Yesterday, the Blue Jays made some moves to their active roster that caught a few people by surprise (myself included). They activated Hyun Jin Ryu and Vinny Capra, both of whom were on the 60-day IL and needed a roster spot, as there is no IL during the offseason. For Ryu, he will return to the injured list in 2023 considering he will likely be making a late-season return (if he does return at all) after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.
But the Blue Jays also added outfielder Nathan Lukes to the 40-man roster as well, bringing the total to 39 players. Lukes had a strong season in AAA, posting a .285/.364/.425 slash line while hitting from the left side, adding 11 home runs and 61 RBI to the tune of a.789 OPS while splitting time in all three outfield positions, so the move isn't surprising from a stats point of view, it just has more to do of what the fallout might be from adding him to the roster.
I wrote yesterday about how the Blue Jays will have some important decisions coming up in terms of protecting players from the Rule 5 Draft, as there are at least three to four names that I would consider adding at this time: INF Orelvis Martinez, RHP Yosver Zulueta, and INF Addison Barger at minimum.
Could the addition of Nathan Lukes to the Blue Jays' active roster signal Raimel Tapia to being a non-tender candidate?
At first glance, the Blue Jays do have a few options for players that could be moved off their roster to make space in the form of Capra, Foster Griffin, Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton, and Bradley Zimmer, which would free up enough spots to make some moves externally as well as protect a few players from the draft as well. But by adding Lukes, is it possible the club could now potentially non-tender outfielder Raimel Tapia as well?
Acquired last offseason from the Colorado Rockies alongside prospect Adrian Pinto, Tapia suited up in 123 games for the Blue Jays and posted a .672 OPS with 30 extra base hits (seven home runs) and added 52 RBI. Seen more so as a bench option, the Dominican product suited up in quite a few games this season, with injuries to the outfield core and his ability to hit from the left side helping his cause for more game time.
Defensively, Tapia split time in all three positions but was mostly seen in left field, posting a combined - 4 bDRS on the year, with the negative value coming via the 32 games he spent in right field. He also earned a -5 Outs Above Average score, with his play in right field and centre field dragging him down (12th percentile) but did score high in terms of arm strength (82nd percentile), finishing the year with four outfield assists.
Tapia's biggest moment of the season came in the 28-5 game against Boston, where he collected an inside-the-park grand slam and finished the game going 3 for 7 with six RBI.
Looking ahead, Tapia is in his last year of arbitration and will be free agent eligible next offseason. MLB Trade Rumours is predicting a $5.2 million contract for next year, and with the Blue Jays' payroll projecting to be around $200 million (not including offseason moves), shedding the money owed to Tapia and using Lukes as the bench outfield option could be the way to go for the front office. It saves some funds that the club could use towards a free-agent bullpen arm and also opens a spot on the roster for Ross Atkins and co. to work with this winter.
It should also be noted that the Blue Jays can outright Lukes as well should they so desire, so it's not necessarily safe to say his spot is secure regardless of whether the front office decides to non-tender Raimel Tapia or not. Even if the Jays non-tender Tapia, the club could make some moves this offseason that push Lukes off the roster as well. If the club did not add him to the 40-man, Lukes would have been free agent eligible as well, so the move helps keep him in the organization as well.
We will know more next week when the Rule 5 deadline comes into view on Tuesday and the MLB non-tender deadline rolls around on Friday. Although I wasn't so sure that Tapia was a non-tender candidate yesterday morning, after the addition of Lukes, my prediction about his Blue Jays' future is definitely up in the air.