The goal is simple: create a roster that can get back to the playoffs for the third straight season. There is no telling what the free agent market holds for the Blue Jays front office, but an excellent shopping list can go a long way. Throughout the offseason, BlueBird Banter will be keeping an eye out for flyers, sales, and coupons, to seek out potential steals for the Blue Jays.
Toronto will surely keep an eye on the market for both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. There's no doubt it would be nice to have them back, but only for the right price. If it takes $125 million to sign Encarnacion, that amount of money is better spent elsewhere.
With that being said, here is this year's shopping list:
1B- Steve Pearce: He's one of the most underrated players in all of baseball, and looks bound to be a bargain for the second consecutive offseason. Since breaking out in 2014, he's been well above average against right-handed pitching, plus an absolute monster against lefties. In addition, he's a gold-glove calibre defender at first base, and can play a bit of second base if Devon Travis misses time. Adding an everyday bat allows you to platoon elsewhere, and he can even spend some time in the outfield if needed.
MLBTR projects a two Year, $10 Million contract, and that would be an absolute steal. He will be coming off elbow surgery, but the Blue Jays should be extremely interested.
1B/DH- Matt Holliday: He's been an extremely good hitter for over a decade, but will enter next season at the age of 37. Think of him as an older version of Jose Bautista, with a higher average but less power. His down 2016 season was largely due to an unusually low batting average on balls in play, but he continues to consistently make extremely hard contact and should bounce back. In the ten year span from 2006-2015, Holliday posted an on-base percentage of .370 or higher every year, and he can usually be counted on for 20 home runs to boot.
MLBTR projects a one Year, $10 Million contract, and it would be nice to reunite him with Troy Tulowitzki. He played 60 innings at first base in 2016 and graded out well, but I assume he would also spend some time at DH. He won't fully replace the production of Encarnacion or Bautista, but there would be quite a lot of money left over to spend on other talent.
1B/DH- Adam Lind: He's coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, but he could be a cheap upgrade over Justin Smoak in a platoon role. From 2013-2015, his production against right-handed pitchers was right up there with Jose Bautista, and the Blue Jays could really use that offence. His batting average on balls in play should rise next season, and even if he doesn't get fully back to his old self, he could provide nice value.
If the Blue Jays do sign Encarnacion or Bautista, they may be limited to a cheap upgrade at first base. The question becomes: would the Jays welcome him back?
1B- John Jaso: Pittsburgh already has Josh Bell and David Freese at first base, which could make Jaso a prime trade candidate. He's owed $4 million in the last year of his contact, and much like Lind, he provides a big bat against right-handed pitching. He does not offer much power for a first baseman, but would be a terrific leadoff hitter given his knack for getting on-base. It should not take much to land him in a trade, but this move would save money for a big signing elsewhere.
RF- Josh Reddick: Over the past 3 seasons, his numbers against righties are Donaldson-like, plus a reunion with his former teammate would put a smile on his face. Platooning him with Melvin Upton Jr. would be a great fit, plus he represents one of the younger free agent bats available. MLBTR projects a 3 year, $36 million contract for him, which seems more than reasonable.
Expect league-average defence in right, and a move to the Rogers Centre is bound to help his home run totals. He also rarely strikes out, and can hit just about anywhere in a MLB lineup. The question here is: would he agree to platoon?
LF- Chris Coghlan: He could be the Matt Joyce of this offseason. He's bound to come at a cheap price following a horrible 2016 season, but a higher batting average on balls in play should help his numbers quite a bit. He mashed right-handed pitching in both 2014 and 2015, and could be a cheap alternative to Josh Reddick.
He's an above average defender in left field, and would be another strong option to platoon with Upton Jr. Despite the poor season, Toronto's front office would be smart to buy low on him.
LF- Brandon Moss: As yet another big bat that could reunite with Donaldson, Moss would bring a ton of power from the left side. MLBTR projects him for a 2 year, $14 million deal, which would be a bargain. He is capable of playing solid defence in left field, plus his bat would be a terrific fit in the Rogers Centre.
Like Reddick, he may need to be platooned, but looks to be a good fit if the price is that low. If he ends up getting far more than MLBTR estimates, Toronto can move on to other targets. Moss might not be Plan A, but he's worth keeping an eye on.
C- Derek Norris: He's projected to make $4 million through arbitration, but the Padres could look to clear playing time for Austin Hedges behind the plate. He hit just .186 in 2016, but this is a terrific buy-low candidate, and a bounce back season would represent a huge upgrade at backup catcher. He posted three straight 2-WAR seasons from 2013-2015, and is a strong pitch-framer.
The key to maximizing his skill set is to give him plenty of starts against left-handed pitching. John Gibbons could use him as a plus bat against lefties, and he could even platoon at first base or DH these games. He grades out well defensively, and his pitch framing would be a major improvement over Dioner Navarro.
C- Geovany Soto: He's been effective when healthy, but injuries continue to limit him throughout his career. Toronto should have Reese McGuire ready to step in if needed, and the team can afford to take a flyer here. He's also an average pitch framer, which would be a big upgrade from Dioner Navarro. Soto would be a strong option offensively for a backup catcher, and will be available for relatively little.
Toronto remains a suitor for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but a contingency plan must be in place in case they head elsewhere. Upgrading over Justin Smoak should be a priority, as the team will need to make up for a loss in offensive talent, and the market is full of strong options. Toronto can also fill one corner outfield spot with Dalton Pompey or Darrell Ceciliani, as this would allow them to spend more in other areas.
Buyer beware on players such as Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli, Ian Desmond, and Dioner Navarro. Bullpen help is also a need, and potential pitching targets will be posted within the next few days.
Let's hope for another strong offseason from Toronto's front office, as the city is starting to get used to this whole "playoff baseball" phenomenon.