After more than 90 straight wins, the Toronto Blue Jays should be back in free hands this winter, particularly on the pitching front. But changes could also be made in the position player group.
As of today, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is the Blue Jays’ only free-agent position player, meaning they could return it with the same group from last season. And that would still be a favorable result after displaying one of the best offenses in the majors, which includes George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
The team is good enough to contend for the playoffs in 2023, although not yet a championship contender.
To achieve that status, general manager Ross Atkins needs to add another element or two to complement his already impressive offense. While several intriguing names are available in free agency, let’s examine three players who could stand out among the Blue Jays this offseason.
Acquiring another impact outfielder might not be high on Toronto’s priorities, but if management wants to make a splash in that department, there’s probably no better partner than Nimmo.
The 29-year-old is considered by many in the industry to be one of the best free agents in this year’s league and is considered the best outfield player available on the open market. Although the New York Mets are determined to keep him, he will have many interested applicants if an agreement cannot be reached.
Offensive balance is one of the Blue Jays’ biggest concerns this offseason, and they would certainly address that issue by landing a left-hander like Nimmo. This would also introduce a different batting style into the batting order as it possesses a contact-oriented approach.
In 2022, the 6-foot-3 lefty hit .274/.367/.433 in a career-high 151 games with 134 wRC+, ranking ninth among major league fielders. His on-base percentage and batting average ranked seventh and 10th, respectively, among the same qualifications.
Nimmo’s plate discipline would also be a welcome addition after he posted a 10.5 percent walk rate and 17.2 percent strikeout rate last season. The veteran fielder’s walk-to-strikeout ratio of .61 ranked his position 12th in the majors.
Pairing a player of Nimmo’s caliber with the likes of Springer could take Toronto’s lineup to the next level and provide additional mid-ranking run-scoring opportunities. They would also be poised for more success against right-handed pitchers, against whom they scored a 118 wRC+ in 2022.
The 13th overall draft pick of 2011 would also dramatically improve the organization’s outfield defense — an area where it has struggled in previous seasons.
After two straight injury-plagued seasons, it’s safe to assume that Springer would benefit from a move to right field, where he recorded +12 DRS and +5 OAA in 4,229.2 career innings. Nimmo, whose +6 OAA ranked in the 91st percentile in 2022, would then take over the center long-term.
That would create a dilemma for outfielders Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that would likely necessitate a future swap. Each player could be flipped to address other areas of need.
The bigger question, however, is whether the Blue Jays will get the green light from the owner to put another lucrative contract on the books. According to baseball insider Jon Heyman, if they go after Nimmo, it could mean him signing a seven-year, $145 million contract.
But with the value Nimmo could offer – both offensively and defensively – it might be worth delaying additional salary to make this move work.
They’re probably telling themselves, “The Blue Jays already have an all-star shortstop.” And you’re right, they do. But if there are doubts about Bichette’s future, now is the time to address them.
Amid a star-studded class of free-agent shortstops, there’s no shortage of viable options for the front office to pursue. Trea Turner is the most obvious target, although he’s likely tied to a qualifying offer and could become the game’s next $300 million player.
Chances are Toronto won’t play in that market this winter, but someone like Correa could make a lot of sense. Having turned down his $35.1 million player option for 2023, the 28-year-old is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, adding to his allure.
It also helps that Correa is one of the most gifted offensive shortstops in the majors. While injuries have plagued him for much of his career and a miserable COVID-cut 2020 season hasn’t helped, the right-hander has answered those concerns with his impressive results over the past two seasons.
As of 2021, the 6-foot-4 infielder ranks second in wRC+ (136), third in fWAR (10.5), fourth in wOBA (.363), sixth in home runs (48) and sixth place in RBIs (156). qualified major league shortstops.
Correa’s defense is another reason he would draw interest from the Blue Jays, who saw Bichette struggle last season and posted career-worsts in DRS (-16) and OAA (-7). And it seems he’s miles away from becoming at least average defensively.
The former Houston Astro, on the other hand, has been considered an elite defender since 2018. During that time, he ranked first among shortstops in DRS (+50), fourth in OAA (+45), and fifth in defensive WAR (50.0).
It would also give Correa plenty of familiarity with the Blue Jays, reuniting him with Springer – his teammate with the 2015-20 Astros – and coach Dave Hudgens, who served as Houston’s hitting coach from 2015-18.
It’s unclear if Toronto could afford Correa’s services, however, as Heyman predicts he could be free-handed on a nine-year, $275 million deal. Then it’s a question of determining Bichette’s future. Would he be willing to move to second base? Or would he want out?
Management would need to answer those two questions before seriously pursuing the two-time All-Star. On paper, the Correa-Bichette duo would be a powerful combination in the middle.
If the Blue Jays decide to take a more frugal approach, they could make a modest signing by returning to Benintendi, who reportedly received interest from the franchise ahead of last August’s trading close.
The 28-year-old eventually traded from the Kansas City Royals to the New York Yankees and played just 33 games with his new team before suffering a season-ending hand injury. He is expected to be healthy for spring training which should help his market.
Though his results with the Yankees didn’t exactly catch the eye, the left-hander still put in a strong showing in 2022, scoring .304/.373/.399 with a 122 wRC+ over 521 plate appearances in 121 contests. He was also worth 2.8 fWAR, his highest rating since 2018 (4.9).
Benintendi isn’t hitting for power, although his .352 BABIP suggests he could offer plenty of contact for the Blue Jays’ offense next season. He can also reach base via walks, as evidenced by his 10.0 percent clip.
The 2022 All-Star probably wouldn’t make as much of a difference as someone like Nimmo, but he would help improve the club’s offensive balance.
Defensively, Benintendi is limited to left field — Springer stays in center — but would offer an upgrade over Gurriel as his OAA (zero) and outfielder’s leap (0.2ft from the league average) are both in the 50th percentile or rank higher. In comparison, the Blue Jays’ reigning left fielder placed in the 29th percentile or worse in every category.
Another benefit of pursuing Benintendi is that he would cost significantly less than Nimmo or Correa. Heyman’s pundit believes the 2018 World Series champion could land a four-year, $56 million deal this offseason, paying him $14 million per season.
Although Gurriel would likely need to be traded, that path could address several concerns for Toronto. This scenario might be too difficult to pass over.
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