Deciphering fact from fiction is one of the toughest challenges this time of the year, as countless rumours get tossed around. But the latest one involving Houston’s Alex Bregman should pique the Toronto Blue Jays’ interest.
Coming off a seventh straight ALCS appearance, the Astros may consider a change at the hot corner this winter with Bregman entering the final season of his five-year, $100-million contract in 2024. Thus, the team has reportedly been fielding calls on the 29-year-old third baseman.
It’d be jarring if Houston’s front office traded the two-time All-Star between now and the start of next season, given the franchise’s current competitive window timeframe. That won’t stop interested suitors from inquiring, though, which is something the Blue Jays likely know all too well.
But as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote on Tuesday, this recent rumour regarding Bregman, and the ones featuring shortstop Bo Bichette and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., “are more a reflection of the lack of quality hitters available” than anything else.
While it might be unrealistic to envision a blockbuster deal, there’s no hiding the fact the Astros are unlikely to re-sign Bregman by next winter. As such, it wouldn’t hurt to peel back the layers of what a trade to Toronto could look like and how it’d impact the roster.
So, with that in mind, let’s do exactly that.
How Bregman would improve the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have an obvious need at third base, with Matt Chapman the top player available at his position in free agency, and there might not be a better replacement than Bregman.
Since becoming a full-time big-leaguer in 2017, only one other third baseman in the sport has been worth a higher fWAR than the longtime Astro (33.8): Cleveland’s José Ramírez (39.7), who’s also logged 44 more games in that span.
Bregman, who’ll turn 30 next March, has proven incredibly durable throughout his eight seasons with the Astros, exceeding 150 games played in five of his previous six, excluding the 2020 campaign. But it’s not just his availability that’s remarkable. It’s also what he brings to the plate every day that sets him apart.
Take his knowledge of the strike zone, for example. The veteran righty placed in the 95th percentile or higher in swing-and-miss (14.1%, 98th), strikeout (12%, 96th) and chase rate (18.6%, 95th) across the majors this past season.
That would further enhance a Blue Jays lineup that produced the sixth-lowest strikeout rate (20.9%) in baseball a season ago — as would his 12.7% walk rate, which finished in the 89th percentile.
The 2019 Silver Slugger is also a premier contact generator, leading to his 87.4% rate in 2023, a percentage that ranked sixth-highest in the majors. In addition, he covered every quadrant of the strike zone effectively, positioning him tied for fifth in in-zone contact rate (94.1%).
With those elite contact skills, Bregman plays to all three sections of the field, keeping opposing defences on their toes. That distribution has come in handy repeatedly over the years with runners in scoring position, as evidenced by his career .305/.408/.542 slash line and 156 wRC+ over 1,066 plate appearances.
Unlike many of the free agents available, acquiring Bregman wouldn’t compromise Toronto’s defence at the hot corner, considering his career plus-21 defensive runs saved since 2016 are the fifth-most in the majors in that span.
Father time also hasn’t made much of an impact on his fielding thus far, with the Astros third baseman registering plus-5 DRS (fifth-most) and plus-2 outs above average (78th percentile) over 1,417.1 innings at third this past season.
It’d still be a step back from the jaw-dropping defence of Chapman, a four-time Gold Glove and two-time Platinum Glove winner, has provided over the past two seasons. But based on the alternatives, the drop-off likely wouldn’t be as severe as most originally feared.
Beyond Bregman’s on-field value, he’d also supply another layer of postseason pedigree with his nearly 100 games of playoff experience to go with the two World Series rings he captured in 2017 and 2022, respectively. Plus, the organization would also be gaining another well-regarded clubhouse presence.
George Springer, a teammate of Bregman’s from 2016-20, can attest to the type of player Toronto would be adding to its roster. And he’d probably be the perfect candidate to head the recruiting process.
Key factors Blue Jays brass must consider
Like any trade of this magnitude, exploring every angle is vital, which means branching beyond the positive ones.
The Blue Jays front office would likely face several internal questions, like how much Bregman could move the needle for a group that’s endured a first-round playoff exit in three straight appearances. Or if he’d become a one-and-done before entering free agency a year from now.
There’d be countless variables to consider if Toronto made a play for the All-Star third baseman this winter. But among the most significant ones would be whether he could improve an offence that dropped from seventh in home runs in 2022 to 16th last season.
Despite mashing 41 bombs in 2019 and 31 the previous year, Bregman hasn’t thrived in the power department over the last few seasons, as he owns a mediocre .441 SLG and .179 ISO since 2021. What’s worse is he hasn’t rounded the bases more than 25 times in a single season over those three years.
Let’s use Chapman as a reference here. While the former Blue Jays third baseman produced fewer home runs (17) and a worse SLG (.424) than Bregman (25 and .441) in 2023, he has finished with a higher ISO than his counterpart in each of the last three campaigns.
There’s also uncertainty about how the right-hander’s home-run power might be affected by leaving his comfy confines of Minute Maid Park, a hitter-friendly environment for righties with the Crawford Boxes located beyond left field.
Last season, 11 of Bregman’s 25 home runs occurred in Houston, with each pulled to left field. Since Rogers Centre extends to 328 feet in left, rather than the 315 feet at Minute Maid Park, there could be the potential for his output to decrease even further.
It also doesn’t help that Bregman’s hard-contact results grade as average, which saw his 38.2% rate land in the 33rd percentile this past season, bringing into question how his contact-oriented, well-disciplined approach might age over time.
That’s a topic management would need to explore further when considering his long-term future with the organization. The positive news is, however, that general manager Ross Atkins isn’t opposed to targeting potential rentals if it’s a move that’ll maximize the core’s current timeline.
Bregman should be able to help in that regard next season. As for his future after 2024, Bregman — earning $30.5 million next year — figures to command a lucrative deal 12 months from now that’ll undoubtedly be impacted by Chapman’s next contract.
On top of everything else, another point to consider is the fan reception the former member of the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal would receive north of the border. Cooler heads prevailed with Springer, but would Bregman garner similar treatment? Does it matter?
Potential acquisition cost for Bregman
In any scenario, the Astros will be expecting a considerable haul for Bregman’s services, and rightly so, especially given that Chapman is the only player even remotely close to his calibre available in free agency.
Atkins is confident the Blue Jays possess a deep enough farm system to broker a blockbuster deal this winter. Even if that’s a bit of GM posturing, there aren’t any indications to suggest the front office couldn’t craft a compelling offer in exchange for one year of Bregman.
So, what pieces might Houston be seeking via trade? For starters, they’d require a third-base replacement who could step in immediately and contribute at a high level, which Toronto’s system doesn’t possess.
Instead, the Blue Jays could offer multiple young position players capable of emerging into that role, like prospects Addison Barger and Damiano Palmegiani. Orelvis Martinez would surely be included in discussions, too, although he profiles more as a big-league middle infielder.
With key bullpen pieces such as Hector Neris and Ryne Stanek leaving as free agents, Nate Pearson — who has one minor-league option remaining — might be highly coveted by the Astros as a vital piece of any trade proposal.
It’d be a hefty return, attached with plenty of risk involved. But when the end goal is winning a World Series, these are the impossible decisions Toronto’s front office will continue to face in the coming months.