“[The competitive balance tax] is not an obstacle for us. It will not limit us,” Mark Shapiro claimed earlier this offseason. “We’ll have a budget, and a budget that we’ll limit to, but the CBT is not going to be what sets our budget, managing around that.”
If that quote is, in fact, the truth, it means the Toronto Blue Jays have every intention to put the best possible team on the field, regardless of the cost to do so. Having already made a pair of significant moves, and splashing the cash in previous offseasons, the Jays have the basis of what could be a World Series contending roster, but in a couple of spots, they could stand to upgrade, or at least add a veteran.
At this point of the offseason, it’s likely that the heavy lifting, and big spending, are done, but there are still free agents out there that could be useful. Here are five that the Jays should consider.
Odúbel Herrera – Outfielder
We’re kicking things off with perhaps the least attractive of the four potential options, but Odúbel Herrera still offers something interesting for Ross Atkins to stew over. After moving Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. over the course of the offseason, the Blue Jays are down to three outfielders; George Springer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Daulton Varsho. With both Springer and Kiermaier having histories of injuries, finding a fourth outfielder who can play a considerable amount of time during the season is important, and Herrera fits the bill.
For the past seven years, Herrera has been a regular in the Philidelphia Phillies lineup, but after a 2022 season where his numbers slipped, the Phillies designated him for assignment, before releasing him in August. Herrera has been a free agent ever since, and it’s likely that the Jays could swoop in and sign the veteran to a minor league deal, bolstering their depth, and gaining options.
For his career, Herrera is a .271 hitter, but has a tendency to struggle to get on base at times, owning a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 3-1. Where Herrera would be beneficial, however, is in the outfield. Primarily, the native of Venezuela has played centre field, but in the past handful of seasons, he has played all three positions.
Centre field is still Herrera’s preferred position, but he could still be used elsewhere. For the purpose of having a veteran player who you can trust to take some of the pressure off Springer and Kiermaier, you can live with some of the shortcomings Herrera may have. The alternative, of course, is signing another infielder and moving someone else out to the outfield (that may be foreshadowing the next player), or using a prospect, including Spencer Horwitz or Otto Lopez.
Is Herrera the greatest player available right now? No, of course not, but when you consider some of the alternatives on the market, including Dexter Fowler, Jackie Bradley Jr., or Kevin Pillar, it’s not so bad. Worst case scenario, you keep him around in the minors in case of injury.
Carlos Correa – Shortstop
This offseason, Carlos Correa earned the rare distinction of agreeing to a contract with two different teams, nearly inking a deal with the New York Mets, after originally coming to an agreement with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants got cold feet after a routine physical, and now, it seems as if the same fate could await Correa with the Mets. Dr. Laith Jazrawi, a sports orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone who has not treated Correa, says that both the Mets and the Giants likely saw “post-traumatic arthritis” in the ankle, stemming from a fractured fibula he suffered in 2014, while playing in the minors.
Currently, that may not be a problem for Correa, but according to Dr. Jazrawi, it could become a serious issue within the next decade, and when both contracts offered by the Mets and Giants ran well past 10 years, it’s no wonder both franchises are feeling the heat.
“Post-traumatic arthritis — meaning even if you stabilize it and make it perfect, there’s still an injury that’s impacted on the ankle,” Dr. Jazrawi said. “And there may be finding suggestive of some other issues there that may necessitate surgery later on, that doesn’t necessarily have a great outcome.”
The Giants and Correa are still in touch, but the president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi says the 28-year-old is “focused on a deal elsewhere.” That leaves the Mets, of course, and possibly the Minnesota Twins, who reportedly offered Correa a 10-year, $285 million deal before he came to an agreement with the Giants. While it’s a standoff with no certainty of the outcome either way, if Correa and the Mets can’t sort out their issues, he will again be looking for another team, and set to agree to a contract with a third team.
If the Blue Jays were to be that vulture circling high above, it would have to come at the right price, and that has nothing to do with the dollars and cents. As mentioned previously, Shapiro says that they are able to spend beyond the CBT threshold, so the money won’t be an issue, but rather, it will be the term. If Correa’s deal with the Mets falls apart, there shouldn’t be many teams in baseball prepared to take him on long-term, and his market could change considerably. With their current structure, the Blue Jays should only be willing to sign Correa on a deal worth fewer than three or four years, preferably with a mutual, or even team option.
Related: The Blue Jays’ Core Needed a Breakup, and Ross Atkins Did It Beautifully
Why would Toronto want that? It’s rather simple, actually. The injury concerns are a projection of what’s to come, not what will happen this season, and when Correa is on the field, he’s a top player. The Jays could move Bo Bichette to second base, something they have probably already been mulling over after his error-riddled 2022 season. In a work-around way, it would also solve the fourth outfielder issue, allowing one of Cavan Biggio or Whit Merrifield to sneak out and pick up some extra playing time.
At the plate, Correa would bring a considerable upgrade to the Jays, as he would every other franchise in baseball. Boasting a career .279 average, the Ponce, Puerto Rico native smashed 22 home runs in 2022 with the Twins, driving in 64 runs in the process. It was a down season compared to where he has been in the past, but there’s no reason to believe those numbers will be his new baseline, rather than the outlier.
The Blue Jays have the perfect salesman in-house, as well. George Springer won a World Series with Correa in 2017 with the Houston Astros, and could make the pitch of teaming up to run it back.
Johnny Cueto – Starting Pitcher
There have been reports earlier in the offseason that the Blue Jays were interested in Johnny Cueto, and while things have gone quiet on that front, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see Ross Atkins circle back, and he should. The Jays’ current rotation looks relatively solid, with Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman leading the way for José Berrios and Chris Bassitt, but with Yusei Kikuchi and Hyun-jin Ryu set to do battle for the fifth spot (when Ryu gets healthy), adding another starter on a cheap contract just might be worthwhile.
Based on their performances in 2022, neither Kikuchi nor Ryu should just be handed a starting job. Kikuchi’s first season in Toronto was an unmitigated disaster, starting just 20 games before being moved to the bullpen. The Morioka, Japan native battled issues with finding the strike zone, and allowed 23 home runs, adding up to an ERA above five and a WAR of -1.1. Ryu, on the other hand, struggled to start the season before requiring Tommy John surgery. He won’t be ready to return until the middle of the season, assuming there are no setbacks.
Cueto, who will turn 37 before the start of the season, is coming off a good campaign with the Chicago White Sox in 2022, but should still come at a nice price should the Blue Jays hope to make the addition. Evidently, the Jays are hoping to see improvement from Kikuchi in 2023, but that’s no reason to not be interested in Cueto. In 2022, the product of the Dominican Republic tossed 151.1 innings, taking home an ERA of 3.35, his best since 2018. He also allowed just 15 home runs, stats closely mirroring Gausman, who was one of Toronto’s better pitchers in 2022.
Along with his five regular pitches, Cueto has a habit of mixing in a curveball, meaning he can throw six pitches when he needs to. The velocity won’t blow anyone away, but his mix keeps hitters guessing, and could play nicely off of what the Jays’ other arms bring. One of the only downsides of the Cueto Vs. Kikuchi comparison is their pitching arm. Cueto tosses right, which would leave the Jays without a lefty in the rotation.
Still, if the debate becomes what’s more important – someone who gets outs, or someone who throws left-handed – we know what is going to win. Without a doubt, Cueto is an upgrade over Kikuchi, and when Ryu comes back, either one of them could be used in the bullpen, depending on who has the better stuff when the time comes. Having extra pitching is never a bad thing, and adding someone of the quality of Cueto to be the number five in the rotation should be something the Jays are all in on.
Aroldis Chapman – Relief Pitcher
This is sure to ruffle some feathers in Blue Jays’ land, because for years, Aroldis Chapman has been hated by fans, largely because he wore the pinstripes of the New York Yankees. Hatred can quickly be turned into appreciation though, and all it would take is a change of colours. Still, many fans are bound to be against picking up Chapman, especially after a 2022 campaign that saw him left off the Yankees postseason roster.
The Cuban fireballer appeared in 43 games for the Yankees, last season, finishing with an ERA of 4.46, by far the worst mark of his 13-year Major League career. Even though Chapman will turn 35 before the start of the season and could be rather close to the end of his time as one of baseball’s elite relievers, he could serve as a low-risk candidate to turn in important innings at the back of the bullpen.
Right now, the only thing certain at the back of the pen is that Jordan Romano is the closer. Everyone else can move around a little bit, including Adam Cimber, as of now, would likely be the setup man, coming in the eighth inning to get the game to Romano. Outside of those two, the remainder would need piecing together, using the likes of Tim Mayza, Trevor Richards, Yimi Garcia, Anthony Bass, Zach Pop, and Trent Thornton.
One of the key things to notice in the pen, is that with those names, the Jays only have one lefty to turn to; Mayza. Chapman would not only bring another lefty into the fray, but it would also bring one whose fastball consistently comes in at over 100 miles per hour, and who has made a career out of missing the barrel of the bat.
Once again, this would be cost-dependent. If the Jays could get Chapman on a one-year deal for an insignificant amount of money (by MLB standards), then this seems like a no-brainer. The worst case scenario is things don’t work out, you cut bait, and you go back to what you had before, but if you do get the Chapman from 2021 or before, you’d be getting an absolute bargain, and someone with plenty of postseason experience.
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