As we noted here a few days ago, even before the Giancarlo Stanton trade, the Jays need to get better- more disciplined at the plate, faster, better starting pitching- if they hope to even contend for a Wild Card spot next year. this in itself isn’t news; John Gibbons this week said the team needs to add offence and a reliable 5th starter and Ross Atkins has spoken of the need for speed and athleticism since before Game 162 of this season. The question therefore is how to do so. A few suggestions, or a veritable Santa letter in fact here.
Adding Almedys Diaz in quickly was a smart move, even if I question the non-tendering of a contract to Ryan Goins. I think they should have kept goins- he’s been a reliable, non-problematic infielder for years and really came through in the clutch last season with 62 RBI. However, Diaz may be an upgrade for about the same money; he’s only a year removed from an All Star, .300 avg season and seems versatile in his ability to play around the infield. Which should allow the Jays even more latitude in exploring the chances of trading Troy tulowitzki. Granted, given his salary (3 years remaining at an average of $18M per season), and injury woes , it will be hard to get rid of the 33 year-old. However, should he seem healthy at the start of spring training, perhaps a team looking for a SS or even 3B would bite, if the Jays eat some of the stipend. Trading him for a bit player and paying the other team, say $30M over the next three seems like it might be palatable to free up salary space and open the position for Richard Urena (who seemed capable, if not star-like, in his debut last year) with Diaz around as a backup if and when Devon Travis returns to the lineup. Mind you, given the latter’s knees, getting Ryan Goins back or a similar type of bench player (Adam Rosales anyone?) for a million or thereabouts would be wise. In that respect, Howie kendrick also comes to mind. I used to think Kendrick got the short end of the stick with the Angels, he seemed to go unnoticed in the shadow of Mike trout despite being one of the game’s best second basemen. At an old 34, he’s no longer that, but could still be a solid contributor as a backup infielder and outfielder (last year he played most of his games in left). Although his 305AB were the lowest for him since his ’06 rookie year, he still hit a solid .315 with an .844 OPS, both above his career norms while his range factor at second, 4.4, in limited use there, was on par. No longer a star but if he falls through the cracks in the free agent frenzy, he’d be a solid addition at say $3M or so for a year.
There was a time last season when the team’s top 3 catchers were all on the DL simultaneously. While Russell Martin brings a great attitude and tradition of winning to the clubhouse and is still decent enough behind the plate, it’s no longer reasonable to consider him an All Star nor a guy built to catch 130+ games a year. The Canadian who’ll be 35 in spring needs a better backup who can take on more of the catching duties. Welington Castillo was an obvous candidate, but was quickly snatched up by the White Sox. That leaves perhaps Jonathan Lucroy as the best fit. Lucroy is about 4 years younger and has played 265 games over the past two seasons (which he’s split between Milwaukee, Texas and Colorado.) He’s a career .281 hitter who’s only a year removed from a .292 campaign with 24 homers and 81 RBI. However, his frequent moves and his somewhat down ’17 (.265/6/40) might lower the going rate for him to something no more than, maybe a little under, Castillo’s $15M over 2 years. At that rate, the Jays would be smart to pick him and his 63 assists last year (compared to 41 for Martin in a similar number of games) up and hope he rebounds a little and that a better-rested Russell Martin is a better player.
Teoscar Hernandez looked ready to play in the bigs regularlry in his late-season callup; we might hope he’ll be an everyday corner OF in 2018. But with so-so hitting, golden-gloved (but irritatingly, not “Gold Glove”) Kevin Pillar in center, there’s still a need for another everyday outfielder. Atkins and company have stated that won’t be Joey Bats – probably a smart call, as much as I like Bautista- they need someone who can deliver like Bautista used to to drive some runs and move Toronto up in the standings. It’s said they’re looking again at Jay Bruce, who might be a decent pick-up if his contract goes in the range of the 3 years, $36M predicted by pundits.
I however, think Carlos Gonzalez might be a better free agent option. CarGo’s only 32, was an All star in 2016 when he hit .298 and drove in 100. That dropped off last year to .262 with only 14 homers; the average was the lowest he’s posted since his injury-riddled 2014. He did notch 56 walks though, matching his career best leading to a highly respectable .339 on base. I think the left-handed power hitter might rebound well at Rogers Centre- and should the Jays make the playoffs, he brings along a 12 for 22 career average post-season.
The other option being bandied about in hot stove leagues also bears looking at. The Pirates have long been rumoured to want to part ways with Andrew McCutchen. The 31 year old will be a free agent after next year, which could be just fine as the team has some decent prospects who could be in line to play MLB by ’19. In the meantime, McCutchen will only earn $14.5M next year, not bad for a guy with 8 straight years of 540 or more AB and started 2017 with a .293 lifetime average and .869 OPS. He hit a bit below that last season but still did better than 2016, and offers a strong outfield arm that could match a younger Jose Bautista’s . The catch of course, is that all these factors make him appealing to more teams than just Toronto. If Toronto could pry him away from the cost-conscious Pennsy team for say, Anthony Alford (who in 2 or 3 years could be the “next” McCutchen) and a reliever or mid-range pitching prospect, it would be a great move. If the Pirates want substantially more for him, it’s best to turn the attention back to Jay Bruce or Car Go.
All this makes the obvious assumption that Jose Bautista is gone. While the Jays correctly didn’t pick up his option for ’18 (at something close to $20M), I’d like to see him return. I envision Jose at this point in his career to be a new Steve Pearce. A backup outfielder, first-baseman and part-time DH. If all went well, he might start 70 games in those roles and i think put up better numbers than he did last year, with the benefit of rest. And should things go awry, he’s still in good enough shape to be an everyday OF should someone break down for an extended period. Bautista could also allow the Jays to peddle Pearce, or put him as part of a package for a much-needed pitcher or catcher (should they not come in via free agency.) That said, I’d also envision a realistic paycheque for Joey Bats in ’18 to be in the Pearce-range- maybe $6M a year. This might be a blow to his ego, but i find it unlikely he’ll get a large, multi-year deal anywhere given his reputation and his difficulty staying above the Mendoza line in ’17. He brings a self-assured confidence to the team that could still be beneficial and really, who doesn’t want to see him retire in Toronto blue?
Well we’ll leave it at that today… up next, what to do with that pitching staff.