The Blue Jays will have some roster decisions to make over the winter, and one of them could be around the future of Raimel Tapia in Toronto.
The 28 year old just finished his first season as a Blue Jay and found a way to make a regular appearance in the lineup despite not being projected as a starter. Between injuries to George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tapia’s role as the 4th outfielder became basically a full-time gig as he appeared in 128 games and had 411 at-bats, including a start in the playoffs as well.
He was acquired last offseason in a trade with the Rockies that sent Randal Grichuk the other way, with the Jays also receiving a minor leaguer named Adrian Pinto. The move was made for a variety of reasons, but arguably the most significant was to give the Blue Jays a less redundant outfield.
What made Tapia appealing for the Blue Jays was the fact that he brought a different look to the lineup. The majority of their hitters are right-handed power guys, and Tapia is pretty much the polar opposite as a lefty swinger without a whole lot of pop. Different doesn’t necessarily mean better, but for what it’s worth, the former Colorado Rockie finished the year slashing .265/.292/.380 with seven home runs, 20 doubles, and 52 RBI, good for a fairly average bWAR of 0.2. In case you’re wondering, Grichuk was worth 0.3 bWAR over 506 at-bats..
While Tapia has one year left before he’ll be an outright free agent, I think it’s fair to wonder if the Blue Jays will bring him back for next season or if they’ll look to either trade him, or even non-tender him. According to spotrac.com he made 3.95 million in 2022 and they’re projecting him for a little over 4.8 million in salary next season. While that’s not a massive contract by any means, it’s possible that the Blue Jays might want to allocate that nearly five million to another area of the roster depending on what the front office might have up their sleeves over the winter.
Of course, in order to make that kind of move they’re likely going to have to bring in another outfielder of some kind. George Springer has four years left on his deal, and both Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez will be free agents after the 2023 season. They also have Whit Merrifield, and even Cavan Biggio as options, but it feels like the Jays would want a replacement for Tapia if they decide to let him walk, even just to protect again the injury history from the regulars.
I also believe it’s entirely possible that the Blue Jays shop one or both of Hernandez or Gurriel Jr. in order to maximize their value before their become free agents, or to open up a spot for a long-coveted left-handed bat. I’m not suggesting that the Jays will be running either of their popular corner outfielders out of town, but it’s going to be tough to keep everyone as they look forward, especially if they hope to eventually sign long-term extensions with young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Alek Manoah.
If you’re thinking, “But Tapia is a left-handed bat?”, I have to reassure you that I haven’t forgotten that. In fact, I think that’s a big part of the reason that he had as many opportunities as he did in 2022. However, if the Blue Jays are going to finally address this area of the roster I have to think they’ll be looking for the type of bat that could hit in the top four of the lineup, and unfortunately that’s just not Tapia.
I do believe that the Blue Jays will be open to retaining the seven-year MLB veteran, but it might depend on what else happens with their 40-man roster. Whether they can acquire an impact left-handed bat, or if they decide to trade one of Hernandez or Gurriel Jr., any of the variables at play could impact how the club views Tapia’s fit going forward. If I had to make an early wager I would guess that he’s elsewhere in 2023, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him back in a Blue Jays uniform for one more year either.