Blue Jays Free Agent Targets: Position Players

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Brandon Nimmo makes sense for the Blue Jays for several reasons. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Coming off consecutive 90-plus-win seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays should be active in free agency again this winter, particularly on the pitching front. But changes could also be made to the pool of position players.

As things currently stand, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is the Blue Jays’ only free-agent position player, meaning they could once again run with the same group as last season. And that would be a favorable outcome after fielding one of the best offenses in the majors that includes George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

The team is good enough to contend for the playoffs in 2023, although it is not yet a championship contender.

To reach that status, general manager Ross Atkins will need to add one or two more pieces to help complement his already impressive offense. While there are several intriguing names available in free agency, let’s explore three players who could stand out against the Blue Jays this offseason.

brandon nimmo

Acquiring another impact outfielder may not be among Toronto’s priorities, but if management wants to make a splash in this department, there probably isn’t a better option than Nimmo.

The 29-year-old is seen by many in the industry as one of the best free agents in this year’s class, and he stands as the best outfielder available on the open market. Although the New York Mets are determined to retain him, he will have many interested suitors if a deal cannot be reached.

Offensive balance is one of the Blue Jays’ biggest concerns this offseason, and they would certainly address that issue with a left-handed hitter like Nimmo. If he does, he would also insert a different hitting style into the batting order, since he has a contact-oriented approach.

In 2022, the 6-foot-3 left-hander slashed a career-high .274/.367/.433 in 151 games with 134 wRC+, ranking ninth among major league outfielders. His on-base percentage and his batting average ranked seventh and 10th, respectively, under those same ratings.

Nimmo’s plate discipline would also be a welcome addition after posting a 10.5 percent walk rate and 17.2 percent strikeout rate last season. The veteran outfielder’s 0.61 walk-to-strikeout ratio ranked him 12th in the majors at his position.

Pairing a player of Nimmo’s caliber with the likes of Springer could take Toronto’s lineup to the next level, providing additional run-scoring opportunities for the middle of the order. They would also be poised to enjoy more success against right-handed pitchers, against whom they produced a 118 wRC+ in 2022.

The 13th overall pick in the 2011 draft would also dramatically improve the organization’s outfield defense, an area in which he has struggled in previous seasons.

Coming off two consecutive injury-plagued seasons, it’s fair to assume that Springer would benefit from moving to right field, where he posted +12 DRS and +5 OAA in 4,229 2/3 innings for his career. Nimmo, whose +6 OAA ranked in the 91st percentile in 2022, would take over for the long haul.

That would create a dilemma for fellow outfielders Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., likely requiring a future trade. Either player could be changed to address other areas of need.

The bigger question, though, is whether the Blue Jays will get the green light from the owners to add another lucrative contract to the books. If they go after Nimmo, that could mean signing him to a seven-year, $145 million contract, according to baseball pundit Jon Heyman.

But with the amount of value Nimmo could provide, both offensively and defensively, it might be worth pulling out some extra salary to make this move work.

Signing Brandon Nimmo would allow the Blue Jays to move George Springer to right field.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Signing Brandon Nimmo would allow the Blue Jays to move George Springer to right field. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

You’re probably saying to yourself, “The Blue Jays already have an All-Star shortstop.” And you’re right, they do. But if there are questions about Bichette’s future, now is the time to address them.

Amid a star-studded class of free-agent shortstops, there’s no shortage of suitable options the front office could pursue. Trea Turner is the most obvious target, though he’s likely tied for a qualifying offer and could become the game’s next $300 million player.

Toronto most likely won’t play in that market this winter, but someone like Correa could make a lot of sense. Given that he declined his $35.1 million player option for 2023, the 28-year-old is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, adding to his intrigue level.

It also helps that Correa is one of the most gifted offensive shortstops in the majors. While injuries have plagued him for much of his career, and a miserable COVID-shortened 2020 season didn’t help, the right-hander has answered those concerns with impressive results over the past two seasons.

As of 2021, the 6-foot-4 infielder ranks second in wRC+ (136), third in fWAR (10.5), fourth in wOBA (.363), tied for sixth in home runs (48), and sixth in RBIs (156) among qualified shortstops in the major leagues.

Correa’s defense is another reason he would draw interest from the Blue Jays, who saw Bichette struggle last season, posting career lows in DRS (-16) and OAA (-7). And it looks like he’s still a long way from becoming at least average defensively.

Meanwhile, the former Houston Astro has been considered an elite defender since 2018. During that time, he ranks first in DRS (+50), fourth in OAA (+45), and fifth in defensive WAR (50.0) among the shortstops

There would also be plenty of familiarity for Correa with the Blue Jays, reuniting him with Springer, his 2015-20 Astros teammate, and coach Dave Hudgens, who served as Houston’s hitting coach from 2015-18.

It’s unclear if Toronto could afford Correa’s services, though, as Heyman predicts he could get a nine-year, $275 million deal in free agency. Then there is the determination of Bichette’s future. Would he be willing to move to second base? Or would he want out?

Management would have to answer both questions before seriously pursuing the two-time All-Star. On paper, this Correa-Bichette duo would be a powerful combination down the middle.

Signing Carlos Correa would force the Blue Jays to move Bo Bichette from shortstop.  (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Signing Carlos Correa would force the Blue Jays to move Bo Bichette from shortstop. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Andres Benintendi

If the Blue Jays take a more frugal approach, they could make a modest signing by returning to Benintendi, who reportedly received interest from the franchise before last August’s trade deadline.

The 28-year-old was eventually traded from the Kansas City Royals to the New York Yankees, playing just 33 games with his new team before suffering a season-ending hand injury. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training, which should help the market for him.

Although his results with the Yankees weren’t surprising, the left-handed outfielder still enjoyed a solid performance in 2022, hitting .304/.373/.399 with 122 wRC+ in 521 plate appearances in 121 contests. He was also worth 2.8 fWAR, his highest rating since 2018 (4.9).

Benintendi doesn’t hit for power, though his .352 BABIP suggests he could provide plenty of contact for the Blue Jays’ offense next season. He can also get on base via walks, as the 10.0 percent clip of him demonstrates.

The 2022 All-Star probably wouldn’t have as much of an impact as someone like Nimmo, but he would help improve the team’s offensive balance.

Defensively, Benintendi is limited to left field, keeping Springer in center, but he would provide an upgrade over Gurriel as his OAA (zero) and leaping outfielder (0.2 feet vs. league average) both ranked in the 50th percentile. or higher. By comparison, the Blue Jays’ starting left fielder ranked in the 29th percentile or worse in every category.

Another advantage of going after Benintendi is that it would cost much less than Nimmo or Correa. Heyman’s pundit believes the 2018 World Series champion could earn a four-year, $56 million deal this offseason, paying him $14 million per season.

Although Gurriel will likely need to be traded, this path could address multiple concerns for Toronto. That scenario might be too hard to pass up.

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