Rays castoff Jesus Aguilar could be interesting target for Blue Jays

Jesus Aguilar looks like a bounce-back candidate in 2019. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Jesus Aguilar looks like a bounce-back candidate in 2019. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

On a surprisingly busy Wednesday in the MLB offseason that included a relatively major trade and a veteran starter heading to Texas, there was a line item that may interest the Toronto Blue Jays.

The division rival Tampa Bay Rays parted ways with first baseman Jesus Aguilar, designating the veteran — who was projected to make $2.5 million in arbitration — for assignment in order to make room for the acquisition of Brian O’Grady from the Cincinnati Reds.

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Generally speaking, scooping up guys the Rays leave behind isn’t the best idea. If there’s value to be had from a player, the analytically-savvy organization tends to find it. That said, Aguilar has the potential to check quite a few boxes for the Blue Jays.

With Justin Smoak a free agent and Rowdy Tellez not looking like a starting-calibre option, the team’s hole at first base is significant. As recently as 2018, Aguilar was an all-star at the position hitting .274/.352/.539 with 35 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers.

However, last season was a poor one for the slugger as he slashed just .236/.325/.389 with 12 home runs in an offensive climate where balls were flying out of the yard left, right, and centre. That means Aguilar is more of a buy-low option than a plug-and-play stud who can be counted on to produce at a high level — especially considering he’s a late bloomer with a relatively short track record.

He also came by his less-than-impressive 2019 honestly with dips in his exit velocity (-.5 mph), Hard Hit Percentage (-4.9%), and Expected Slugging Percentage (-.050). Aguilar’s struggles extended to having trouble lifting the ball as his launch angle fell from 16.2 in his breakout season to 13.8 last year, while his groundball rate jumped from 35.4 percent to 42.1 percent.

Aguilar wasn’t just unlucky in 2019, he was materially worse, and getting back on track is no guarantee. There’s no reason he can’t do it, though, considering his age (29), the raw power he possesses, and an ability to draw walks that didn’t desert him even in a down year.

It would be unfair to assume the hulking slugger will return to all-star form, but it’s not unreasonable to think he could be a serviceable starter in 2020. His relative youth, probable affordability, and three years of team control (Aguilar is arbitration-eligible through 2022) also add to his appeal. From a Blue Jays perspective, the fact he’s a Spanish-speaking veteran could hold a pinch of bonus value as well considering the way their clubhouse lacks in that department as currently constructed.

Because Aguilar doesn’t really play any other positions — other than third base in an emergency — he doesn’t fit the Ross Atkins platonic ideal of a first base target. Even so, he has enough other things going for him that the Blue Jays would be wise to check in.

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