lockdown bullpens win World Series. If there is mutual interest in a reunion, it’s an investment worth making.