The Blue Jays are expected to have a busy offseason, but they might be fielding more trade calls than pursuing free agents this time around.
That’s not to suggest that the Jays can’t or won’t be active in free agency, but I think there are several reasons we should expect a greater focus on the trade market. I do think they’ll make an effort to retain their own free agent starter in Ross Stripling, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they brought David Phelps back for another go-around either.
As for the rest of the free agent market, I can certainly see some solutions to the Blue Jays’ roster issues, but it’s not always as easy as just shopping for what you need. They’ll have to compete with the rest of the free agent suitors of course, and also work within their own budget for both the short, and the long-term. Considering that they’re in the market for starting rotation help, bullpen arms, and likely a high-end lefty bat, they’re not going to be alone in their pursuits.
That second point is why I’m not sure that the Jays will jump too hard into the free agent market this offseason. Spotrac.com has them slated for a payroll of 129 million before they settle with their arbitration cases or make any other moves, which currently puts them 11th in baseball. Those arbitration situations will certainly impact the payroll, especially as players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. make their second trip through the process, and Bo Bichette gets his first taste of this type of negotiation.
I don’t mean to suggest that I think the Blue Jays will be frugal this offseason, just that they might look to kill two birds with one stone while addressing their offseason checklist. What I mean by that is that Atkins and company are highly likely to trade a catcher at some point over the winter, and there’s no doubt they’ll be fielding daily calls about their trio of Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, and Gabriel Moreno. It’s also possible they look to get ahead of the exodus that could happen from their outfield after the 2023 campaign, as all of Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurrirel Jr., Whit Merrifield, and Raimel Tapia will be free agents a year from now.
In a perfect world, the Blue Jays will be able to fill their holes from their positions of strength. That’s easier said than done of course, but I do think they’re working with some strong trade chips, especially when it comes to their catching depth. In my mind, the most direct solution for this kind of thing would be to turn one of their catchers into a solid starting pitcher, and maybe a bullpen arm thrown in as a bonus. As an example, maybe there’s a match to send a package highlighted by Gabriel Moreno down to the Marlins in exchange for a starter like Pablo Lopez, or one of the other talented starters in Miami.
As for the outfield, I’ve written a few times about why I think Teoscar Hernandez could be the big bat that’s moved this offseason. It’s not that I don’t think the Jays want Hernandez around anymore, but with one year before free agency and two Silver Slugger awards on his resume, he’s not going to be cheap. When I look at the present and future salary commitments with this roster, I feel like I can see the writing on the wall that they won’t be able to keep everybody. If that’s the case, I’d be in favour of shopping Hernandez now for a couple of reasons. First, he’s talented enough that he should be able to fetch some value in return, perhaps in the form of a “swing and miss” reliever or two that we’re always hearing so much about. Secondly, moving his projected 14.5 million off the books might give them some flexibility to make another move, and maybe even to pursue a left-handed bat that could take his place in the outfield.
As I look at the roster of players that are set to return to Toronto next spring, there aren’t a whole lot of full-on holes on the roster. There are definitely a few, and other areas they can definitely improve, but they might be able to take care of most of their needs with a couple of trades. Again, I’m not saying that they’ll bow out of the free agent market completely, but I fully expect trades to be the theme of the winter for the Blue Jays this time around.