Although the Toronto Blue Jays bid farewell to three players on Monday, the non-tender deadline created plenty of possibilities for additions as well.
The MLB-wide obsession with payroll flexibility led to a number of potentially-useful players coming free around the league because the price supposedly wasn’t going to be right in arbitration. For a team like the Blue Jays with money to spend and open roster spots, the 56 players who entered the free agent market represent an interesting shopping opportunity.
With former Blue Jays Kevin Pillar and Aaron Sanchez now available there are some fun reunions to dream on, but it’s hard to see either happening. Instead, here are a couple of targets who could find their way into a Blue Jays uniform this off-season:
Blake Treinen RHP
Treinen is going to be a popular guy in the weeks to come as almost every team in baseball could use relief help. The 31-year-old posted an unbelievable 2018 season where he helped a surprising Oakland Athletics squad to a playoff berth with 80 innings of 0.78 ERA ball and an outstanding 3.6 WAR.
Last year was not as kind to the right-hander, whose ERA jumped to 4.91 with a 5.14 FIP to match. Not only did his results crater, he brought less impressive stuff to bear and his Statcast numbers tanked:
— Daren Willman (@darenw) December 3, 2019
Even with his decline, Treinen was throwing 97-mph heat in 2019 and he was incredibly good awfully recently. Plenty of teams around baseball would love to bring him aboard and try to set him straight.
The Blue Jays are an interesting potential fit because they’ve got the pocket change to land him and have less competitive urgency than true contenders. That means they have less to lose if he busts.
If — on the other hand — he goes off, Treinen makes for a great trade chip, or perhaps a key component of a surprising 2020 season. The right-hander is also young enough that a multi-year deal isn’t out of the question if the Blue Jays want to have him in place already when they plan to have a playoff-calibre roster.
Taijuan Walker RHP
It doesn’t seem like too long ago that Walker was one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in the game. Between 2015 and 2017, the right-hander delivered 461 innings with a 4.10 ERA that was plenty respectable considering those were his age 22-24 seasons. In 2017, a career-best ERA (3.49) and K/9 (8.35) suggested he was taking the next step for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Unfortunately for Walker, he’s been in injury purgatory ever since. He learned early in 2018 that he had a UCL tear, which resulted in Tommy John surgery and he pitched a single big-league inning in 2019. Next year he’ll try to prove that he’s back and the range of outcomes for the 27-year-old right-hander is pretty massive.
That uncertainty surrounding Walker makes him a tough bet for a likely playoff squad, but an interesting opportunity for a team like the Blue Jays. Although the club has said it’s looking for pitching it can trust — and that label can’t fairly be applied to Walker — his youth and upside make him worthy of serious consideration.
Steven Souza Jr. RF
Like Walker, Souza Jr. comes from the Diamondbacks organization and was last truly effective in 2017. His 2018 was relatively unimpressive and marred by pectoral injuries and his 2019 was wiped by a torn ACL, LCL, and posterior lateral capsule he suffered in spring training.
The way the last two years have played out for Souza Jr. is undoubtedly concerning, but at just 30 he’s still relatively young and he’s always been a good athlete with excellent Sprint Speed numbers and the ability to steal the odd base. His combination of power and ability to field his position effectively has to be interesting for outfield-needy teams like the Blue Jays as long as his medicals check out.
While Toronto has no shortage of toolsy guys with high strikeout totals to patrol the outfield, none of them have been 3.8 WAR players like Souza was in 2017 when his on-field results were matched by impressive underlying Statcast numbers:
C.J. Cron 1B/DH
Cron would not be the most exciting person to fill the Blue Jays’ void at first base, but he’d be a reliable option while the club searches for a long-term solution. The 29-year-old has been above-average offensively by wRC+ in five of his six full seasons and has smacked 55 home runs in his last two campaigns.
The hulking veteran is unsurprisingly unimpressive in the field and has nothing to add on the base paths, but he’s a trustworthy plug-and-play choice with a very high floor. Although the ceiling isn’t particularly inspiring here, the Blue Jays may opt to go with a relatively cheap option here and allocate their resources elsewhere.
Outside of albatross contracts to the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Joey Votto, that’s what most MLB teams are doing with the first base position these days.
Junior Guerra RHP
Guerra has had a very peculiar career path to this point. The soon-to-be 35-year-old broke out in 2016 after years of grinding in the minor leagues and independent ball. He was the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening day starter the next year but scuffled in 2017 before a solid 2018.
Of particular interest is the right-hander’s work last season, when he managed a 3.55 ERA in 83.2 innings of relief. Moving to the pen allowed his fastball to play up and average 94.7 mph while his curveball continued to be a deadly bat-misser.
Guerra also did an excellent job of avoiding hard contact, which led to impressive Statcast numbers across the board, even if a relatively high walk rate made his FIP and xFIP of 4.52 and 4.83 pedestrian.
The veteran Venezualan is precisely the sort of mid-tier relief free agent the Blue Jays have had success flipping at the deadline in recent years, and his multi-inning capability could make him even more appealing to contenders.
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