As I wind my time down here at Jays Journal, I decided to do one more "what I would do article". In a perfect world the Blue Jays would trade for Shohei Ohtani and sign a couple of the best free agents available, but I'm going to keep this as realistic as I can.
To that end I think we have to acknowledge that the Blue Jays will have some sort of payroll restrictions to work around, and the evidence is in the fact that they traded Teoscar Hernandez early in the offseason. They also acquired an elite reliever in Erik Swanson, and another pitching prospect that they're high in Adam Macko, but at this stage it's hard not to look at that swap as one that opened up some more salary to reallocate to another area of the team, and maybe even to an outfielder to fill Hernandez's spot.
According to the Fangraphs roster resource, the Blue Jays are already projected to have a top 10 payroll in baseball this year, and that's before they've added any other players to the mix. Things could change depending on what happens in arbitration, but for now they're listed with a projected payroll of around 176 million. To keep things simple, I'll say they can add roughly 30-35 million in order to try and push this team over the top, and there are a few ways it could be spent.
To start with, I'm looking at the outfield and as much as Brandon Nimmo would be a nearly perfect fit up the middle, unfortunately I think the wiser path would be to spread that money around a bit.
One idea would be to take that money and try to use it on two different players that could help in 2023, and I think it would result in a shorter commitment as well, which could help the Blue Jays as they look to a future where they'll likely try to extend Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and others. The first place I would start is by trying to sign Cody Bellinger to a one-year deal, even if it comes with some pretty significant risk.
Bellinger was designated for assignment by the Dodgers before the non-tender deadline, and he's one of the more interesting free agents on the market right now. He's still just 27 years old and has an MVP award on his resume from 2019, but he's really struggled to find his form at the plate as he's navigated injuries over the last two seasons. For the Blue Jays, Bellinger would be a complimentary piece, and one that would make sense on a "show me" deal of somewhere between 10-12 million for one season. I'm not sure that gets it done, and if the bidding gets much higher then I would probably tap out. But for 12 million, I think it's worth the risk to add his elite centre field defence, and a roll of ther dice for the bottom third of the order that could really pay off.
In order for it to make sense to take a risk on Bellinger I believe the Blue Jays would need a second bat, and the one that I'd love to see in Toronto next season would be Michael Brantley. The veteran ended up missing most of the second half after a shoulder injury derailed his 2022 campaign, but in the right role I think he'd be an excellent fit with the Blue Jays, and he has a history with George Springer from their time together in Houston, and also with Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro from their time back in Cleveland. I'd even offer a two-year deal in the range of 25 million, which would allow an AAV along with Bellinger that would add up to a similar cost for a player like Nimmo.
If the Blue Jays signed these two hitters, the lineup could look like this:
1- George Springer (RF)
2- Bo Bichette (SS)
3- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B)
4- Michael Brantley (DH)
5- Alejandro Kirk (C)
6- Matt Chapman (3B)
7- Cody Bellinger (CF)
8- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF)
9- Whit Merrifield (2B)
Bench- Santiago Espinal, Danny Jansen, Cavan Biggio, Nathan Lukes
To me, this gives the Blue Jays the balance from the left side that they've needed for a couple of seasons now, and gives John Schneider a lot of options. He could play Brantley in an outfield corner when Kirk or Guerrero Jr. need a day at DH, and Merrifield can always slide to the outfield as well if they want to get Espinal or Biggio in the lineup. Brantley and Bellinger would both represent a bit of a risk, but together I think there's plenty of upside to justify it, especially if you can sign them both for roughly 25 million, which I think is possible as long as Bellinger's market doesn't get too rich.
Before I get to the part that will cause the most debate, I'm going to say something else that will surely upset a portion of the Jays' fan base. If it were up to me, I'd be fine with the bullpen as is, at least to start the season. Here's what we're looking at right now:
1- Jordan Romano
2- Erik Swanson
3- Yimi Garcia
4- Anthony Bass
5- Tim Mayza
6- Adam Cimber
7- Trevor Richards
8- Yusei Kikuchi/Mitch White
Depth: Zach Pop, Nate Pearson, Yosver Zulueta, Trent Thornton, Julian Merryweather, Matt Gage, Hagen Danner
In a perfect world the Blue Jays would be able to add another lefty to the mix, but overall I'm pretty comfortable with what they'll be starting the season with, and I think there's more potential in the bullpen beyond the top eight I've listed here. I've included one of White or Kikuchi in the 'pen as well, as White is now out of options and the Jays will have to keep him on the 26-man roster unless they want to risk losing him.
What's really intriguing to me this time around is the depth that's in place. Hurlers like Pop, Pearson, Zulueta, and even Hagan Danner could all make an impact and would be the type of homegrown arms that the Blue Jays have been lacking in the bullpen over the last few years. Adding them to a solid veteran core in the top six could potentially make for a special group. And if they find something is lacking, there should be a few options available this summer when the trade winds start blowing.
To round things out I think there are two important points to make in addressing the rotation. The most obvious one would be that they'll need a replacement for Ross Stripling, whether that means they bring him back, or find another alternative. While there are options on the free agent market, I'd likely try to fill this hole through a trade.
Earlier today I talked about the Milwaukee Brewers being a prime candidate to match up with the Blue Jays on a blockbuster, and I'm going to look that way for the purposes of this article. A trade likely wouldn't be as simple as what I'm proposing, but it works well on the baseballtradesimulator.com, so let's keep things easy for now.
Blue Jays get: Brandon Woodruff, Garrett Mitchell
Brewers get: Gabriel Moreno
Woodruff would solidify the Blue Jays' rotation and give them another ace calibre performer to add to the mix. He only has two years left of contract control, but given the state of the win-now Blue Jays, I'd be okay with that. I wouldn't go as far as a 1-1 of Moreno and Woodruff, but if the Brewers would add a young outfielder like Mitchell to the deal, I really think it would work for both sides, especially if the Jays kicked in another lower-level minor league piece or two.
With Woodruff, this is how the Blue Jays rotation would look:
1- Alek Manoah
2- Brandon Woodruff
3- Kevin Gausman
4- Jose Berrios
I'll take that top four in a playoff series any day, and I'll admit that you could line up the top three in plenty of different ways. Woodruff's projected salary would likely push the Jays close to their limits, but with a wealthy ownership group in Rogers it really shouldn't matter. They've shown that they'll invest in the team when they're truly ready to compete for a championship, and I don't know how they could argue agaist being in that window now.
I mentioned that there are two things that need to be addressed in the rotation, and the second part to me would be some additional depth. Hopefully they'll get some better support from internal arms like Anthony Kay and Thomas Hatch in 2023, but they'd be wise to add another option or two and lengthen the depth chart out a bit, and maybe they could use some of the reliever depth they have to address the need.
So, what do you think of the way I've tweaked the roster? It's hard to say if all or even any of these moves are viable, but as a fan I would be very excited about this 26-man roster heading into 2023.