Blue Jays free agent targets: Position players
Coming off consecutive 90-plus win seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays should be active in free agency again this winter, particularly on the pitching front. But changes could also be made to the position player group, too.
As things currently stand, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is the Blue Jays' only free agent position player, meaning they could run it back with the same group from this past season. And that would still be a favourable outcome after featuring one of the top offences in the majors that includes George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
The team is good enough to compete for the playoffs in 2023, though it isn't a championship contender yet.
To reach that status, general manager Ross Atkins will need to add another piece or two to help complement his already-impressive offence. While several intriguing names are available in free agency, let’s explore three players who could stand out to the Blue Jays this off-season.
Acquiring another impact outfielder may not be atop Toronto’s priorities, but if management wants to make a splash in this department, there likely isn’t a better match than Nimmo.
The 29-year-old is viewed by many across the industry as one of the top free agents in this year’s class, standing as the best outfielder available on the open market. Though the New York Mets are determined to retain him, he’ll have plenty of interested suitors if a deal can’t be reached.
Offensive balance is one of the Blue Jays' biggest areas of concern this offseason, and they’d certainly address that issue by landing a left-handed hitter like Nimmo. Doing so would also insert a different hitting style into the batting order, as he possesses a contact-oriented approach.
In 2022, the 6-foot-3 lefty slashed .274/.367/.433 over a career-high 151 games with a 134 wRC+, ranking ninth among big-league outfielders. His on-base percentage and batting average ranked seventh and 10th, respectively, under those same qualifications.
Nimmo’s plate discipline would also be a welcome addition after posting a 10.5 percent walk rate and a 17.2 percent strikeout rate this past season. The veteran outfielder’s 0.61 walk-to-strikeout ratio placed 12th in the majors at his position.
Pairing a player of Nimmo’s calibre with the likes of Springer could take Toronto’s lineup to the next level, providing additional run-scoring opportunities for the middle of the order. They’d also be poised to enjoy further success versus right-handed pitchers, who they produced a 118 wRC+ against in 2022.
The 13th overall draft pick from 2011 would dramatically improve the organization’s outfield defence, as well — an area where it has struggled in previous seasons.
Following two straight injury-riddled seasons, it’s fair to assume Springer would benefit from moving to right field, where he’s recorded +12 DRS and +5 OAA over 4,229.2 career innings. Nimmo, whose +6 OAA ranked in the 91st percentile in 2022, would then take over in centre long-term.
That would create a dilemma for fellow outfielders Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., likely necessitating a future trade. Either player could be flipped to address other areas of need.
The bigger question, however, is whether the Blue Jays will receive the green light from ownership to add another lucrative contract to the books. If they pursue Nimmo, that could mean signing him to a seven-year, $145-million contract, according to baseball insider Jon Heyman.
But with how much value Nimmo could provide — both offensively and defensively — it might be worth moving out additional salary to make this move work.
You are probably saying to yourself, “the Blue Jays already feature an All-Star shortstop.” And you’re right, they do. But if there are doubts regarding Bichette’s future, now’s the time to address them.
Amid a star-studded class of free agent shortstops, there isn’t a shortage of suitable options the front office could pursue. Trea Turner is the most obvious target, although he’s likely to be attached to a qualifying offer and could become the game’s next $300-million player.
Chances are Toronto won’t be playing in that market this winter, but someone like Correa could make plenty of sense. Since he declined his $35.1 million player option for 2023, the 28-year-old is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, adding to his level of intrigue.
It also helps that Correa is one of the most gifted offensive shortstops in the majors. While injuries have plagued him for much of his career, and a miserable COVID-shortened 2020 season didn’t help, the right-hander has answered those concerns with his impressive results over the last two seasons.
Since 2021, the 6-foot-4 infielder ranks second in wRC+ (136), third in fWAR (10.5), fourth in wOBA (.363), tied for sixth in home runs (48) and sixth in RBIs (156) among qualified big-league shortstops.
Correa’s defence is another reason he’d garner interest from the Blue Jays, who saw Bichette struggle this past season, posting career worsts in DRS (-16) and OAA (-7). And it seems he’s still miles away from becoming at least average defensively.
The former Houston Astro, meanwhile, has been considered an elite defender since 2018. During that time, he ranks first in DRS (+50), fourth in OAA (+45) and fifth in defensive WAR (50.0) among shortstops.
There would also be plenty of familiarity for Correa with the Blue Jays, reuniting him with Springer — his teammate with the Astros from 2015-20 — and coach Dave Hudgens, who served as Houston’s hitting coach from 2015-18.
It’s unclear if Toronto could afford Correa’s services, though, as Heyman predicts he could command a nine-year, $275-million contract in free agency. Then there’s determining Bichette’s future. Would he be willing to move to second base? Or would he want out?
Management would have to answer both of those questions before seriously pursuing the two-time All-Star. On paper, that Correa-Bichette duo would be a potent combination up the middle.
If the Blue Jays opt for a more frugal approach, they could make a modest signing by circling back on Benintendi, who reportedly received interest from the franchise prior to last August’s trade deadline.
The 28-year-old was ultimately dealt from the Kansas City Royals to the New York Yankees, playing just 33 games with his new team before suffering a season-ending hand injury. He is expected to be healthy for spring training, which should help his market.
Though his results with the Yankees weren’t eye-popping, the left-handed outfielder still enjoyed a strong 2022 performance, hitting .304/.373/.399 with a 122 wRC+ over 521 plate appearances in 121 contests. He was also worth 2.8 fWAR, his highest rating since 2018 (4.9).
Benintendi doesn’t hit for power, though his .352 BABIP suggests he could provide plenty of contact for the Blue Jays’ offence next season. He can also reach base via walks, as evidenced by his 10.0 percent clip.
The 2022 All-Star likely wouldn’t make as much of an impact as someone like Nimmo but he would help improve the club’s offensive balance.
Defensively, Benintendi is limited to left field — keeping Springer in centre — but would provide an upgrade over Gurriel as his OAA (zero) and outfielder’s jump (0.2 feet versus league average) both ranked in the 50th percentile or higher. In comparison, the Blue Jays’ incumbent left-fielder placed in the 29th percentile or worse in each category.
Another upside to pursuing Benintendi is he’d cost significantly less than Nimmo or Correa. Heyman’s expert believes the 2018 World Series champion could earn a four-year, $56-million contract this offseason, paying him $14 million per season.
Though Gurriel would likely need to be traded, this path could address multiple concerns for Toronto. That scenario might be too hard to pass up.
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