LAS VEGAS — Perhaps the biggest question facing the Blue Jays this offseason is whether they will trade their enviable fishing depth to meet other needs.
Thanks to Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays catchers achieved an MLB-best 7.3 WAR in 2022. They led the MLB together in batting average (.273) and on-base percentage (.351) while hitting 34 home runs – The notable feat when looking at league averages at position was a .226 average and .295 percentage on the base.
It’s clear the Blue Jays could just play it back in 2023. While it’s not the most efficient way to use these three players, the catcher is a high-attrition position and Moreno has been training in both infield and outfield late last season to build his versatility. There are real world scenarios where all three will contribute to the Blue Jays in 2023 and beyond.
Of course, trades are also possible at the same time. Rebuilding teams could covet Moreno’s advantage and team control. Win-now teams could target Jansen, now two years away from freehand, for his power racquet and catching sense. And who wouldn’t want Kirk, who goes more than he punches while offering impressive power?
While the Blue Jays don’t want to force a trade, it’s a possibility the club is openly exploring. Some at the GM meetings are seeing real-life scenarios of no team meeting the Blue Jays’ price tag for any of the three, while others believe an off-season deal is likely.
“We’re in a position where we don’t have to do that to improve our team,” said GM Ross Atkins. “Their potential versatility – more on the Moreno side than the other two – is positive for us.”
Starting with least likely trade matches through to legitimate fits, here’s a speculative look at how likely it is that the Blue Jays’ 29 rivals will come together in a trade for a catcher…
Not only are the Orioles a division rival, they already have a franchise catcher in Adleyrutschman.
Established catchers already in place
Other teams behind the record include the New York Yankees (Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka), Kansas City (Sal Perez), Chicago White Sox (Yasmani Grandal and Seby Zavala), Houston (Martin Maldonado), and Philadelphia (JT Realmuto). ). ), Atlanta (William Contreras and Travis D’Arnaud), the Los Angeles Dodgers (Will Smith) and Oakland (Sean Murphy).
It would be a stretch to call the Mariners’ Cal Raleigh and Rangers’ Jonah Heim established, but both were productive in 2022, generating 4.2 and 2.8 WAR, respectively. Therefore, both teams have a good catch to look forward to as they head into the off-season.
Unlikely AL East pairings
While the Red Sox and Rays could both be looking for upgrades behind the plate, an in-division trade of this magnitude would be challenging.
Promising catchers already present
While the Marlins could improve the combination of Nick Fortes and Jacob Stallings, Fortes probably showed enough as a rookie to create more chances. Similarly, the Mets have their own young catcher prospect in Francisco Alvarez, and the Nationals promoted Keibert Ruiz to the majors with some success last season. With that in mind, the Reds’ Tyler Stephenson seems to deserve a closer look in Cincinnati, and Logan O’Hoppe appears poised for an extended chance alongside Max Stassi in Anaheim.
The first 408 record appearances of Joey Bart’s big league career were underwhelming, with an OPS+ of just 81. At the same time, the Giants may prefer to give the 25-year-old former top prospect more chances.
The fit works – but maybe only in one direction
With Willson Contreras hitting the free hand, the Cubs could look to bolster a catching tandem that now consists of Yan Gomes and PJ Higgins. Just what would come back? Ian Happ is appealing, but he’s only a year away from free agency, so he’d probably have less commercial value than all three Jays catchers. A third team may be needed to make this work.
The Rockies are always hard to predict, but they could rise above the duo of Elias Diaz and Brian Serven, who together had an MLB-worst -1.4 WAR at the position last season. However, as with the Cubs, it’s less clear what would balance the Blue Jays’ path back into balance.
With Daulton Varsho moving to outfield, the Diamondbacks could use a catcher to pair up with Carson Kelly, and they have more than their share of lefties beating outfielders and young pitchers. But would Alek Thomas or Jake McCarthy be enough to get the Blue Jays’ attention?
With the versatile Eric Haase able to move around the diamond, adding a second catcher to the mix could be attractive for the Tigers, who look suitable for Moreno. Whether the Blue Jays want what the Tigers can offer in return is another question.
The fit works – maybe both ways
As Gary Sanchez reached free agency, Ryan Jeffers jumped up the Twins’ depth chart to become their main catcher. Generally speaking, Twins baseball operations president Derek Falvey expressed optimism about Jeffers, but made it clear that the club will continue to seek help.
“We’re going to have to add, whether it’s through free agency or through trade,” Falvey said. “Catcher will definitely be a free agent or trading focus for us.”
Left-handed Max Kepler has up to two more seasons under his belt and is a player who could find favor with the Blue Jays. That aligns with Jansen’s free-hand schedule, but whether either side finds this structure attractive is an open question.
Although the Padres have Austin Nola, they have room for a second quality catcher. Meanwhile, Trent Grisham could appeal to Toronto due to his defensive ability and left-handed ability. A structure from Jansen for Grisham might please San Diego, but that’s a lot for the Blue Jays to give up (Jansen had an .855 OPS compared to Grisham’s .626 mark).
The emergence of Canada’s Bo Naylor gives Cleveland an internal option, but it’s hard not to be surprised at a team that has scouted Kirk extensively in the past. Or how about pairing Jansen with Naylor for two years while the rookie adapts? Jansen’s power would be a welcome addition to a Cleveland lineup full of contact hitters. And the Guardians have young pitchers that the Blue Jays are always looking for. But perhaps the Guardians will play it safe and bring back Austin Hedges and former Blue Jay Luke Maile.
In general, club president Chris Antonetti said the Guardians remain flexible.
“We are open at this position,” said Antonetti. “We are really excited about the future of what Bo can become and develop. Luke has done a great job for us this year, so we’re going into the off-season with a few options, but if at the same time there are opportunities to improve, we’ll try to do them.
Featuring a catchy tandem of Jason Delay and former Blue Jays backup Tyler Heineman, the Pirates need an upgrade. And in Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates have exactly the kind of trade chip the Blue Jays are likely to covet — a switch-hitting center fielder with three years of team control remaining and a lifetime 127 OPS+.
As a rebuilding team, the Pirates could accept any mounting pain that might come with Moreno. But six years of Moreno would likely be too much to ditch Reynolds for three years, making for a complicated balancing act for the Blue Jays and their Pittsburgh counterparts, former Toronto executives Ben Cherington and Steve Sanders.
As the offseason begins, the Brewers’ big league is made up of Victor Caratini and Alex Jackson – far from ideal. Owner Mark Attanasio has hinted this could be a busy winter for the Brewers, who have appealing pitches in Eric Lauer, Freddy Peralta and Aaron Ashby, among others.
On paper, this might be the best fit of all. Yadier Molina’s retirement leaves the Cardinals without a starting catcher for the first time in years. As John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, put it, the good news is they know what they need. The bad news is that they don’t yet know how to get it.
“Understand that like Yadi, first of all, he was a defensive scholar with a high baseball IQ,” Mozeliak said. “You have to understand that it won’t be that easy to replace. However, what we’re trying to see is, “How do we replace him and is there an opportunity for a little more offense in this slot?” It’s not a position we’ve had to buy into for 21 years. They accept that defense will likely take a step back (but) there could be some potential for offensive upside.
Mozeliak said the cardinals are exploring trade and a free hand while seeking a replacement for Molina. Although they prefer not to trade from their big league squad, they are open to the possibility if the return is large enough.
That could get interesting. In theory, the Cardinals have enough outfielders to part ways with someone like Dylan Carlson or Lars Nootbar, both of whom would likely have real appeal to the Blue Jays.
Carlson is a Switch-hitting midfielder and is under team control for four more seasons. Offensively he was slightly above average up to this point in his career (104 OPS+), but at 24 there is still time to improve.
Meanwhile, his teammate Lars Nootbar is perhaps even more intriguing. The 25-year-old left-hander played more often in right field but also played a bit in the middle and his offensive numbers were extremely impressive. In 108 games, he hit 14 homers with an elite walk rate (14.7 percent), an above-average barrel rate (12.1 percent), and an above-average strikeout rate (20.5 percent). Could a structure around Nootbar and Kirk work for both teams? Presumably Jansen would also appeal to St. Louis.
This is more speculative than certain for the time being and maybe it will stay that way. But if the odds makers here in Vegas were trying to set odds, they’d probably start with St. Louis.
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