Now that Dexter Fowler is off the market, it is time for Toronto's front office to resort to Plan B. Contrary to popular belief, there are still plenty of solid options for the Blue Jays to acquire, and having plenty of money left to spend is a huge positive. Many fans will be antsy facing so much uncertainty, but all in all, it's tough to blame Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins from balking at these free agent prices.
With that being said, there's still a ton of work to do. Here's the best way to approach the rest of the offseason:
Plan To Use Steve Pearce As The Everyday First Baseman
Steve Pearce owns a 125 wRC+ against right-handed pitching over his last 680 plate appearances, so let's not underestimate his ability at the plate. His .300 BABIP over this period looks repeatable, and his ability to crush left-handed pitching makes him a dangerous bat in all situations. Since the Jays just signed him to a multi-year contract, they clearly have bigger plans for him than simply platooning him with Justin Smoak. When healthy, Pearce should see a ton of playing time.
Pearce could be a gold glove finalist if he spends a full season at first base. However, I view him as a below average defender in the outfield, and Toronto should avoid moving him there. Unless they sign Edwin Encarnacion for a bargain price, there is little reason to play Pearce in left field. Ultimately, Encarnacion should still receive a huge payday, so the Blue Jays should plan to use Pearce as their everyday first baseman.
Sign Brandon Moss
Moss was one of my offseason targets back in November, and is now one of the best outfielders on the free agent market. MLBTR predicted a two year, $14 million contract for Moss, but it makes plenty of sense to top that if necessary. He's capable of playing average to above-average defence in a corner outfield position, and his left-handed bat would make a terrific platoon with Melvin Upton Jr.
Moss hit 28 home runs last season, and just about every one of them would clear the wall at the Rogers Centre. This is your prototypical "all or nothing" bat, and this approach tends to play much better in Toronto, rather than St.Louis or Oakland. For his career 12.7% of his fly balls have left the park at home, compared to 18.3% on the road, so expect a major improvement if he heads north of the border.
Moss will cost less than Bautista, plus he will not cost a draft pick. He appears to be a much better defender in the outfield, and should effectively replace Bautista's home run totals. With plenty of money left to spend, it makes sense to go the free agent route, allowing the team to hold onto their top prospects.
Keep An Eye On Jose Bautista
If his market falls apart, the Blue Jays should still look to take advantage. Although he's a below average fielder in the outfield, his on-base ability should make him a dangerous hitter for at least another year or two. It's tough to gamble on Bautista for three years, especially with both Pearce and Morales already in the fold, but a short term deal could make sense for both sides.
If Bautista does return to play right field, I'd look for a plus defender in left. Bautista could play some first base when Pearce is not in the lineup, and the two could swap positions once in a while to keep Bautista fresh. I'd count on Bautista's bat bouncing back a little bit, but not for the 3 year, $51 million contract that MLBTR predicted. For two years, and about $30 million or so, this could make some sense for both sides.
Look To Acquire Jarrod Dyson
He's projected to earn just $2.5 million in his final year of arbitration, and his speed and defence continues to be extremely valuable. He's one of the better defenders in all of baseball, right up there with Kevin Pillar, and having both on the team would give opposing hitters a fit. There is so much talk about building a strong bullpen these days, but imagine a late-game outfield defence of Dyson, Pillar, and Upton Jr.? All of the sudden, every pitcher on the roster would be tougher to score against.
Dyson needs to be platooned, but Melvin Upton Jr. would be a perfect complement. This makes sense even if the Jays sign Moss, as Toronto is not running many other platoons elsewhere. Trading for a one-year rental is not always a good idea, but Dyson is extremely underrated, and there could be a possibility to extend him at a bargain price. When he does not start, he can become a dangerous pinch runner late in the game.
Add A Starting Pitcher
The Blue Jays will certainly boast a strong rotation heading into the season, but there is limited depth if an injury occurs. While Francisco Liriano offers plenty of upside, he also comes with plenty of risk, as his command can really get away from him at times. Joe Biagini has never started a game in the majors, and his ability to retire hitters multiple times in a game remains a major question mark.
One player the Blue Jays should target is Jhoulys Chacin. The 28-year old right-hander boasts a career 3.94 ERA, yet did not rank as one of MLBTR's top 50 free agents. Although most of his success came early in his career, it's worth noting that there is certainly some upside here. Chacin's second half of 2016 makes him an intriguing option going forward, as he posted a 3.41 FIP across 61 innings.
He was also extremely effective as a reliever, as he struck out over a batter per inning. In 28.2 innings as a reliever, he boasted a 2.76 FIP, providing plenty of promise for a potential late-inning role. In his last four starts, Chacin allowed just two earned runs across 24 innings, while striking out twenty along the way. He can be a weapon against right-handed hitters in the bullpen, but also a fairly effective starter when needed.
Another option is Scott Feldman, as a weak second half should lower his asking price. He's kept his ERA under 4.00 in four straight years, and could make some sense as a cheap swingman. Mike Bolsigner and Glenn Sparkman could also factor in here, but the Jays will surely look to expand the depth even further.
1. Curtis Granderson makes plenty of sense as an alternative to Brandon Moss. Jay Bruce? Not so much. Nick Markakis could also be a fit, but given his salary, there may not be a fit.
2. The Jays look bound to acquire a backup catcher, and Chris Iannetta is the main name in the rumour mill. There's plenty of options here, including a reunion with Dioner Navarro. Upgrading the production at backup catcher will be a nice under-the-radar improvement.
3. Chris Coughlan, Angel Pagan, and Ben Revere could also make sense, and the Blue Jays would still have money remaining to make a big addition. Given his poor defence and injury history, it is probably best to move on from Michael Saunders.
4. Bullpen help is needed, but Toronto can afford to be patient on that front. There's a ton of options left on the market, particularly from the right-side. If the price of acquiring a left-handed reliever is through the moon, the Jays should look to sign a strong right-handed option instead, and hope Aaron Loup or Dan Barnes can retire tough lefties.