The Toronto Blue Jays recently made some moves on the free-agent front, agreeing to a one-year deal with outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and a two-year pact with Isiah Kiner-Falefa worth $15 million.
Outside of these recent deals, the offseason has been slow-going for the Blue Jays. The club missed out on Shohei Ohtani, and while they were interested in Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they weren’t considered a finalist for the right-hander as he took his talents out to Los Angeles.
With those two off the board, the free-agent market, which is largely made up of Scott Boras-represented clients, should pick up some speed into the new year and well into January as teams start to put their chips down heading into 2024.
While the additions they made have completed their outfield, and they still have their starting first baseman in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., if the Blue Jays are serious about being a World Series contender this season, they should make a run at Cody Bellinger.
The Blue Jays should still be interested in Bellinger even after Kiermaier and IKF signings
In bringing back Kiermaier, the Blue Jays’ outfield seems pretty strong with the Indiana product re-joining Daulton Varsho and George Springer on the roster.
In bringing in Kiner-Falefa, the Blue Jays will add some additional depth across the diamond in a role similar to what Whit Merrifield accomplished last year, albeit at third base instead of second for the new Blue Jay.
However, for a Blue Jays squad in desperate need of offensive output after a down 2023 campaign, outfielder Cody Bellinger still fits well into what the front office is looking for this winter and should still be high on their radar.
Bellinger found a resurgent campaign in Chicago this past year, emerging as a top bat on the Cubs’ roster. The lefty-bat finished the year with a .307 average, a .525 slugging, the highest mark for Bellinger since his NL MVP campaign back in 2019.
Bellinger appeared in 130 games split between center field, first base, and at the DH spot and amassed a 133 OPS+ with 26 home runs, both of which were team highs (he tied Christopher Morel for home runs). His .881 OPS and 134 wRC+ also led the Cubs squad last year while he finished in the 88th percentile in batting run value (23) and saw a sharp decline in his K%, dropping to 15.7% compared to the 27.3% he posted in 2022 with the Dodgers.
For Bellinger, a strong 2023 season in a contract walk year helps pave the way for the Arizona product to cash in with the Boras-represented outfielder looking to earn over $200 million this winter on a long-term deal. Considering the weak player market this winter and a strong bounce-back campaign, Bellinger set himself up to do well this offseason.
The risk associated with handing out such a lucrative contract to Bellinger is his recent performance history, as he dealt with injuries in 2021 and struggled to regain his MVP form through his last three campaigns with the Dodgers, which led to him being non-tendered by the club last offseason.
Blue Jays and Bellinger – analyzing the fit on the roster
Fit-wise with the Blue Jays, adding the outfielder may seem overkill considering the current core of Varsho, Springer, and now Kiermaier and Kiner-Falefa, but looking under the surface, there is still some solid reasoning to try and sign the 28-year-old.
For one, the Blue Jays’ current postseason window is at its peak given Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are just two seasons away from free-agent waters, and adding more firepower to the batting order to complement a strong pitching staff just makes sense.
Even during his down campaigns, Bellinger still posted double-digit home runs and would add that extra power from the left side of the batter’s box, something the Jays lack with just Varsho, Kiermaier, and Cavan Biggio swinging from that side.
Slotting him alongside Springer, Bichette, and Guerrero Jr. instantly creates a power threat at the top of the lineup that rivals any American League team.
Secondly, given Kiermaier and Springer’s recent injury history, adding Bellinger to the roster gives the Jays some additional flexibility to not only play the righty/lefty pitching matchups (which the analytics team has favored) but also allows for additional rest days in the DH spot for all three players if needed.
Kiner-Falefa can take some reps in the outfield but he will most likely be suited for the infield, an area he has more defensive success in compared to working out in the grass.
With Brandon Belt heading to free agency this winter as well, the Jays have the DH role open for the taking, and while an internal option like Spencer Horwitz or an external candidate like Jorge Soler, Rhys Hoskins, or J.D. Martinez could fill that spot, the Jays could filter the outfield around to work in that role while also utilizing Alejandro Kirk as needed when he isn’t catching.
This would require either Bellinger or Kiermaier slotting in one of the corner outfield spots moving forward, but both have the speed and athleticism needed so it should not be an issue. As well, Bellinger can also play first base should Guerrero Jr. require an off-day, allowing for additional position flexibility along with the lefty-bat.
The drawbacks of signing Bellinger long-term
The financial commitment to Bellinger will be the obvious hard pill to swallow, as the Jays would be encroaching upon (or even going past) the CBT limit with this deal and this could have further repercussions down the line.
A deal of this magnitude combined with Kiermaier and Kiner-Falefa likely means the Jays are unable to bring in an external third base option (such as Matt Chapman) and means the Jays will rely on internal candidates for the hot corner and the bench barring some lower-valued veteran free agent deals.
Also, the Jays might be limited on signing a “bat first” type of player for the DH spot this winter with a Bellinger deal but that idea may be negated if the club brings on the lefty-batter and the remaining outfielders and Kirk platoon in the role alongside an internal bench option (Horwitz, Barger, Martinez, etc).
A Bellinger signing could also impact potential extensions for Bichette or Guerrero Jr. given their impending free agency, but the Jays gain some capital back with contracts expiring over the next two seasons to alleviate some cap space.
This notion would also be dependent on how far ownership is willing to spend or potentially exceed the CBT, an idea they were okay with last year to the tune of a $5.5 million tax bill, but may be less inclined if the bill becomes higher and there is no postseason wins under their belt.
On the outside looking in, adding Kiermaier and Kiner-Falefa may seem that the Blue Jays are out of the Bellinger sweepstakes, but hopefully, that is not the case, as the front office can still utilize his power and left-handed bat in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
The deal has to make sense at the end of the day, but even with the recent roster move, Bellinger should still be on the Blue Jays’ radar.