The cliche exists in baseball – as it does in hockey – that you win with strength up the middle. Since it’s a phrase that pertains to neither offence nor pitching it’s safe to say it’s a bit of an oversimplification.
However, this offseason the Toronto Blue Jays could certainly stand to improve their depth in the middle – specifically the middle infield. Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis could theoretically be an above-average combo there, but neither of them can be counted on to stay healthy. As a result, the Blue Jays need some insurance that can provide a little more at those spots than Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney did this year.
Last month we looked at how they could do that via free agency. Here are a few guys they could target to fill that hole on the trade market:
The Defensive Wizard: Jose Iglesias
2017 stats: .255/.288/.369, 6 HR, 54 RBI, 1.6 WAR in 489 PA
Contract Remaining: Arbitration-eligible for 2018, projected to earn $5.6 million
How it works: Last season the Blue Jays’ defence became a serious problem area and Iglesias is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. That alone is the beginning of a solid fit.
There are a few problems though as he lacks experience at second base, he’s accustomed to full-time work, and he doesn’t add much at the plate. The former two points could be especially problematic given a healthy Tulowitzki would demand the majority of time at shortstop. That said, Iglesias clearly has the athletic ability to excel at the keystone and he’s provided between 1.6 and 2.0 WAR in each of the last four years. Those numbers are not outstanding, but they’re solid, and that kind of consistency is valuable.
In a sense Iglesias is just a better version of Goins, but he’s a significantly better version and he’s more than capable of filling in every day for a lengthy stretch. Considering the Tigers are in the midst of a rebuild, they’d likely be more than happy to trade him for some younger, more controllable talent.
The Steady Veteran: Jordy Mercer
2017 stats: .255/.326/.406, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 1.4 WAR in 558 PA
Contract Remaining: Arbitration-eligible for 2018, projected to earn $6.5 million
How it works: There’s nothing outstanding about what Mercer brings to the table. He doesn’t hit for a tonne of power or an impressive average. His work at shortstop is far more solid than spectacular.
On the other hand, his game lacks obvious holes. He’s got a little pop, a pretty strong approach at the plate and plays low-mistake defence. At this point he’s probably not an ideal starter, but fits perfectly into the Blue Jays’ need for a high-end backup/Plan B.
Although Mercer has been used almost exclusively as a shortstop by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he has experience as a second baseman in the minors and is undoubtedly capable of manning both positions.
The Super-Utility Man: Yangervis Solarte
Position(s): Third Base, Shortstop, Second Base
2017 stats: .255/.314/.416, 18 HR, 64 RBI, 1.1 WAR in 489 PA
Contract Remaining: Earns $4.125 million in 2018 with team options for $5.5 million in 2019 and $8 million in 2020
How it works: Perhaps the greatest appeal of Solarte is flexibility, both positional and contractual. If the Blue Jays got their hands on the versatile veteran they could deploy him all over the infield and decide whether or not to keep him around for as many as three years. That makes him a valuable piece, but the San Diego Padres are in a place where they are best served trading away their 30-year-olds, even ones as handy as Solarte.
The former New York Yankee is an excellent contact hitter, with some power and a track record as an above-average hitter. His best position is likely third base, but he’s been solid at second and did surprisingly well in a 28-game stint at shortstop last season. He’s even played a little first base and left field at the big league level.
Solarte doesn’t represent an injection of youth and athleticism the Blue Jays are craving, but he’s exactly the kind of guy that is a must-have when things go sideways. Considering the injury history of the Blue Jays infield, that’s probably more of a when than an if in 2018.
The Former Flame: Adeiny Hechavarria
2017 stats: .261/.289/.406, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 1.3 WAR in 348 PA
Contract Remaining: Arbitration-eligible for 2018, projected to earn $5.0 million
How it works: Prying the starting shortstop from a division rival doesn’t seem like an easy or worthwhile venture, especially when you’re not even looking for a starter. That makes this a tricky deal on the surface.
However, the Tampa Bay Rays operate a little differently than the rest of the league. The small-market club is always thirsty for controllable assets and one year of Hechavarria isn’t particularly valuable to them. They know they should probably be looking to upgrade on the Cuban shortstop anyway and star prospect Willy Adames is coming off an excellent season at Triple-A.
If they decide the future is now – which is typically their way – it shouldn’t be hard to pry the athletic former Blue Jays prospect from them. Hechavarria never became the star Toronto imagined he might be, but he’s a defensive stud with solid contact ability. He’s held back by a poor approach at the dish – making him far from an ideal long-term starter – but he’s a strong backup plan.
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