15 hitters Blue Jays could target in free agency

It's no secret the Blue Jays lacked some thump with the bats last year and will be looking to upgrade this winter.

No stone will be left unturned as the Toronto Blue Jays search for offensive reinforcements this winter, a pursuit that’s off and running at the annual GM meetings in Arizona.

The meetings are among the marquee events of the offseason, as front-office executives from all 30 clubs assemble in one location to kick off the hot-stove season. While all is quiet on the transaction front, names have already started to fly in the rumour mill.

Despite a relatively thin free-agent class for position players, the Blue Jays will be active in that market with four bats of their own (Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Whit Merrifield) walking out the door and unlikely to return.

The need for improvement is obvious coming off a season that saw Toronto’s offence underperform by most standards, particularly in the power department. Thus, management will gather information regarding a wide range of hitters in free agency over these next few weeks.

So, let’s explore which thumpers might be on their radar.

DH/SP Shohei Ohtani

2023 Stats: 44 HR, 95 RBI, .304/.412/.654 - 3.14 ERA, 167 SO, 55 BB

Baseball’s biggest superstar is up for grabs this winter, but could the Blue Jays be a realistic suitor for Ohtani? That’s probably up to Rogers Communications, which owns the franchise and determines its spending limits.

The 29-year-old, who won’t pitch in 2024 after undergoing right elbow surgery, would fit perfectly in the top third of Toronto’s lineup, adding a lefty power stroke between Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He’d also further improve an already talented starting rotation in 2025 and beyond.

Landing Ohtani would give the Blue Jays a flashy new toy. Doing so, however, would drastically impact the front office’s ability to address the remaining areas of the roster, which could prove costly in the end.

1B/OF Cody Bellinger

2023 Stats: 26 HR, 97 RBI, .307/.356/.525

Following consecutive injury-riddled seasons, Bellinger’s MVP form re-emerged with the Chicago Cubs this past season, positioning the 28-year-old to cash in on his All-Star performance this offseason.

The 2019 NL MVP was a four-win player in 2023, showcasing his immense value at the plate and in the field, where he split time between first base and centre field. That versatility is a crucial part of what makes the left-hander an appealing target for Toronto.

Signing Bellinger - or Ohtani - would come with severe penalties, as he received a $20.325 million qualifying offer, which he’ll undoubtedly decline. But since the Blue Jays exceeded the luxury tax last season, they’d forfeit their 2024 second and fifth-round draft selections, along with $1 million from their international bonus pool.

For a team already working with a depleted farm system, it might be best to avoid that route altogether, allowing for more of a spread-the-wealth approach.

OF Teoscar Hernández

2023 Stats: 26 HR, 93 RBI, .258/.305/.435

Here’s where things could get a tad interesting.

The Blue Jays traded Hernández to the Seattle Mariners for a pair of arms (Erik Swanson, Adam Macko) with their first notable move last winter. Now, his journey could come full circle almost 12 months later.

Hernández has already mentioned he’d be open to returning as a free agent, and the Blue Jays were reportedly close to reacquiring his services ahead of last August’s trade deadline.

Despite his slugging upside, the 31-year-old endured an uptick in strikeouts (31.1% rate, nearly 3% higher from 2022) as a Mariner and struggled mightly for extended stretches. Plus, his poor defence was one of the main reasons he was traded in the first place.

OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

2023 Stats: 24 HR (career high), 82 RBI, .261/.309/.463

Unlike his former teammate, Gurriel took major strides to improve his overall value during his inaugural campaign in the desert, as he was worth a career-high 2.1 fWAR over 145 games with Arizona.

On top of rediscovering his home-run swing, the 30-year-old enjoyed his top defensive performance in left field, posting the most DRS (+14) and OAA (+1) of his six-year MLB career. If he were to return, Daulton Varsho could slide over to centre full-time, increasing his fielding value.

It remains to be seen, however, if Gurriel is interested in rejoining the franchise that felt he was expendable nearly one year ago.

Would Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or the Toronto Blue Jays consider a reunion after the slugger was shipped off last winter? (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Would Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or the Toronto Blue Jays consider a reunion after the slugger was shipped off last winter? (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

DH/OF Joc Pederson

2023 Stats: 15 HR, 51 RBI, .235/.348/.416

Pederson figures to receive considerable interest from the Blue Jays this winter, especially considering the power-hitting lefty has been on their radar multiple times over the last few offseasons.

Toronto reportedly made an offer to the 31-year-old’s camp prior to the 2022 season, and management likely would’ve pursued him again last winter had he not accepted the qualifying offer. So perhaps a third time could be the charm for both sides.

He’d be a defensive liability in the outfield and occupy most DH reps versus right-handed pitching, but his middle-of-the-order presence would be a welcomed addition.

1B Joey Votto

2023 Stats: 14 HR, 38 RBI, .202/.314/.433

After spending 17 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Votto could have an opportunity to suit up for his childhood Blue Jays next season.

The Blue Jays look like they'll be in the mix to bring the six-time All Star north of the border. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File)
Joey Votto is a compelling option for the Blue Jays, and could finally find his way to Toronto during the late stages of his career. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File)

The Etobicoke, Ont., native is long removed from his prime years of serving as a six and seven-WAR player, and he’s coming off a shortened season after recovering from shoulder surgery. Still, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins went out of his way to praise the 40-year-old lefty on Tuesday.

Where there’s smoke, there is often fire, as they say.

DH/OF Jorge Soler

2023 Stats: 36 HR, 75 RBI, .250/.341/.512

Soler was among the Miami Marlins’ best stories in 2023, as he unexpectedly emerged as the club’s primary slugger a season removed from mustering just 13 bombs and a .400 SLG.

As such, declining his $9 million player option for next season was a stress-free decision, making the 31-year-old one of the top power bats available in free agency — which could entice a team like the Blue Jays to overlook his defensive deficiencies in the outfield.

3B/1B Jeimer Candelario

2023 Stats: 22 HR (career high), 70 RBI, .251/.336/.471

With Chapman the top free-agent third baseman available, chances are he’ll end up pricing himself out of Toronto this winter, creating a massive void at the hot corner in his place. One of the ways to fill that could be with someone like Candelario.

The Blue Jays have already spoken to his representatives, as Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported, and it’s easy to see why. He is coming off a strong performance split between the Tigers and Cubs where he was worth 3.3 fWAR, the second-highest rating of his career.

Candelario would be a step back from Chapman at third defensively, as most players would be, though he’d add another element of defensive versatility. With few alternatives available, the switch-hitter is considered the next-best third baseman on the market.

SS Tim Anderson

2023 Stats: 1 HR, 25 RBI, .245/.286/.296

Before anyone starts yelling, yes, the Blue Jays already possess an everyday shortstop in Bichette. But they could be a potential fit for Anderson if the struggling All-Star is open to playing second base on a one-year showcase deal - just as Marcus Semien did in 2021.

Anderson, whose $14 million 2024 option was declined by the White Sox last week, faltered in almost every facet at the plate this past season and also endured one the worst defensive performances of his eight-year MLB career. But he isn’t too far removed from being a four-win player three seasons ago.

The 30-year-old likely wouldn’t provide much support to Toronto’s power dilemma either given his contact-oriented approach. Still, he could be worth taking a flyer on to help fortify a second base corps that already includes Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider and Santiago Espinal.

OF Michael A. Taylor

2023 Stats: 21 HR (career high), 51 RBI, .220/.278/.442

Taylor — a Gold Glove winner with Kansas City in 2021 — has historically been a quality defensive outfielder, but he sold out for more power this past season, which appears to have put him on the Blue Jays’ radar.

The 32-year-old’s 21 home runs would’ve ranked tied for second-most on the team with George Springer, behind only Guerrero’s 26. Even so, the right-hander doesn’t produce much contact and is vulnerable to swing and miss, profiling as a slightly better offensive version of Kiermaier with reduced defensive value.

1B Rhys Hoskins

2022 Stats (did not play in 2023): 30 HR, 79 RBI, .246/.332/.462

A torn ACL cost Hoskins the entire 2023 season, but considering he nearly returned before the Phillies lost in this year’s NLCS, odds are he’ll be able to hit the ground running next spring.

That should be positive news for the Blue Jays, who are in the market for an established first base/DH hitter with Belt becoming a free agent. While Hoskins bats right and is coming off a lost season, he’d provide plenty of power upside against lefties and righties.

The 30-year-old would primarily operate in the DH spot, limiting the club’s ability to rotate players through that position, namely Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk. That said, the value he’d bring offensively could make that an acceptable trade-off.

OF/1B Joey Gallo

2023 Stats: 21 HR, 40 RBI, .177/.301/.440

There are no secrets about Gallo’s offensive approach at this point in his career: he’ll either hit a ball 400-plus feet, strike out or walk - profiling as a true three-outcome hitter.

The defence has begun to diminish for the two-time Gold Glove winner, who registered modest defensive results in all three outfield positions and at first base with Minnesota in 2023. But his versatility could prove useful in a platoon role in matchups versus right-handed pitching.

DH J.D. Martinez

2023 Stats: 33 HR, 103 RBI, .271/.321/.572

Toronto’s pitching staff knows the value of Martinez’s power stroke firsthand having been forced to game-plan against him during his five seasons in Boston. He underperformed in his final year before leaving for Los Angeles but bounced back instantly en route to his sixth All-Star selection.

The 36-year-old logged just 12 innings in the field this past season, so his role would be exclusively as a DH, creating similar obstacles to the case for pursuing Hoskins.

If the Blue Jays believe Martinez can repeat that performance, though, it would insert quite the punch within the middle of their lineup.

OF Adam Duvall

2023 Stats: 21 HR, 58 RBI, .247/.303/.531

Duvall has carved out a solid platoon role over the last few seasons, most recently with the Red Sox, where he enjoyed most of his success in right-on-right matchups while supplying a bit of power against lefties.

Most of the 35-year-old’s reps occurred in centre, mainly out of necessity due to Boston’s poor roster construction. But his value is better served in a corner spot, a role he occupied on the Atlanta Braves’ 2021 World Series-winning roster.

OF Robbie Grossman

2023 Stats: 10 HR, 49 RBI, .238/.340/.394

Fresh off winning the 2023 World Series, Grossman enters the open market after only recording a pair of hits for Texas in the postseason, overshadowing his contributions as a platoon hitter during the regular season.

The switch-hitting outfielder excelled in limited at-bats versus left-handed pitching, slashing .309/.416/.536 with a 158 wRC+. While the 34-year-old’s defence is below average, he’s likely the type of situational hitter the Blue Jays will seek this winter.