The Toronto Blue Jays are no strangers to making blockbuster off-season trades, and as they seek to improve their roster, another seismic move could potentially be on the horizon.
Last winter, the team filled its huge third-base void by forging a five-man trade with the Oakland Athletics and bringing defensive specialist Matt Chapman north of the border.
This time around, starting pitching is the Blue Jays’ primary need, but unlike previous offseasons, they likely won’t be able to address that issue purely by free hand. Instead, an alternative strategy might be required.
Amid Toronto’s looming salary crisis, the trading market could be a valuable resource over the next few months. But for it to make a meaningful move, the franchise will likely have to address one of its greatest strengths: the catcher position.
Everyone who follows this team has wondered if the front office would ever use one of their most intriguing trading chips, and so far it hasn’t. Management chose not to disrupt this group during the last offseason – apart from swapping Reese McGuire for Zack Collins – and followed suit at last August’s trading deadline.
This winter will be different for Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins as he needs to be more economical with his spending. So if the right trade pack comes along, he’ll almost certainly be more willing to jump on it than he’s been in years.
But which catcher is most likely to be traded? And to which franchise? More importantly, what kind of returns can Toronto expect?
There is probably no easy answer to any of these questions, but let’s try to find a solution anyway.
Starting as one of the longest-serving players in the squad, Jansen is easily the most experienced backstop in the group, having enjoyed five seasons in the big league since his debut in 2018.
Pitchers rave about Jansen’s pitch sequencing and effectiveness in managing games behind the plate. They are two of his most attractive traits and often difficult to capitalize on in young catchers.
Staying on the field wasn’t his forte, however, as the 6-foot-2 catcher hasn’t played more than 100 games since 2019 — his second MLB campaign. In 2022, an oblique injury and a broken hand limited him to just 248 plate appearances in 72 competitions.
The 27-year-old’s unavailability has relegated him to a part-time role in recent seasons, limiting his value. That would limit the profit he would bring in from the trade, but given his offensive prowess, he would likely still attract a lot of interest.
Jansen has made a valuable contribution when he is healthy, which was also the case last season, resulting in the best offensive performance of his career. Although it turned out within a small sample size, the right-hander took every opportunity.
Overall, the 2013 Round 16 pick cut .260/.339/.516 while posting career-bests in home runs (15), RBIs (44), ISO (.256), wOBA (.363), wRC+ (140), and offensive WAR (12.0). As a result, he was worth a career-high 2.6 fWAR.
Can Jansen repeat these results in 2023? It’s possible, especially considering he also posted career highs that included his hard-hit (46.6 percent) and barrel rates (13.1 percent).
Jansen has just two seasons of team control left as he becomes eligible for free agency after 2024. He is also expected to earn a sizeable raise from his 2022 salary ($1.95 million), with MLB Trade Rumors forecasting that he will order $3.7 million in arbitration.
As the franchise seeks to cut costs while establishing itself as a legitimate championship contender, trading in Jansen could be a necessary move. However, it probably wouldn’t garner an impact-starting pitch.
Kirk’s remarkable development was one of the most electrifying stories of the past season, and chances are the other majors took notice as well.
The 23-year-old catcher put on a phenomenal first-half performance, hitting .315/.395/.487 with 11 homers and a 155 wRC+ to earn his first All-Star Game selection of his career. He slowed the rest of the way, posting .246/.340/.320 with a 95 wRC+ over his last 235 plate appearances, but his campaign overall was still exceptional.
After a hip injury sidelined him for most of 2021, he broke his previous career highs in both plate appearances (541) and games played (139) last season.
Defensively, the 5ft 8 catcher was a game changer in several areas, including his pitch framing and blocking. According to Baseball Prospectus, he outperformed the team in called strikes by framing runs and blocking runs.
Kirk also ranked third among all qualifying catchers in the big league in field runs above average and catcher defensive adjustment. He was the only under-25 catcher in the top five in both categories.
The 2022 Silver Slugger finalist is probably the most valuable catcher in the organization, largely due to his outstanding offensive and defensive skills. It also helps that he’s under team control until 2026 and won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season.
Trading Kirk would undoubtedly weaken the Blue Jays’ fishing depth, although it could dramatically improve their pitching staff. The St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks or Cleveland Guardians – all of whom have expendable weapons and would benefit from improving their respective catcher positions – could be potential matches.
But given how valuable Kirk has been since arriving in the majors in 2020 and forging a seemingly unbreakable bond with Alek Manoah, it’s worth wondering if moving him would be the right decision. While it would break up one area of the roster, it could wreak havoc elsewhere.
As the Milwaukee Brewers learned with Josh Hader’s trade earlier this season, sometimes it’s best not to mess with a club’s chemistry as it could backfire horribly.
While Kirk may be the Blue Jays’ most talented backstop, many still see Moreno as the franchise’s scavenger of the future, but that could change this offseason.
The 22-year-old has yet to establish himself as a full-time player in the majors, although he showed his talent as a rookie in 2022. He only played 25 games but posted an impressive .319/.356/.377 with 113 wRC+ on 73 plate appearances.
Moreno wasted no time scoring his first major league goal, hitting that milestone on his debut against the Detroit Tigers on June 11. It also faced one of the sport’s best closers, Gregory Soto.
In the same contest, the 5-foot-11 catcher showed incredible arm strength, throwing Victor Reyes to second base on a stolen base attempt with an 81.3-mile stoker.
Toronto needs to be very encouraged by Moreno’s progress, but he’s not a finished product yet. And that’s okay. The youngster still has plenty of time to reach his peak as a big league performer.
However, with the Blue Jays in win-now mode, management will likely examine its commercial value this winter. As he’s still a pre-arbitration player with a minor league option remaining, there could be an endless list of potential suitors.
Pittsburgh and Miami could be the most attractive as each could offer a sizeable return, with Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds and Marlins pitcher Pablo López likely at the forefront of those trade talks.
So if Moreno’s bids don’t add up, he’s the most likely trade chip for the Blue Jays right now.
More from Yahoo Sports
#Blue #Jays #catcher #traded #offseason