As free agency kicks off this week, I have to admit that I'm really not sure what the Blue Jays are going to do, or how quickly they'll move to address the holes on their roster.
On one hand, the offseason checklist for Ross Atkins and the front office isn't all that long depending on how much change they're looking for over the winter. The Jays are actually only set to lose a handful of players to free agency, including Ross Stripling, Jackie Bradley Jr., and David Phelps. It's also entirely possible that they look to retain one or more of those veterans, but otherwise they could return a very similar group of players if they so choose.
On the other hand, despite winning 92 games and earning the top Wild Card spot, most fans would agree that there are a few clear needs. They need to re-sign Stripling and/or find a replacement for him in the rotation to back the likes of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, and a host of question marks. Ideally they'll also find a top-tier bullpen arm or two, even if they have plenty of talent and depth in the bullpen.
The one piece of the puzzle that is a little more debatable is the need for a left-handed hitter or two that helps to balance the lineup. They will still have Cavan Biggio and Raimel Tapia in 2023, although the latter is a potential non-tender candidate. However, the need for a high-end left-handed hitter is more than a complimentary piece. Realistically, they need someone that is good enough to put somewhere between George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and others. There are several options on the free agent market if Atkins wants to go shopping, and to me there's one veteran that stands out right away, who also happens to be someone the Jays nearly signed in the past.
The 2022 campaign was a bit of a disappoint for Michael Brantley despite the fact that he'll eventually receive a World Series ring as a member of the Houston Astros. Unfortunately the 35 year old wasn't able to play during the playoffs after having season-ending surgery on his shoulder in August. Despite the fact that they ultimately ended up winning without him, losing Brantley was a pretty big blow for the Astros, as he was slashing .288/.370.416 over 243 at-bats before hitting the Injured List. That's not far off from his career line of .298/.356/.439, and before the injury Brantley was showing that he has plenty left in the tank.
Shoulder injuries can be tricky of course, but from the sound of things it would appear that Brantley should be healthy in time for spring training. It's possible that the Astros could be interested in bringing him back, but they could also understandably believe that they can win without him, or may prefer to move on with a younger option. If that's the case, their loss could be the Blue Jays' gain if the two sides can renew the interest that nearly landed him in Toronto before he signed his last two-year deal with Houston.
Admittedly Brantley wouldn't be a perfect fit, but I do believe that he would be a very good complement to this Blue Jays core. He's still a very dangerous hitter that would be more than capable of lining up somewhere in the top five hitters, and his veteran presence would be a welcome addition among the talented but eager young hitters in Toronto. He could spend most of his time as the designated hitter, could spell some games in a corner outfield spot, and maybe as important as anything, he probably wouldn't need to play every day to be satisfied, acting more as a most-days starter.
That kind of versatility could be important for John Schneider and the coaching staff, especially if they're still trying to find regular playing time for at least two of their talented catchers. At the end of the 2022 season the Jays understandably had both Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen in the lineup as much as they could, and Gabriel Moreno is loudly banging on the door announcing that he is MLB ready as well. There's a very good chance that the Blue Jays trade at least one of those three catchers at some point this offseason, and if they did it would certainly make a Brantley signing easier to fit in the picture.
It's also possible that the Blue Jays look to trade one of their outfielders, especially if they're looking beyond next season. Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Whit Merrifield, and Raimel Tapia will all be free agents after the 2023 season, and I wouldn't be surprised if Atkins wanted to get ahead of the situation a bit. Their payroll could also factor into the equation, and if that ultimately leads to trading one of Hernandez or Gurriel Jr., signing a guy like Brantley to a short-term deal could make sense as well.
As I said, it's not a blockbuster move like pursuing Shohei Ohtani (who apparently won't be traded), or like their pursuit of Jose Ramirez last winter, but I believe there's a lot to like about the fit for Michael Brantley in Toronto. He nearly signed with the Blue Jays in the past, and now that George Springer is around to maybe give him one more helpful nudge, maybe lighting will strike the second time around. For the right price, I certainly wouldn't mind.