Window Shopping The 2022 Free Agents
Friday, November 18 2022 @ 07:36 AM EST
Contributed by: Eephus
Sign my name
Hold my breath
Sing my heart out
Beat my chest for, my babe
It's the annual epic look at the MLB free agent class! While the three month long lockout froze transactions for the majority of last off-season, this Winter promises to spread out the madness a bit more evenly... like a smooth peanut butter on an English Muffin instead of random globs of peanuts dumped unevenly upon some hastily toasted bread. I've got to stop writing when I'm hungry.
After three straight winters of big free agent splurges (Ryu in 2019, Springer in 2020 and Gausman last year), it remains to be seen how much higher the Toronto Blue Jays will push their budget. The Teoscar Hernandez trade (occurring while I was halfway through writing this, gee thanks) now really brings the budget question into the spotlight. Huh.
Well... we can still have some fun can't we? Of course! Like last year, I'm going to look at each of the Top 50 Free Agents (this time using Fangraphs' ranking) and briefly envision the fit or realistic possibility of them joining the local ball squadron.
Last year, the Jays signed the #5 (Gausman) and #34 (Kikuchi) free agents according to MLB Trade Rumours. Lets take a look at this year's list:
#1. Aaron Judge (OF-NYY) -- .311/.425/.686 - 62(!)HR 131 RBI (10.6 WAR) - 211(!) OPS+ (career 163)
After that season, it's a bit hard to imagine Aaron Judge not being a fit on any baseball team that has ever existed. Not hard to find a place in the lineup for this guy.
The chances of him joining the Blue Jays at this moment in time have to be pretty close to zero, unless complete wackiness ensues. The big fella is going to get paid, and whether that's in New York or California (Giants please!) or some unpredictable third big market destination is all that remains to be seen. If the Yankees do lose Judge... that team suddenly looks pretty fragile with a bunch of big contracts for old guys in serious decline, eh? C'mon Aaron, go home to Northern Cali. Forget Shake Shack, in your heart you want the In-N-Out double-double burger. Damn it, still hungry.
#2. Trea Turner (SS/OF-LAD) -- .298/.343/.466 (4.9 WAR) - 121 OPS+ (career 122)
This is one where if you like unconventional thinking (as I do), Turner could make a lot of sense... as the 2023 Blue Jays centerfielder. Hey, he's played a season there before! It was 2016 and only 45 games... and he was 23 years old then... but... ahhh??? I'm sure he'd at least look better than Tapia out there.
Turner is obviously a great player and one of baseball's best hitting middle infielders... but he's also entering his age 30 season and I certainly expect his great speed to leak some gas pretty soon (if it hasn't already... this was his first full season he didn't steal 30 bases). Bo Bichette isn't a good enough reason not to pursue a player of this level (and I don't think Bo would complain if he was sliding over to second for a star like this), but also we do have Bo... plus a bunch of useful options at second base anyhow. Middle infield isn't exactly an area of desperate need for Toronto. It'd be a pleasant but weird shock if they pulled off this one.
#3. Carlos Correa (SS-MIN) -- .291/.366/.467 (5.4 WAR) - 140 OPS+ (career 129)
As I wrote last year, Correa is just a phenomenal ballplayer, with the advantage of being two years younger than Trea Turner and a better defender. He maybe lacks the complete package of offensive skillset as Turner, but I think whichever team has to "settle" on Correa won't complain about that too much. One figures Correa will want more guaranteed money this time than the unusual pillow deal Minnesota gave him last winter... but also who knows? I imagine the Blue Jays will at least kick the tires on any possibilities here.
#4. Jacob deGrom (SP-NYM) -- 5-4, 3.08 (1.4 WAR)
Man, what a tough one. deGrom is going to turn 35 next June and over his injury plagued previous two seasons he's earned about 2.7 million dollars per start. Nice work if you can get it.
He's still an unhittable monster, of course, and if you can somehow get 20-25 starts out of him a year, or in any year (whether via prayer or some kind of complicated cloning technique) whichever team signs him will surely have something special to enjoy. The age and the health is really worrying, though. Especially the latter. The dude throws really hard and the obvious risk is the existential argument with his arm getting much worse. Why must I hurl this rock at unhuman speeds to avoid wooden swinging poles? Damn it, deGrom's arm! The sitcom just writes itself.
If he was interested in some kind of short term deal with opt-outs (seemingly in vogue these days) I think Toronto would have to be somebody interested in that market. My only condition would be that he has to grow his long hair back... but I'm semi-reasonable so it's not a total deal-breaker.
#5. Justin Verlander (SP-HOU) -- 18-4, 1.75 (5.9 WAR)
I wonder if signing Verlander might provide a familiar repeat of history for longtime Blue Jays fans: here's a longtime star pitcher who started his career in Detroit, having just been the winning pitcher in the clinching game of a World Series and now looking for potentially one final big contract in the coda of his career. He'd be joining a team that has made the playoffs a couple of times in recent years but has fallen heart-breakingly short at the next step thus far. The only difference is that Justin Verlander is a way better pitcher than Jack Morris ever was (I don't think anyone in these parts will argue Verlander isn't a HoFer, for instance).
Verlander is also going to be 40 before opening day (Morris turned 37 during in his first Jays season) and isn't that far removed from the most significant injury of his long workhorse career. There are a lot of innings on that arm, and while his pure stuff seems as sharp as ever... there has to be a point sadly coming soon when he can't dial it up to 98mph anymore, surely?
That is an absolute truth, but this is also Justin freaking Verlander. You never know... that moment he can't at least touch high 90s could be seven years in the future. That doesn't even matter all that much because Verlander is also a pitcher's pitcher, as wily and adaptive as they come. Personally I'd be way more willing to wager on him than deGrom, despite the absurd upside the latter proposes... which is wild to say in how I'm describing a now reigning and worthy Cy Young winner in any inferior sense.
Most importantly, for me, Verlander is just plain fun to watch... with that silk smooth high leg kick and last second skip away from the mound he does on his follow-through. With their great pitching depth, it isn't like Houston is in a desperate hurry to retain him at the higher price he's seeking either. I'd be very into Blue Jay Verlander... maybe he can finally throw a no-hitter for the team even. Plus, signing him gives the necessary "We've For Real" PR stuff and blah blah make it happen.
#6. Xander Bogaerts (SS-BOS) -- .307/.377/.456 (5.8 WAR) - 131 OPS+ (career 117)
Few things in the world of baseball would please me more than the Blue Jays stealing the Red Sox's best player from right under their nose. Let me think about it a bit longer.... Wuhahaha! Ohhh yeah, that's the good stuff.
Bogaerts is a marvelous hitter, although looking at his recent production he seems to be settling into more of a doubles guy than somebody who is a serious threat to punish one over the fence. Does he just hit a bunch of high line drives off the Green Monster that could be homers in other parks? Anyhow, adding Bogaerts to the Blue Jays (while having the advantage of weakening a rival) would be similar to adding Trea Turner: doubling down on a team strength and becoming better by virtue of additional overall talent... it just isn't really what you need.
#7. Carlos Rodon (SP-SF) -- 14-8, 2.88 (5.4 WAR)
Could the Blue Jays steal an ace-level starter from the Giants for the second year in a row? In 2022 Rodon convincingly shook off those health concerns that blanketed him beforehand, setting a career high in innings (178) and strikeouts (226) while maintaining a reduction in walk frequency that began in his final White Sox season. He's going to get a big contract, and like any big contract for a pitcher with an overall iffy track record... it's going to be a high stakes affair.
I'm not sure if the Blue Jays have the cash for it: they already have multiple long term deals for pitchers on the books, and now considering the obvious outfield need... I lean to just trying to bring Stripling back for way cheaper and shorter term anyway. I've never been much of a Rodon fan anyhow, but I was also clearly very wrong about Kevin Gausman... so maybe don't listen to me. Now watch Rodon morph into late 90s Randy Johnson.
#8. Dansby Swanson (SS-ATL) -- .277/.329/.447 (5.7 WAR) - 115 OPS+ (career 95)
With any of the previous position players, my biggest arguments against them were really just how imperfectly they'd fit this current Blue Jays roster (except Aaron Judge. He'd fit any roster). Still, if the team somehow added any of those three star shortstops (Turner, Correa or Bogaerts) I'd be overjoyed. Bizarre fit be damned. Swanson is the first player on the list I'm truly a hard "no" on: I just don't think he's that good.
Okay okay, clearly he's a good player: a consistent league average-ish RH hitter who plays a pretty good shortstop. At age 28, maybe there's even a bit more to unlock with the bat... but is that really what Toronto needs at this point in time? Especially at what will certainly be a nine figure contract? Or that they already have a poor man's version of that player in Santiago Espinal? I'm not in love with what Swanson brings and definitely not in love with what he'd be able to bring to this team at the huge price he's going to get.
#9. Brandon Nimmo (CF-NYM) -- .274/.367/.433 (5.1 WAR) - 130 OPS+ (career 130)
On paper, Nimmo seems the precise kind of position player bat the Blue Jays need (and what many Jays fans have been openly pining for since Vlad Sr. was in the system it feels). A LH hitting center-fielder (who the metrics suggest is good enough out there to push Springer more permanently to a corner) with exceptional on-base skills? Give him whatever he wants and bat him second, right? Right?
It isn't quite that easy, although Nimmo's abilities sure look ideal (and I wrote that before the Teoscar trade). The health record is a major concern: he's only played over 100 games twice (2018 and 2022) and while his bat has been impressively consistent in spite of missing months at a time in his injury years (2019 and 2021, a neck and hand injury respectively) 2023 will be his age 30 season and we've seen another very good centerfielder in these northern parts struggle with injuries once crossing that threshold.
You could definitely talk me into Nimmo at the right cost, but on a mega-huge deal I'd be wary both of the injuries and how his production will age if the mild home run power completely dries up. Although, Citi Field isn't a great place to hit and Nimmo's been a notably better hitter on the road in his career (.850 OPS versus .802 at home) with more long flies as well. Yeah, it's pretty intriguing all right.
Before the Teo trade I was wary of a Nimmo deal north of 100 million. Well, I suppose I am still wary of that, but the potential positives are awfully seductive.
#10. Willson Contreras (C-CHC) -- .243/.349/.466 (3.9 WAR)
Aren't we the team with so many good catchers we're in a hurry to trade one of them away? It's more likely we sign Judge than this dude.
#11. Clayton Kershaw (SP-LAD) -- 12-3, 2.28 (3.8 WAR)
Only slightly more of a possibility than signing Contreras. Unlike that, this would be incredibly damn cool.
#12. Jose Abreu (1B/DH-CWS) -- .304/.378/.446 (4.2 WAR) - 133 OPS+ (134 career)
The slugging numbers have dipped somewhat as Abreu rolls through his mid-30s, but the man remains an absolute beast of a hitter regardless. If the catcher shuffle dance ends with the Jays trading Kirk, it's conceivable Abreu becomes somewhat of a fit as the full-time DH and mentor to some of the younger hitters. It'd be interesting... Abreu would look pretty darn good in that lineup, but it just seems so unlikely he leaves south Chicago. He's reached that particular level of "guys who'd look super weird in a different uniform".
#13. Anthony Rizzo (1B-NYY) -- .224/.338/.480 (2.3 WAR) - 131 OPS+ (127 career)
*this was written before Rizzo re-signed with the Yankees for two years
I'm on the record as being a Rizzo fan (and lamenting his recent Yankee-ness) but aside from being a LH willing to take a free pass? This doesn't fit on the Blue Jays. One of Rizzo's best attributes (1B defense) isn't really helpful here with the 1B Gold Glove winner blocking him at his only position, and he doesn't have the pure bat of a Jose Abreu to just be a DH. Those 32 homers are yet another in a long line of New Yankee Stadium mirages (19 of them were there) and while I'm quite high on Rizzo remaining a good and productive hitter for a while longer, he'll turn 34 next August. One of these days though.... one of these days we'll somehow get one of my beloved NL first basemen in Blue Jay blue... (*cough* freeJoeyVotto *cough*).
#14. Chris Bassitt (SP-NYM) -- 15-9, 3.42 (3.2 WAR)
As a mid-rotation guy, Bassitt is interesting. He's been a good pitcher since 2019 and seems reliably able to provide 150 terrific innings per season. The problem? He'll be 34, doesn't exactly have a great fastball and has spent his entire starting career in exceptional pitcher's parks (Oakland and Citi Field). Not to say it couldn't work in Toronto, but if we're looking at this type of pitcher I'd be more interested in just bringing Stripling back.
#15. Nathan Eovaldi (SP-BOS) -- 6-3, 3.87 (1.5 WAR)
Between Eovaldi and Bassitt, I'm more interested in Eovaldi. He doesn't quite have Bassitt's year-to-year consistency but is a year younger, has pitched a lot in the AL East bandboxes and gives you more swing and miss (not to mention Eovaldi just doesn't walk anybody ever). Probably a bigger risk than Bassitt when you consider Eovaldi's injury history, but paying big money for mid-rotation starters is usually a financial dice roll regardless. That's the game. Also, signing Eovaldi makes the Red Sox worse and I'm all on board for that.
#16. Tyler Anderson (SP-LAD) -- 15-5, 2.57 (4.3 WAR)
*This was written before Anderson signed a three year deal with the Angels. Poor guy
A soft throwing lefty journeyman who goes to the Dodgers and suddenly has a career year? Colour me unconvinced. Or rather, colour me unconvinced this is who he is now and will be for the 2023 Blue Jays were they to pony up the cash to sign him. His home run rate in 2022 as a Dodger was 0.7/9 innings, compared to 2021 and the 1.4 he put up in 103.1 innings as a Pirate or the 11 he surrendered in 63.2 innings as a Mariner. Pass.
#17. Andrew Benintendi (OF-KC/NYY) -- .304/.373/.399 (3.2 WAR) - 120 OPS+ (career 109)
I'm completely unsure what to think of Benintendi at this point. Coming up with the Red Sox, I thought he was going to be a star: a high average, all-fields hitting LH bat with insane defense in LF? Instead, Boston pulled the plug after a meh 2019 and shortened 2020 season, shipping him off to Kansas City purgatory. In a situation far from any spotlights he recovered his previous form enough for the Yankees to pick him up last trade deadline to help solve their outfield problems. Benintendi played decently there until suffering a hamate bone injury in early September which winded up ending his season.
He'd be an interesting fit as a Blue Jay. Still a solid defensive left-fielder, Benintendi would also bring particular skills this lineup lacks in abundance (left-handed hitting, above average plate discipline) and he's going into just his age 28 season. Still young enough where there might still be some development as he enters his prime years. To be honest as a fit I like him almost as much as Nimmo, to whom he is two years younger, will command a much smaller contract and has a much cleaner health record. The only drawback being that Benintendi isn't really a centerfielder (hasn't appeared there since 2019) and while his on base skills are terrific they're not at the elite level of Nimmo's. Can Benintendi play right, he asks? (the dewy teardrops still trickling down his face for Teo). The answer is probably not: Benintendi has never played there professionally.
Regardless, you could definitely talk me into this one. I'd prefer Nimmo sure (he is objectively the better player) but Benintendi could help this team in 2023 quite a bit also. Plus, I would love to see all of our spell-checkers groan in contempt every time we have to type "Benintendi". I know mine is. The constant misspellings themselves will be worth it.
#18. Kodi Senga (SP-NPB)
Hard to judge or gauge or assess or surmise or pontificate upon, seeing as I do not follow any Japanese baseball leagues (and even if I did, estimating how that translates to MLB seems a haphazard errand). By the accounts I've read it sounds like he has good stuff, so as an actual international big signing gamble (something this organization rarely does) I'd be down for it. Sometimes the unknown can be richly rewarding.
#19. Taylor Rogers (RP-SD/MIL) -- 4-8, 4.76, 31 SV (-0.7 WAR)
Rogers was part of that surprising Brewers-Padres move where the two teams swapped closers, with Josh Hader going the other way to San Diego. It didn't really seem to work out for either team, and now Rogers is hitting the market off a down year. He'll be 32, and while Toronto could definitely make use of any LH reliever (if only to help poor Tim Mayza) a lot of guaranteed cash for Rogers doesn't ease any of my concerns. He's got the swing and miss, sure, but he also seems awfully hittable for a late inning guy. At his absolute best he's a lefty Cimber. Unless it's a buy low bargain, no thanks.
#20. Martin Perez (SP-TEX) -- 12-8, 2.89 (5.0 WAR)
*Written before Perez accepted the qualifying offer from Texas
If you're going to have a career year, a contract year is mighty good timing. Before 2022, Perez fit the tailored suit of "mediocre MLB starting pitcher" his entire decade-long career. A left-hander who had always been exceedingly hittable (ask the 2015 Blue Jays in the ALDS), in 2022 Perez made an adjustment with his fastball usage and his OPS against dropped over 100 points from his career mark (.765) to .646. I tend to lean on the side of caution when stuff like this suddenly happens for a pitcher who hadn't previously ever really been any good... but he's also left-handed and the typical rules of the universe often do not apply to those types of fellows. It's definitely not a flashy choice regardless, and I can already hear the groanings of "cheapness" if the Blue Jays go this route. I personally wouldn't and don't think they will either.
#21. Jameson Taillon (SP-NYY) -- 14-5, 3.91 (1.3 WAR)
This one appeals to me. While injuries (which will be a nibbling concern for whoever signs him) have slowed him from the potential that made him a former #2 overall pick, Taillon when healthy has been a very good MLB pitcher. He doesn't walk anybody, misses plenty of bats and has been impressively consistent in his injury-free seasons. Throw in a Canadian connection (always good for the PR department) with the delight of stealing a good player from the Yankees... I think you've got a real winner here.
It's an interesting question down at this tier of the starting pitchers: is the team better off adding somebody like Taillon while bringing back Stripling, which would set your five man rotation in solid stone... or is it better aiming for the big splash (deGrom or Verlander) then hoping you can salvage something from Kikuchi or Mitch White? (or praying Tiedemann is ready by June... which seems a Hail Mary among prayers).
This assumes they even go any of these routes at all, of course. Regardless, in a vacuum I really like Taillon as a potential fit. Sign him up.
#22. Taijuan Walker (SP-NYM) 12-5, 3.49 (2.6 WAR)
Certainly a familiar name to Blue Jays fans, and who wouldn't want to see Walker dust off his classic "00" jersey and wear it once here again? Fella never even got to pitch a home game in Toronto.
Injury concerns surrounded Walker on the free agent market after his six start cameo for the Blue Jays in 2020, as before that season he'd made a total of four starts in two years. Those apprehensions have surely faded somewhat as Walker's time in Queens was remarkably consistent (29 starts in both seasons), performing very well both years aside from a second half hiccup in 2021. There's no question that when healthy, he's a good major league starter with a positive familiarity with the organization. Should the Blue Jays add a second tier starter it wouldn't surprise me at all if Walker is the direction they go, and it would be a solid thumbs up from me.
#23. J.D. Martinez (DH-BOS) .274/.341/.448 (1.1 WAR) - 117 OPS+ (career 132)
There's no real spot for him on this particular roster, Martinez will be 36 later in the 2023 season, was a terrible outfielder even six years ago (nevermind now) and his once godlike offensive skills seem to be slipping. Plus, I just don't like him. Strong pass.
#24. Justin Turner (3B-LAD) .278/.350/.438 (2.0 WAR) - 116 OPS+ (career 126)
Like J.D. Martinez with the diminishing bat, except even older. At least Turner can still play a defensive position somewhat decently though. The Blue Jays getting Turner made a lot more sense going into 2021, but with Matt Chapman here now this is about as awkward a fit as could be. Ain't happening.
#25. Jean Segura (2B-PHI) .277/.336/.387 (1.8 WAR) - 104 OPS+ (career 100)
An unusual player whose most dynamic offensive days seem well behind him, but he's settled into this extreme contact profile that has kept him a roughly league average bat the past few seasons. His "put everything in play" approach might be novel in Toronto's "all or nothing" lineup, but unless the Blue Jays aren't at all content for whatever reason with the Espinal-Merrifield-Biggio trio they've currently got set at second base, I don't see a Segura addition in the cards here. All three of those players may very well be better than Segura on their own anyhow.
#26. Jose Quintana (SP-PIT/StL) 6-7, 2.93 (3.4 WAR)
It looked like the end of the road was in sight for Quintana going into 2022. Now his steady strong work for the Cardinals down the stretch seems likely to guarantee him a multi-year deal. Not sure I'd want to be the one banking on that continuing. Actually, I'm quite sure I wouldn't want to be. Still, good on him and hopefully he lands somewhere more forgiving of his pitching style.
#27. Noah Syndergaard (SP-LAA/PHI) 10-10, 3.94 (1.8 WAR)
Seems very unlikely Thor will get the same one year 20+ million "prove it" contract he got from the Angels last winter. After two years of wandering Tommy John injury wilderness, Syndergaard was able to pitch 134.2 solid innings (his highest total since 2019) as a heavy strike thrower completely allergic to issuing walks. The big dip in strikeout rate (6.3 compared to 9.7 in his Mets career) is very concerning and indicative of his once mighty fastball dropping back into more of a low-mid 90s offering... while his work with the Phillies suggests he was rather fortunate to get the results he did while there.
If this is who he is now that's a very useful MLB starter at the back end of a rotation, with some upside perhaps. I'd kick the tires on that.
#28. Sean Manaea (SP-SD) 8-9, 4.96 (-0.9 WAR)
Once a hot trade chip for the perpetual fire sale that is the Oakland A's, Manaea now hits the free agent market as a buy low option for teams hoping to unlock the form he showed in Oakland. His home/road splits are deeply concerning (considering the friendly pitcher's parks he has enjoyed his entire career) and RH batters simply pulverized him in 2022 (25 HRs against). Normally I'd be all for this type of high-risk high-reward gamble with a talented LH starter, but we've already got one of those here on the books and that didn't go so well last year, did it? Heck, Manaea's first half of 2022 was pretty decent also (sound familiar?).
The upside is tantalizing, but let's allow someone else to take this particular chance.
#29. Corey Kluber (SP-TB) 10-10, 4.34 (0.7 WAR)
After an uncharacteristic hiccup in command while with the Yankees, In Tampa Bay Kluber rediscovered his trademark strikezone control, walking only 21 in 164 innings. While the days of Cy Kluber have long passed, at 37 he remains an effective MLB starter... the type of guy who could slot in and provide good innings for a team with a few established starters already at the top of a rotation. Probably agreeable towards a one year deal with incentives/options as well. 'Hmmmm!' he says aloud. Hmmmm indeed.
#30. Michael Conforto (OF) - career OPS+ 124
A true wildcard of the market. From 2017-20 Conforto was an exceptional hitter for the Mets, and even in his "down" year of 2021 he still posted a 100 OPS+ thanks to his strong OBP skills. However, he was never a great outfielder to begin with and after sitting out 2022 because of a shoulder issue... I can't imagine that time away from the action will have helped sharpen his abilities out there. While in theory he could play any of the three outfield slots, I imagine it would be ideal to keep him in right-field where he's most familiar.
It's an interesting one. The upside with the bat is mighty tempting (he brings a lot of what the Blue Jays surely need) and being a free agent with so many unknowns swirling around him, there may possibly be a short-term bargain to be had. It's even an interesting question which of these Mets outfielders one would rather take a shot on: Conforto or Nimmo? One gives you more power upside and less financial commitment one thinks, the other a more well-rounded player profile plus the elite plate discipline. Both have serious uncertainties about them as well. Not gonna lie, I'm hoping we score at least one of these guys... as for which one I'm honestly undecided.
#31. Trey Mancini (1B-BAL/HOU) .239/.319/.391 (1.4 WAR) - 101 OPS+ (career 113)
Postseason struggles aside, Mancini's recovery and return from colon cancer is truly one of MLB's better stories of the past few years. There isn't a fit for him on the 2023 Blue Jays, but I imagine at worst somebody will offer him an almost full-time DH/1B gig as a veteran presence and influence for their youngsters.
#32. Johnny Cueto (SP-CWS) 8-10, 3.35 (3.5 WAR)
Not a whole lot went right for the 2022 White Sox, but the return of The Shimmy was one of the more positive storylines on the south side of Chicago.
After signing his big six year free agent deal with San Francisco in 2016, to say Johnny Cueto experienced some ups and downs would insult a roller coaster. In his first year he pitched great (18-5, 2.79), making his second all-star team and finishing 6th in NL Cy Young voting. A good beginning in the deal for the now 30 year old, although the wild card winning Giants themselves could not extend their bizarre streak of winning titles in even numbered years (2010, 12 and 14). 2017 was a much different story, as Cueto (8-8, 4.52) never seemed able to get on track and then missed a couple of months down the stretch due to blisters and later a forearm strain... not that it mattered since the Giants cratered to 98 losses.
The 2018 season came around and right away he looked like the Cueto of old: he only allowed one run in his first four starts and just 13 hits in 26 innings. After beating the Dodgers on April 28th, he was 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA. He wouldn't pitch again for the Giants until July... and on his return pitched rather poorly (0-2, 6.86 and an 1.050 OPS against) until finally having the plug pulled. Cueto's elbow had started barking at him, and despite initial hopes of evasion the Tommy John knife was calling. He wouldn't make it back onto a major league mound until September 10th (good day) 2018, where he beat the Pirates with five shutout innings.
Cueto managed to remain healthy and make all of his starts in the shortened 2020 season... problem was he wasn't very good (2-3, 5.40 with a heightened walk rate, unusual for the typically stingy right-hander). He corrected this glitch in 2021 but despite a quietly decent season (7-7, 4.08) with the Giants, the contract was up and Cueto had to settle for a minor league invite to spring training with the White Sox. On May 16th, Chicago called him up for a start in Kansas City...
...and he pitched just brilliantly that night and onward, of course. His only bad run was September (which was just a bad time for the White Sox in general... nobody likes an eight game losing streak when you're in a playoff race). Aside from that, Cueto was consistently stellar in every other month he appeared. 37 in February, one figures this time around Cueto will get a deal with an actual MLB guarantee, although the obvious diminishing strikeout stuff (just 102 in 158.1 innings) suggests the amount won't break anyone's bank.
At this point you might be asking: "why the heck is this guy going on about Johnny Cueto so long?". Well, (shocker) I'd love to see Cueto as a Blue Jay... he is just so marvelously funky and delightful to watch. Plus, the dude can still pitch it seems. He could help! Cueto throws what seems like 120 different pitches and speeds, with that constantly shapeshifting delivery to throw the hitter off even more. Maybe his raw stuff isn't lethal or devastating anymore, the 97mph fastball long gone... but so much of pitching is disrupting timing and few are better or more unique at it than Cueto. Exhibit A: he allowed a lower than league average HR/9 rate despite pitching his home games in dinger friendly New Comiskey Park (I don't give two hoots what it's actually called), and he allowed half as many home runs on the road in a similar amount of innings. Dude knows what he's doing, always has. Sign me up.
#33. Andrew Heaney (SP-LAD) 4-4, 3.10 (0.7 WAR)
110 strikeouts in 72.2 innings certainly grabs the eye, which has to be one of the more painful sounding idioms. With Heaney, I see a lot of Robbie Ray parallel: both lefties with elite strikeout stuff and problems with the long ball. Heaney has been better at limiting free passes, Ray better at preventing hits and actually staying on a mound (pretty important point for Ray I'd say). They're also about the same age (Heaney is five months older), which surprised me. I guess since Heaney has been something of a project for a while, I forgot he actually, you know, ages.
The tasty upside is definitely the appeal here, but getting even 100 innings out of him seems hard to guarantee. It's a signing I'd be okay with, within reason I suppose. Definitely the type of high-risk move that at multiple years can look reeeeeal bad if it goes sideways... and that home run rate really concerns me.
#34. Ross Stripling (SP-TOR) 10-4, 3.01 (2.7 WAR)
We know this guy pretty well, and I'm extremely in favour of bringing him back. He doesn't possess anything resembling the tantalizing stuff of pitchers higher on this list, but Stripling just knows what he's doing out there. A true thinking man's pitcher and player. Aside from a big splash like deGrom, Verlander, Rodon... or the sheer fun of Cueto... I like Strip quite a bit better than anybody else on the list. Eovaldi would be close. Bring him back!
#35. Michael Brantley (DH-HOU) .288/.370/.416 (1.3 WAR) - 125 OPS+ (career 117)
Betting on a 36 year old coming off a major season ending injury should surely fill folks with more caution than it seems to. He really isn't an outfielder anymore either, and his addition to the Blue Jays will certainly require some other pieces moving out (as it would've when he almost joined the team in 2020). EDIT: that prediction sadly aged well.
Still... Brantley is a terrific gap hitter with great contact and discipline skills, the exact type of hitter a contender can make plenty use of. While a LH hitter with better versatility (and health record) would be ideal, there's no denying the offensive ability he brings would be a seamless fit in Toronto. Instead of an Astros steal, maybe this time they seal the deal for real thanks to help from Bradley Beal over a meal dressed in teal. *bows* Thank you, thank you...
#36. Jurickson Profar (LF-SD) .243/.331/.391 (3.1 WAR) - 111 OPS+ (career 94)
Profar is one of those guys who is only versatile in theory: he has significant experience all over the infield and outfield, but isn't especially adept at any one of those positions. It is fairly telling that the Padres finally just planted him in left-field for the entire season, which did seem to agree with his bat at least. He also has an odd habit of alternating good years with meh ones, and even so the ceiling is a low average hitter with moderate on base skills and okay home run power. If left-field is truly his permanent home... aside from being a LH hitter (he actually hits both ways and his splits are pretty even), I think Toronto has to aim significantly higher. In his good years Profar is useful but not a lineup changer.
#37. Brandon Drury (IF-CIN/SD) .263/.320/.492 (2.6 WAR) - 122 OPS+ (career 93)
No doubt he unlocked something in his swing since mercifully leaving us in Toronto. His numbers as a Padre were merely okay (compared to his great run as a Red) but good enough that some team will guarantee him a job at some position. Even if he really is now the guy he was in Cincinnati... I'm still scarred from watching all those ABs of him as a Jay helplessly flailing away at pitches like an uncoordinated kitten. No thanks.
#38. Josh Bell (1B-SD) .266/.362/.422 (3.0 WAR) - 128 OPS+ (career 120)
Verrrrry interesting. Aside from 2020 (which has to be considered an excusable outlier for many players) Bell has been a consistently terrific middle of the order bat. He brings strong plate discipline, doesn't strikeout excessively and is a switch hitter (career-wise a bit better from the LH side, .827 OPS versus .767, though in 2022 that was reversed). Sounds like the perfect bat to add to this RH Blue Jays lineup, right?
Well... he can only play first base (he's played a handful of games in the OF sure, but he's listed at 6'4 261... you really wanna see that?). Adding Bell likely means you're bringing him in to mostly DH, which likely requires moving other guys out (again written before the Teo trade) and hoping Springer can last a full season in the outfield (good luck). His rather bad performance in limited time as a Padre certainly gives one some pause as well. Damn... I really love that bat at its best though. If right, he'd surely mash in the AL East. Maybe just sign him up damn it, ask questions later.
#39. Michael Wacha (SP-BOS) 11-2, 3.32 (3.3 WAR)
The body of work when it comes to Wacha is far from sexy: after starting his career as the Next Great Cardinals Pitcher(TM)... Wacha wandered through mediocrity and badness (even the Rays couldn't figure him out. The Rays!) until somehow figuring it out with the 2022 Red Sox. The trick seemed to be becoming just slightly harder to hit, which could've been entirely BABip luck as none of his other stats (HR/9, walks or strikeouts) changed all that much. Has he figured something out to finally become a consistently good MLB starter at age 31? That's the gamble a team will take. Not here though I hope, please. I wasn't impressed from what I saw.
#40. Kevin Kiermaier (CF-TB) .228/.281/.369 (1.1 WAR) - 89 OPS+ (career 98)
I think at this point after nearly a decade of him torturing us, bringing in Kiermaier would have a poetry to it. You're certainly not signing him for his bat though... he's never been adept at getting on base (a shame considering what an insane and wonderful baserunner he is) and he hasn't hit for any notable power in half a decade. At 33, you'd be bringing him in as a spare part: hoping his elite CF defense is still intact and maybe shielding him against tougher LH pitchers. It'd be interesting... if healthy (another big question with Kiermaier) he provides a lot of stuff this team sorely lacks. I can see the logic of giving it a shot.
#41. Chad Green (RP-NYY)
He's recovering from Tommy John surgery, which considering the injury happened early in the 2022 season, gives him a very outside chance of returning to help a team down the stretch run of 2023. Certainly an excellent reliever with a power fastball and is no stranger to multiple inning outings (at least before the injury), he'd be exactly what the Jays pen could use if he wasn't hurt (whereas the Blue Jays need help and now). Someone will bet on him with a two year incentive filled deal, no doubt.
#42. Mike Clevinger (SP-SD) 7-7, 4.33 (0.6 WAR)
San Diego's trade for Clevinger back in 2020 didn't turn out too well for the Friars. When able to pitch (133.1 innings in two and a half years) Clevinger was somewhat close to his excellence with Cleveland, just with substantially fewer strikeouts... meanwhile the Guardians enjoy the very affordable employment of Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill, Gabriel Arias, Owen Miller and Austin Hedges. Yikes.
Clevinger will be 32 next season and seems a good bet to be a useful arm in a big league rotation... assuming his strikeout rate doesn't continue plummeting and he can actually stay on a mound. Both are significant questions... 2022 was his first real season pitching significant innings since 2019, so it's possible some of the "stuff" concerns were part of shaking off that rust... for his sake that is hopefully the case. Otherwise... uh-oh. Worth a flyer, perhaps? Maybe you can get 120 useful innings from him, but relying on him to fully return to his previous levels would be quite unwise.
#43. Matt Carpenter (OF/1B-NYY) .305/.412/.727 (2.4 WAR) - 217(!) OPS+ (career 124)
I don't care if it's all because he got hot for six weeks and was completely a Yankee Stadium mirage... make it happen Toronto. He was the best hitter* on the Yankees!
*obviously not true
Vintage Carpenter would actually be the perfect LH compliment to the big RH Blue Jay sluggers. That version of Carpenter hasn't existed since 2018 (mirages aside) and even in his prime he was a bad defender everywhere... goddamnit I still don't care. Sign him! What a bench bat/platoon OF that could be. This has been Eephus' Annual Dose of Extreme Irrationality, non Votto category of course.
#44. Kenley Jansen (RP-ATL) 5-2, 3.38, 41 SV (0.9 WAR)
Jansen appears to be aging gracefully into the sunset of his fine career. He still strikes out plenty of batters, isn't easy to hit and isn't exceedingly generous with the free pass (although strangely that has been a notable part of his game that has worsened into his mid 30s). Looks like an excellent choice for set-up man and occasional closer for Jordan Romano to me (his presence would be great so to not work Romano into the ground for instance), but I imagine Jansen probably still wants to save games for somebody and he's still good enough that the opportunity will present itself somewhere else. Besides, he doesn't throw 100 anymore and that's what we really need according to everybody apparently.
#45. Omar Narvaez (C-MIL) .206/.292/.305 (0.2 WAR) - 71 OPS+ (career 100)
He's a good hitting (for a) catcher coming off a big down year. We have plenty of those, except none of them are coming off down years.
#46. Christian Vazquez (C-BOS/HOU) .274/.315/.399 (2.0 WAR) - 99 OPS+ (career 85)
Watching the World Series I was a bit surprised Houston kept playing the feather-light hitting Martin Maldonado over Vazquez, who isn't exactly a defensive slouch either. Of course, the Astros just won the World Series while the very idea of catching a single inning in the TMBL makes my shoulder ache in protest.
Vazquez is a quality everyday catcher and blah blah blah we all know the Blue Jays don't need that at the moment.
#47. Mitch Haniger (RF-SEA) .246/.308/.429 (1.3 WAR) - 114 OPS+ (career 123)
Anybody who can launch 39 home runs out of that park in Seattle (as Haniger did in 2021) is certainly worthy of attention. An ankle injury robbed Haniger of half the 2022 season and staying on the field has been his biggest obstacle since his breakout 2018 season. He's a very good hitter when he can get out there, but the profile (RH with plenty of power, loves to swing, so-so defensively in the OF corners) sounds awfully darn familiar. Hard to see it happening beyond a bunch of other moving pieces and Haniger's market completely craters...
...and then we traded Teo to those same stupid Mariners, so maybe we steal Haniger from them? At least get something out of that damn trad--- I mean Eric Swanson is going to be the new Kirby Yates, of course! In seriousness, that splitter does look darn nasty I gotta say...
#48. Joc Pederson (LF-SF) .274/.353/.521 (1.3 WAR) - 144 OPS+ (career 116)
*written before Pederson accepted the Giants qualifying offer
Not a model of consistency by any measure. Well, I suppose he consistently bats left-handed, which will appeal to fans in these parts.
I like Pederson and can forsee a situation where he fills the Corey Dickerson role from 2021 (ideally without having to start him ever in CF). He can be a great hitter (especially if you hide him from lefties) as he was for the Giants, and is patient enough to get on base at a respectable rate. He isn't a good outfielder anymore, if he ever was, and while San Francisco isn't an easy place to roam Pederson never had top-notch speed to begin with. I figure you can stick him in the SkyDome left-field the majority of the time and he'd be okay-ish... looking more comfortable than Tapia at the very least (few don't... oh Tapia).
As for Pederson's bat? Who knows. Dude has had all-star level seasons with the stick, and yet the one time he played in a great hitter's ballpark (Wrigley) he was underwhelming. I'd approve of the gamble, but if he isn't hitting it over the fence there's not a lot else he gives you.
#49. Zach Eflin (P-PHI) 3-5, 4.04 (0.9 WAR)
Eflin is your prototypical "very average" MLB starter when healthy. Prone to giving up hits but walking almost nobody, and unfortunately has struggled in recent years to stay out there consistently. Hmmmm...
Reminds me a bit of Collin McHugh, who actually was a very good and healthy starter for a few years until injuries shifted him over to the bullpen full-time, where he's been just absurdly excellent ever since. McHugh was 31 when this happened and while Eflin turns 29 close to Opening Day 2023... well I think you see what I'm thinking here. It'd probably be a tough sell: you'd have to convince Eflin this is best for his career, and at this point and age it honestly might not be yet. It's still an interesting idea.
Looking at him as a starter for the 2023 Blue Jays... if you can keep him out there I can see a path where he's reasonably effective. He misses enough bats and the dude really doesn't walk anybody. But, Eflin has been so hittable I wonder if those positives would matter in the DOOM like brutality of the AL East. I like my first idea better.
#50. Craig Kimbrel (RP-LAD) 6-7, 3.75, 22 SV (0.2 WAR)
A heck of a name here at the last spot on the list, and possibly one willing to sign relatively cheap.
There's a reason: Kimbrel has been mostly bad the past four seasons. Take away his 39 games as a Cub in 2021... it's possible he doesn't even earn an MLB deal this winter. The explanation is simple: in his Atlanta days (where he was the greatest reliever who ever lived for a while) his lightning fastball was so overwhelming to opposing batters that it didn't matter where he threw the ball... nobody could even touch him. This meant it never mattered if he walked a guy every other inning, because the other team would have to somehow align together the base hit they'd also get every other inning against him to have any hope of scoring a run. Now? Teams are batting .220 against him instead of .140, while his walk rate has remained consistently poor (3.7/9). His once absurd strikeout rate (14.8/9 in Atlanta) fell to 10.8/9 as a Dodger, which can't be helpful either.
At 34, he isn't going to fundamentally change. This is who he is. Is that worth Toronto taking a look? Their bullpen needs swing-and-miss stuff, which is basically the only thing Kimbrel has! You know... I'd actually be tempted. Installing him as the closer instantly would be beyond stupid of course... Romano has been a far better pitcher than Kimbrel since 2020. But maybe you take a cheap look, maybe see if there's a way to recover some of his lost fastball velocity or tweak his breaking pitch. On a cheap, no role guaranteed flyer? Sure why not.
Objectively though... Kimbrel is approaching cooked territory and if a team gives him a big deal because he's a name (*cough* Colorado probably *cough*) it'll almost certainly be a serious blunder.
I'll make these quick, we're already 300,000,000 words into this darn thing.
Carlos Estevez (RP-COL) -Never heard of him. Also, those numbers look like Anthony Bass except bad. Big fastball? Sure but little else impresses.
Andrew Chafin (RP-DET) -The moustache is killer, and he's a lefty. Hmmm... don't approve of his Bart killing policy but I do approve of his Selma killing policy...
David Robertson (RP-CHC/PHI) -Robertson has always been fun to watch with that big curveball, and Sweet Home Alabama is his entrance music (very hilarious). Gotta cut the late career flirtation with walks out though.
Adam Ottavino (RP-NYM) -Remember when the Yankees gave him away for nothing? He was actually really good for the Mets. And he's gonna be 37. You could do worse.
Chris Martin (RP-CHC/LAD) -He's just been a good reliever for many years now when healthy. And the jokes right themselves! Fine, I'll keep them in my place.
Drew Rucinski (P) -Who? A journeyman arm potentially coming back after success in the KBO. He'll be 34 next season. Okay then.
Elvis Andrus (SS-OAK/CWS) -Thanks but this Elvis has already helped out the Blue Jays plenty.
Brandon Belt (1B-SF) -I love Belt (it's a LH NL first baseman thing it seems) but he isn't ever leaving the Giants
Aledmys Diaz (UT-HOU) -If we have to lose Trent Thornton as compensation then lets do it.
Michael Fulmer (RP-DET/MIN) -Hey, why so low? I thought this guy was a lights out reliever and *checks numbers* oh. Oh.
Joey Gallo (OF-NYY/LAD) -When right, Gallo's specific skills fit perfectly here. Make this happen if only to make Drew Fairservice happy.
Evan Longoria (3B-SF) -Ask me next year if Chapman walks
Seth Lugo (RP-NYM) -Aside from the dingers... sure I guess?
Wil Myers (1B-SD) -I legit thought Myers would be a star. Decent career overall I guess. Doesn't fit here though.
Matt Moore (RP-TEX) -If you're left-handed, somebody will give you a chance to pitch forever. Still walks way too many guys, but a nice year all the same.
Drew Smyly (SP-CHC) -He's pretty darn good when you can get him out there, which has always been the problem of course.
This doesn't cover all of the potential non-tender candidates of course, the headliner among those a former NL MVP in Dodger outfielder Cody Bellinger. Now there's a roll of the dice right there... Bellinger has been completely awful the past two seasons (he posted the worst OBP of any qualified National League hitter)... like seriously he's been comically bad. And yet, he's a LH hitting outfielder (who by accounts plays CF quite well) who is only 27 years old with multiple 4 WAR seasons on his resume. Even if Bellinger could provide something similar to his 2020 season (.239/.333/.455) while playing good defense... the 2023 Blue Jays would have to be pleased to have that. There's also the very real possibility he's completely cooked as a hitter... making any kind of long term investment a Heyward-like problem (J-Hey is a free agent too, if anybody is morbidly interested in that stick). It will be fascinating to see what Bellinger gets, if he winds up as a free agent at all (if he does, you really have to take a look).
Anyhow, so ends another exhaustive look at the 2022 MLB Free Agent pool. Odds are the Blue Jays will sign a few of these names... I darn well hope so this was a lot of work! If there's anybody under the radar I missed, let me know and have at it.