With just a few weeks to go before Christmas, the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to make any real moves in the offseason. Numerous core players from the 2023 squad are free agents, such as Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier, and Hyun Jin Ryu, and after the Jays missed out on Shohei Ohtani (who ultimately signed with the Dodgers) and Juan Soto (who was traded to the Yankees instead), the fanbase is getting pretty restless.
Despite a talented core, the Jays remain winless in the postseason since 2016, and it’s clear the front office needs to do something – not only to fill some holes on the roster but to energize the city and re-engage the fanbase.
Most of Toronto’s needs come in the position player department, as the Jays could use a third baseman, an outfielder (preferably in left field), and another infield bat, whether that is a full-time DH or a potential 1B/DH platoon. The club could also add another starter, especially if they are not ready to bank on an Alek Manoah redemption campaign.
Step One: Reunite with Matt Chapman
In a weak free-agent class, Matt Chapman stands out from the pack. The veteran third baseman, known for his strong arm and plus defense, is leading the charge on the hot corner, with the likes of Justin Turner, Gio Ursehla, Evan Longoria, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa bringing up the rear.
Jeimer Candelario was also in the mix until he signed with the Cincinnati Reds on a three-year deal worth $45 million, taking him off the board.
Fielding-wise, Chapman is the clear top choice but many question the consistency of his bat after his up-and-down performance last season. He finished the 2023 campaign with 4.4 bWAR but only a .755 OPS, his lowest ever in a full season. His 17 home runs were also his lowest total in a full year since his rookie campaign.
Chapman ranked in the 98th percentile or greater in average exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate (per Baseball Savant), yet while that helped with his doubles total (39), he struggled to put the ball over the wall and faded as the year went on, finishing with a .240 average.
The Jays have reportedly approached Chapman with an extension earlier this year, but the two sides were a ways apart. Toronto seemed willing to go over $100 million across four or five years, and evidently, Chapman was looking for more.
It makes sense that the California product wanted to test free agency given the weak infield class, his latest Gold Glove-caliber campaign, and his agent Scott Boras (who usually heads to free agency with top clients).
While the bat may cause some concern, a familiar face on the left side of the infield could benefit the Jays as they look to make another postseason run. With the likes of Ryu, Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt likely not returning, the Blue Jays have the funds to make a competitive offer for Chapman.
If the power can return to his bat, Chapman could be a solid signing for Toronto, even if he runs the risk of becoming an undesirable contract late in the deal if his fielding ability starts to wane.
Step Two: Add Cody Bellinger to the Outfield
With Ohtani and Soto no longer available, the Blue Jays could do the next best thing and bring in the next-ranked position player of the offseason: Cody Bellinger.
After an up-and-down tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers that ended in a non-tender, Bellinger took his talents to the Chicago Cubs last year and put forward a solid bounce-back campaign. He posted a .307/.356/.525 slash line while leading the team in RBIs (97) and finishing with 26 home runs (tied for the team lead). His 133 OPS+ was his highest since his NL MVP 2019 campaign, and he cut down on strikeouts in Chicago, going from 150 in 2022 to just 87 this past year.
For the Blue Jays, Bellinger fits the club in multiple ways.
After disappointing at the plate collectively in 2023, the Jays could use a strong, left-handed bat to add some thump at the top of the lineup alongside George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., with Daulton Varsho and Cavan Biggio the only left-handers in the projected starting lineup entering 2024.
In the outfield, Bellinger can play center, although the club may try him in left field to allow the superior fielding Varsho to get more reps up the middle. Factor in that Bellinger can also slot in at first base on occasion to give Guerrero some DH bats or off-days, and the fit makes even more sense.
Given the current free agent class, any Bellinger suitor is likely going to overpay to get a deal done. The Jays, who need a boost and have payroll to play with, are one team to watch in these negotiations. The two sides were reportedly in talks last winter before he signed with Chicago.
Second time’s the charm?
Step Three: Lock Down Another Solid Bat
With Brandon Belt no longer in the lineup, the Blue Jays have a spot open for either a full-time DH or a platoon of sorts at first base and DH with Guerrero.
The front office is open to adding a player to be the full-time DH, which makes sense after the club ranked in the middle of the pack collectively in home runs, OPS, and batting average this past season. This was only exacerbated by the issues with RISP which plagued the team at times, as they failed to capitalize with runners on and too often hit into rally-killing double plays. The Jays could really use another reliable bat.
While the free agent class is not the best it could be, there are several options the club could consider for this specific role.
Jorge Soler, J.D. Martinez, and Carlos Santana are a few names that come to mind, especially since Santana can slot in at first base as needed. Soler is likely a better candidate if the club is looking to sign a player to a multi-year deal given his ability to play in the outfield as needed and his relative youth – he’ll turn 32 in February.
Martinez is the veteran bat that could benefit a club in need of his plus power, evidenced by the 33 homers he crushed last year for the Dodgers.
The downside with Soler and Martinez is that both sluggers hit from the right side, and the Jays already boast quite a few righties throughout the lineup. Santana can swing from both sides, although he is much more effective when he bats right-handed. For what it is worth, the Blue Jays and Soler have already been linked this winter.
If the Blue Jays are looking for a left-handed bat and want to bring a Canadian back North, Joey Votto is also available after his option was declined by the Cincinnati Reds earlier this offseason.
The six-time All-Star has struggled to stay healthy these past two seasons and has seen a decline at the plate, sporting a .394 SLG and a .712 OPS through 156 games. If he joins the Jays, he will see a change in role to either a DH or a platoon/bench gig, but a change of scenery could be good for the veteran slugger. That said, the appeal of the Canadian former superstar will fade quickly for the Blue Jays if he continues to struggle at the plate in 2024.
Another name in the mix is Rhys Hoskins, who wasn’t issued a qualifying offer by the Philadelphia Phillies after missing the entire 2023 season with an ACL injury and the recent emergence of Bryce Harper at first base.
With Hoskins, the Jays would likely be looking at a “one-year, prove-it” deal, which is a move the club has tried with success in the past, giving such deals to Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray.
While he too bats from the right side, Hoskins has plus power and has been a solid bat since making his MLB debut, collecting 145 home runs and 405 RBIs through six seasons in the big leagues. With the ability to play first base or in the DH spot as needed, Hoskins on a short-term deal could fit in nicely with the Blue Jays as well.
Step Four: Extend a Star (or Two)
While the Blue Jays need to find some outside help to fill the holes on the roster after the Ohtani saga came to an end, the fan base is still on edge for the front office to do something bigger.
Even if the club signs Bellinger or Chapman or Soler, with each player improving the current roster in some way, the fanfare will likely be limited compared to the “what could have been.” However, the front office could likely get back into some good graces if they can ink either Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to a long-term extension this offseason.
It is unlikely that both players will sign a new deal this winter. After all, the Blue Jays are one squad that has not extended a homegrown star on a long deal, while various others around the league have inked mega-deals (Julio Rodríguez, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Rafael Devers, for example).
Yet considering the Jays have some finances to play with this winter, getting at least one of Guerrero or Bichette locked down would be a positive step.
If you were to ask Blue Jays fans right now, the majority would likely pick Bichette as their preferred extension candidate.
The long-haired shortstop made major strides defensively this season (5 DRS and just eight errors) while being one of the best hitters on the team with a .306 average, 20 home runs, and an .814 OPS. A knee injury likely cost him a three-peat at leading the AL in hits, but he was one of the bright spots in a Blue Jays lineup that struggled at times last year.
Guerrero has not been able to replicate his 2021 AL MVP-worthy campaign (48 home runs and 1.002 OPS) over the past two seasons, and while his numbers have been solid (.269/.342/.462 slash line, 58 home runs, 191 RBIs, and an .804 OPS), fans are still hoping to see the righty slugger return to elite form.
He also took a step back defensively last year, so seeing him re-enter the Gold Glove conversation would also be a bonus.
There is no doubt the Jays need to continue to make the team better, given the numerous holes on the roster, but there is also no reason why they can’t lock down at least one of their talented core players. Considering recent events, Blue Jays fans could use some positive news, and a long-term deal with Bichette or Guerrero would be a step in the right direction.