Best bargain players the Blue Jays could still sign in free agency

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While by most accounts, the Toronto Blue Jays are stacked heading into 2023, concerns linger about small but potentially significant weaknesses which remain in the roster. Below, we’ll go over these weaknesses, and suggest fits among the remaining free agents to address them.

The good news is, if the Jays want to solidify their depth and address their arguable weak points, they’ve got options.

So, let’s get into best bargain players the Blue Jays could still sign in free agency.

Weakness – 4th outfielder

Currently, the Jays have only four players listed as an outfielder on their 40-man roster. One of them is Nathan Lukes, a 28-year-old journeyman with zero games in the big leagues, while two others – George Springer and Kevin Kiermaier – can be respectfully described as injury prone.

Of course, Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio are sure to play the outfield, and Otto López, whose heroics at the World Baseball Classic have him making a push for the final roster spot, has played all three outfield positions in the minors.

But if the Jays do want to pursue a more conventional fourth outfielder, well, there is at least one option staring them right in the face.

Which free agent could the Blue Jays sign?

  • Jurickson Profar

The one relatively big-name free agent still unsigned this offseason, Profar is exactly the type of do-everything player the Blue Jays covet.

The 30-year-old has played every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher over his nine-year career, including 146 games in left field in 2022.

Better than that, his skill set fits beautifully with the new style of play the Jays are trying to develop.  He’s an athletic switch hitter who drives the ball all over the field and can run a little bit – 15 homers, 36 doubles, two triples, and five steals in 2022 – while rarely striking out – only 103 in 152 games.

When free agency started, it was estimated that Profar would sign for 3-4 years at something like $10-$15 million per. But with the offseason getting late early, he might be just about ready to take a one-year prove-it type of deal, à la Marcus Semien in 2021.

And if he is, it’s hard not to see him as the perfect player for the Jays to make a move on.

  • Backup Plan: Odúbel Herrera

No, the 31-year-old Herrera’s tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies did not end well. He hit .238 with a .658 OPS over 62 games in 2022, before being released in August. Yet, prior to that, Herrera was a very serviceable, and occasionally standout, major leaguer across six seasons, the owner of a .271 career average and .745 OPS while playing all three outfield spots.

If confidence is low in the Merrifield/Biggio/López triumvirate’s ability to cover the outfield full-time in the event of an injury, the Jays might look at “El Torito.”

Weakness – Lefty in the pen

At the moment, the only left-handed reliever on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster is Tim Mayza, who is kind of like the ‘pineapple on pizza’ of the Jays (you either love him or you hate him). Regardless of your opinion on Mayza though, having one lefty in the pen is less than ideal.

Sure, Ricky Tiedemann might emerge as an Aaron Sanchez-like bullpen weapon in 2023, or perhaps Yusei Kikuchi will flame out as a starter and be moved to relief. But Tiedemann is 20 years old, and if Kikuchi flames out, well, the Jays will have bigger problems (see below).

If instead the Jays opt to go the free agent route to find a lefty, what options do they have?

Which free agent could the Blue Jays sign?

  • Zack Britton

Jays fans will remember Britton as the guy Buck Showalter left pacing sadly in the bullpen as Edwin Encarnacion walked it off against Ubaldo Jimenez in the 2016 Wild Card game. At that time, Britton was the most dominant reliever in the game, on an astonishing run during which he put up a 1.84 ERA from 2014-2020.

In 2021, things fell apart for Britton. Weeks before the season started, he had his elbow scoped, causing him to miss the first two months. When he returned, he quickly suffered a hamstring injury, then an elbow strain which ultimately required Tommy John surgery, ending his season after 22 forgettable appearances and a 5.89 ERA.

Barely a year later, Britton would surprisingly return, making three appearances in September of 2022. While his velocity was down more than two miles per hour, and his command was all over the place – six walks in 2/3 of an inning – these things are not entirely uncommon for someone returning from Tommy John.

As he builds his strength back, is it possible Britton returns to something close to the form which made him the best reliever in the game for the better part of a decade?

Considering that he is likely to receive an inexpensive, incentive-laden deal, the Jays might like to find out.

Weakness – Starting pitching depth

It’s hard to complain about starting pitching with a top four of Manoah, Gausman, Bassitt, and Berríos, especially with a bearded Yusei Kikuchi looking like Sandy Koufax thus far in Spring Training and former ace Hyun Jin Ryu due back at some point this season.

Yet, at this moment, the Blue Jays starting pitching depth beyond Kikuchi looks perilously thin. Mitch White is already recovering from a shoulder impingement, while Thomas Hatch and Drew Hutchison have been getting shellacked in spring training. Meanwhile, Nate Pearson seems settled into a full-time bullpen role and Ricky Tiedemann is only 20.

Simply, it would be negligent for the Jays to not at least be looking at a veteran arm to bolster their depth.

So, what are their options?

Which free agent could the Blue Jays sign?

  • Michael Pineda

It is somewhat surprising that Pineda has not yet signed. Yes, the 34-year-old behemoth was poor in 2022, throwing up a 5.79 ERA in 11 starts, but in the three years before that, he had ERAs of 3.62, 3.38, and 4.01, operating as an important piece of teams with playoff aspirations in Minnesota.

Adding to his attractiveness to the Jays, Pineda made six starts in the minors in 2022 after his year went sideways, suggesting that he may be willing to accept a deal which starts him there in 2023.

Plus, listed at 6’7 280lbs, Pineda is one of the only guys in baseball who can make Alek Manoah look small, which has got to count for something.

Which bargain free agents do you think the Jays should sign? Or are they good with what they’ve got? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.

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