The Toronto Blue Jays lost out on both of their big offseason targets in the span of three days and are now left to pick up the pieces. They'll have to turn to Plan B to get the roster up to snuff for 2024. With Juan Soto traded to the New York Yankees and Shohei Ohtani signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, general manager Ross Atkins now sets his sights on the remaining free agent pool.
Luckily for Atkins and the Blue Jays, some big bats are still on the market, thanks to Ohtani holding the baseball world hostage for a month. Cody Bellinger is one big name we could see in a Jays jersey next season, especially if you read anything into his girlfriend's recent Instagram post — although it's entirely understandable if you're wary.
But how does Bellinger stack up against another free agent outfield/DH bat the Jays may go after in Jorge Soler?
Is Bellinger or Soler a better fit for the Blue Jays?
Who's a better fit for the Jays? The 28-year-old former MVP who just had a bounce-back year with the Chicago Cubs or the 31-year-old power masher who has been in Miami for the last two seasons?
While Bellinger is the sexier name, don't count out Soler so quickly.
Bellinger declined his $12.5 million option with the Cubs following the season, and you can't blame him. He resurrected his career, which was in danger of flatlining, at Wrigley. The lefty hit 307 with an .881 OPS (133 OPS+).
He hit 26 home runs, drove in 97, and scored 95 times, with 20 stolen bases to boot. After looking thoroughly lost at the plate for a couple of years with the Dodgers, Bellinger looked like a different player in Chicago, setting a career-low strikeout rate (15.6 percent) on his way to being named an All-Star for the third time, winning a Sliver Slugger, and even garnering MVP votes (he finished 10th).
So, what's the problem? The Jays missed out on Soto. They missed out on Ohtani. The 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP seems like a perfect replacement, right?
Well, not so fast. While Bellinger does have the ROY and MVP Awards to his name, there have been some troublingly lean years since. Until this season, nobody knew if he'd ever hit again. From 2020 to 2022, Bellinger was a shadow of his former self, slashing .203/.272/.376 over 295 contests. He bottomed out in 2021 when he hit .165 and ran a .542 OPS.
While he showed the baseball world that he still has the talent and put it together for a season with the Cubs, the big catch for any team will be the long-term investment it's thought it will take to ink Bellinger. MLB Trade Rumors predicts the former fourth-round pick will sign a 12-year deal worth $264M. That's $22M per season, and with his track record of extremes, that's a big risk for such an extended period.
Soler is the safer option for the Blue Jays
Jorge Soler, on the other hand, is predicted to land a three-year, $45M contract. That's $15M per year and a much shorter term. For a team like the Blue Jays, Soler makes more sense when you look at their competitive cycle. The team has a couple of seasons before they really have to decide what to do with their young stars, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
Adding a power bat like Soler to this lineup, which struggled to score runs at times in 2023, could be an underrated move. Soler is coming off a year with the Marlins in which he hit .250, posted an .853 OPS (128 OPS+), and swatted 36 home runs in 504 at-bats. He drove in 75 and scored 77 runs for a Miami team that was even worse than Toronto at pushing runs across the plate.
Soler, who will be 32 on Opening Day, only played 72 games in 2022 as he dealt with a myriad of ailments. It's no secret the native of Cuba has had his share of injury problems over his 10-year career, but when he's healthy, the righty can mash. He hit 27 home runs in 2021 and led the AL in 2019 with 48.
With Soler, the Jays will know exactly what they're getting when he's in the lineup. He'll strike out 25 percent of the time but has a keen eye at the plate and only swings at the pitches he wants. He walked at an 11.4 percent rate this season, the 16th-best mark in the NL, and has a career 10.5 percent walk rate.
Soler's 25.6 percent out-of-zone swing rate was the 45th-best rate in the Majors. Bellinger's 31.0 percent rate ranked him 95th. And when Soler decides to swing, he swings to punish the ball, consistently putting up high exit velocity numbers. He had a 91.3 mph average EV this year, good for 32nd overall, while Bellinger accomplished his excellent season with a career-low 87.9 mph average EV.
Every player has their warts, and no player's perfect. With the Jays missing out on the one dude who's closest, Atkins is better off taking the safer, shorter term of Soler and crossing his fingers that the seasoned slugger gives the team the right amount of bang for their buck for the next couple of era-defining seasons.