The 2021-22 MLB offseason is a few weeks old and we’re still waiting for the first major move to happen. That’s not unusual — like the MLB season itself, the offseason is a marathon rather than a sprint — though the impending expiration of the competitive bargaining agreement throws a giant wrench into the hot stove. Still, baseball’s offseason is underway.
With that in mind, we’re going to examine each prospective buyer’s offseason wish list over the next few days, continuing with the Toronto Blue Jays. Let’s get to it.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins did not mince words when asked about his rotation at the GM Meetings last week. He called filling the rotation spots vacated by free agents Robbie Ray and Steven Matz a “high priority,” according to MLB.com’s Joe Trezza. Ray had a Cy Young season and Matz threw 150 2/3 innings with a 115 ERA+. They won’t be easy to replace. You can do worse — a lot worse — than starting your rotation with José Berríos, Alek Manoah, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Ross Stripling fits best in a swingman role, however, and it’s difficult to expect top prospect Nate Pearson to throw a full season’s workload given his injury history. Fortifying the rotation is a high priority. Atkins said so himself.
Wish list: Re-signing Ray, obviously. That would be ideal. At the same time, the Blue Jays have a track record of helping talented pitchers level up (Marco Estrada and JA Happ are good examples along with Ray), which makes me wonder if they’ll look to find the next Robbie Ray rather than pay for the real Robbie Ray (especially after signing Berríos long-term). Buy low on a talented pitcher and try to get the best out of him. That kind of thing. Dylan Bundy, he of the elite slider break, and Yusei Kikuchi stand out as potential candidates.
Seeing how the Blue Jays want two starting pitchers and are in position to spend big this winter, the smart approach would be re-signing Ray to front the rotation, and bringing in a buy low upside guy to fill the fifth starter’s role. Berríos, Manoah, Ray, and Ryu would be as strong a top four as there is in the sport. That plus Toronto’s offensive firepower would give the club a little breathing room to roll the dice on a talented pitcher with questions. Other possible free agent targets include Jon Gray and Michael Pineda.
Free agency is not the only way to add rotation help, of course. The Athletics are cutting payroll and have three quality starting pitchers (Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas) to peddle. The Marlins and Blue Jays appear to be an excellent match for a trade. Miami is considering trading one of their arbitration-eligible starters (Sandy Alcantara, Elieser Hernandez, Pablo López) and they want to add a catcher. The Blue Jays have three major league catchers (Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Reese McGuire) and a top catching prospect (Gabriel Moreno). Is there a Kirk for pitching trade to be made with the Marlins?
Second or third base
The Marcus Semien signing worked out better than the Blue Jays could have reasonably hoped. He’s an MVP finalist and he, not Vladimir Guerrero Jr., led all American League position players in WAR. Semien is now a free agent and Toronto will either have to re-sign or replace him. Cavan Biggio’s versatility allows the club to pursue a second or third baseman. They’re not necessarily locked into pursuing a second baseman should Semien sign elsewhere. It should be noted Santiago Espinal took over as the starting third baseman late in the season. I’m sure the Blue Jays want to give the 27-year-old a longer look in 2022.
Wish list: Re-signing Semien, obviously. Yeah, the Blue Jays would benefit from adding a lefty hitter to their righty heavy lineup, but Semien (and Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, and others) are so good that I wouldn’t sweat handedness too much. Bring in the most talent and let them play. If Toronto is unable to re-sign Semien, pursuing a big name shortstop (Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story) can’t be ruled out. After all, they signed a big name shortstop last offseason and moved him to second base. That said, those guys will require significant contracts. More than the Blue Jays may be willing to spend on a non-Semien infielder given their pitching needs.
If Semien leaves and the Blue Jays won’t splurge for one of the other top free agent shortstops, the best fit might be veteran switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar. He has power, especially from the left side, and he can play the three non-shortstop infield positions. Also, Escobar has long been billed a great clubhouse guy, which can only help Toronto’s young core players. Kyle Seager could make sense as well. He brings lefty power and good third base defense, and is a strong clubhouse presence. Escobar and Seager would come on short-term contracts. Also, don’t be shocked if we hear José Ramírez to the Blue Jays rumors this winter.
Atkins & Co. did fine work rebuilding the bullpen on the fly this past season and the only member of that rebuilt bullpen to come off the roster this offseason is Joakim Soria. He became a free agent and retired. Still, there is always room for more good relievers, and the Blue Jays are in position to add a top closer, bumping Jordan Romano into the eighth inning. That would add length to the bullpen and free Romano up to pitch in the game’s highest leverage situations rather than stay married to the ninth inning. A closer is not a true necessity, but is something that can take this team to the next level. Either way, more bullpen depth is on the offseason shopping list.
Wish list: I’m not sure the Blue Jays have a preference here. Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen are both free agents — Jansen was outstanding after changing his pitch mix this summer and would bring championship pedigree — and Craig Kimbrel is a trade candidate. Toronto can check in on all three and pursue the one that makes the most sense in terms of fit and cost (in money and prospects). Free agent Corey Knebel is another potential fit, and don’t rule out a Kirby Yates reunion. Yates signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract last winter, then missed the season with Tommy John surgery. He is expected back at midseason and the Blue Jays, after rehabbing him this year, could look to bring him back on low cost one-year deal as a second half bullpen boost.