Toronto Blue Jays: Potential free agent targets for next offseason

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages
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Finding longer term solutions at 3B, LF and for the pitching staff are likely to be the key needs for the Blue Jays next offseason. While we can dream about Shohei Ohtani, who would solve for both starting pitching and OF depth, it’s unlikely the Blue Jays will open the vault on the expected record free agent deal the 28 year old Japanese superstar is expected to earn in the $400-600M range.

Three potential options at 3B

1) Try to resign current starter Matt Chapman to an extension. Chapman will be starting his age 31 season in 2024 and will be due a raise on the $12.5M he’ll earn in 2023. Potential comparable contracts include the four-year/$92M ($23M AAV) deal that Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins in 2020, or an AAV somewhere in the $18-21M range using the Austin Riley and similarly aged Michael Conforto as references.

2) Break the bank and go for 26-year-old Red Sox superstar Rafael Devers, who is rumoured to have rejected an eight year/$168M ($21M AAV) extension offer last spring. The Athletic (subscription required) more recently suggested a deal in the seven-year/$200M range ($28.5M AAV) which would make Devers the highest paid Blue Jay unless Guerrero Jr., Manoah or Bichette beats him to it! Devers is a left-handed hitting, potential MVP. A likely more expensive splurge option would be older Padres 3B Manny Machado, who can opt out of remaining five-years/$150M ($30M AAV) on his contract after 2023.

3) Save the payroll for other needs and promote internal options like rookies Orelvis Martinez (who bats from ther right-side) and Addison Barger (LHH) to platoon at 3B in 2024.

Outfield

With Daulton Varsho and George Springer likely manning CF and RF for the next four seasons, the Jays will have to replace Kevin Kiermaier given he’ll be 34 in 2024, and could start breaking down further after hip surgery last summer. They’ll also need more outfield depth given Springer will be 34 years old in 2024, and hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2018.

The best free agent options in LF is Gold Glover Ian Happ of the Cubs, who’d be starting his age 29 season; however, Happ will not come cheap if he continues his 4.4 bWAR form of 2022. Assuming 1.0 WAR is worth $5-6M per year, his contract could be in the $20~25M AAV range. Other names of note include Harrison Bader, Cody Bellinger, Michael A. Taylor and Kiké Hernández, who are all CF options if they prefer Springer and Varsho in the corners, or Jesse Winker, who plays LF. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., is now an Arizona Diamondback, but will be a free agent next offseason and could be resigned ahead of his age 30 season as a 4th outfield depth option

Internal OF options are slim, with Merrifield a pending free agent and Cavan Biggio a potential bubble player if Barger is MLB ready. Other outfield options on the 40-man roster include RHH Otto López, LHH Spencer Horwitz and LHH Nathan Lukes.

The highest ranked outfield prospect in the Blue Jays farm system is 20 year old Venezuelan Gabriel Martinez, who played at three levels in 2022, culminating in a promotion to the High-A Vancouver Canadians, where he slashed .324/.381/.490/.871 in 28 games and was named a 2022 Organization All-Star by MiLB. He’ll be in his age 22 season in 2024, and could be MLB ready by then if he keeps progressing.

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