The Toronto Blue Jays still have one thing to cross off their Christmas wish list this offseason.
General Manager Ross Atkins, speaking to reporters on Monday, revealed that the Blue Jays are looking to “shift to offensive improvement” and add a left-handed outfielder. Atkins added that the Blue Jays are “not limited financially” and are open to either adding a free agent or pursuing a trade.
Atkins hasn’t been idle this offseason. The Blue Jays signed starting pitcher Chris Bassitt to a three-year, $63M deal, and also added Kevin Kiermaier on a $9M contract. The Blue Jays currently have a projected payroll of $205M for the 2023 season.
But they have not found a replacement for Teoscar Hernández, who was dealt to the Seattle Mariners in November. Hernández averaged an .852 OPS over the last three seasons, providing the sort of power that has helped the Blue Jays be the American League’s top-scoring team since 2021. That kind of production is now missing from their lineup.
While Kiermaier, the best defensive center fielder in the league over the last decade, is an upgrade in the field, the former Tampa Bay Ray and Blue Jays nemesis can’t be expected to replicate Hernández's output at the plate.
Kiermaier is the lefty bat the predominantly right-handed Blue Jays had been craving, but his OPS since the start of 2020 is 160 points lower than Hernández's. He’s hit just 11 home runs in 185 games over the last two seasons; Hernández has 57.
Kiermaier insisted the Blue Jays told him the center field job is his to lose, allowing George Springer to move over to right field more often next season, but the Blue Jays could still use more offensive production.
That has left Atkins still searching for what he needs. The top free agent remaining on the market who checks off the boxes Atkins laid out on Monday is Michael Conforto. He’s left-handed, he has power, hitting 33 home runs for the Mets in 2019 and eclipsing the 25-homer plateau three times in his seven-year career.
While he missed the entire 2022 season due to a shoulder injury, agent Scott Boras said he is completely recovered and looking for a short-term deal with an opt-out that will potentially allow Conforto to test free agency again next season.
Veteran Jurickson Profar is also still waiting to find out where he’ll play in 2023. Profar is a switch-hitter who could potentially form an ideal platoon role in the Blue Jays outfield. He had a .723 OPS in 152 games for the Padres last season; 12 of his 15 homers came while batting from the left side.
Conforto and Profar can be what Atkins is still searching for, if the Blue Jays manage to land either one.
Despite leading the AL in hits, OPS, OPS+, and finishing second to the Yankees in runs scored in 2022, the Blue Jays received almost no production from left-handed hitters. Blue Jays’ lefties combined for only 202 hits, the fewest in the Majors. They hit just 20 home runs, ten fewer than any other team. The Blue Jays can field one of the deepest, most formidable lineups on a daily basis, with just one glaring weakness: they are all right-handers.
Atkins is still looking to fix that disparity this offseason. Adding a powerful left-handed bat would put a big bow on the present the Blue Jays give their fanbase, and just in time for the holidays.