One of the main reasons the Toronto Blue Jays' offence was so underwhelming in 2023, was due to their lack of quality left-hand bats. When hitting left-handed, they ranked just 20th in the Majors in batting average and 18th in OPS. (They ranked ninth and 10th respectively in the AL specifically.)
As such, it comes as no surprise one of the Blue Jays' main priorities in the offseason -- and there are several -- is to find a quality left-handed bat or two. And apparently, Bob Nightengale of USA Today has the inside scoop on one of their main targets.
Nightengale writes that the Blue Jays have a strong interest in free agent Cody Bellinger. Although he does qualify this by acknowledging they also need to extend Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who both are set to become free agents after the 2025 season.
Back to Bellinger, you can certainly understand why the Blue Jays would have such a keen interest in signing him. He was one of the top left-handed bats during this past season.
The stats back it up
The 28-year-old ranked fourth among all qualifying players, with a .307 average batting left-handed. He also ranked eighth overall, with a .881 OPS.
On an individual basis, Bellinger's batting average was the best of his seven years in the Majors, while his OPS was his third-highest. And while his home run production wasn't quite as explosive as earlier in his career, his 97 RBI were still tied-second most.
Another thing to consider is the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year had the lowest strikeout rate of his career, at 15.7 percentage. This alludes to his discipline and patience at the plate, which comes with experience.
On the subject of experience, the Blue Jays would also be adding a player who knows what it takes the perform at the highest level. Consider that Bellinger was named NL MVP in 2019, while with the Dodgers.
This experience extends to being able to perform well at crunch time. This is best exemplified by Bellinger being named NLCS MVP in 2018 and being part of a World Series team two years later.
In terms of defence, the Blue Jays would also be getting a versatile and sure pair of hands. The 2019 Gold Glove Award winner accrued a 0.992 fielding percentage in 2023, while starting 81 games at centre field and another 44 at first base.
How much will the Blue Jays be prepared to offer?
Unsurprisingly the Cubs would like to see Bellinger return for a second season, after being named 2023 NL Comeback Player of the Year. On Monday, they put forward a one-year qualifying offer worth $20.325 million.
As per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, the Scottsdale, Arizona native is expected to decline the offer. However, it guarantees the Cubs will receive a compensatory draft pick next summer, if he signs elsewhere.
Bellinger would be more than worth the compensation for the Blue Jays to sign him, pending how much they are prepared to offer. For some context, he declined his $25 million mutual option with the Cubs for the 2024 season.
Of course, just because the Blue Jays want to sign the 2013 fourth round draft pick, it doesn't mean they will actually get him. As always, this means having backup options.
Second-best in a respectful sense
According to Nightengale, for the Blue Jays this would mean targeting another left-handed bat in Joc Pederson. However, there is a reason why he is a backup option as opposed to a main target.
In one respect, there's no denying Pederson has the quality and experience. This is highlighted by a resume which includes a couple of All-Star selections and being on two World Series-winning teams.
However, the 31-year-old is not quite as productive with his bat as earlier in his 10 year Major League career. His home run total was the lowest of his time as a full time starter save for the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season, while his RBI number was the second-lowest in the same circumstances.
In addition, Pederson's .235 batting average is actually lower than the Blue Jays' collective .241 in 2023. For what it's worth, his OPS is slightly better, at .764 versus .736.
Overall, we appreciate this is all just conjecture at this point. Regardless, if the Blue Jays can get Bellinger, it will be an intriguing move which can help the lineup return to its previous position as one of the most dangerous in the Majors.