Reviewing MLBTR's Top 50 2023 MLB Free Agents

Friday, November 24 2023 @ 06:36 AM EST

Contributed by: Eephus

Traditions are traditions, even silly ones.

So obvious disclaimer! I certainly don't plan on taking this exercise remotely seriously. 

At least, serious as far as intentional analysis goes. Not exactly my bag to begin with... and coming off of a season where I'm now happy to cynically shrug off almost whatever move the team makes this winter? Go Team Whatever? Clearly I'm the perfect man for this optimistic mission...  the 2024 Blue Jays would be a better team with both Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto? Gee I'm shocked.

Snarky disclaimer now aside... how does this upcoming free agent class appeal in helping the current Toronto Blue Jays improve their roster? Answer: even my optimism is feeling Pizza Pizza level realistic (if you don't live in Ontario and don't get my reference, please don't look it up). Nevertheless... this free agent breakdown has been a fun exercise the past few winters and so, going by MLB Trade Rumours Top 50 Free Agents... here are my baseless, emotional, likely foolish assessments of each player's potential value of joining your 2024 Blue Jays. 

Away we go...

#1. Shohei Ohtani (LAA -- SP/DH) * AL MVP

I mean... duh. Duh! Sign this man. Just do it. He's very likely the greatest baseball player to ever walk the Earth. Rogers can afford it (although apparently Edward Rogers balked at bringing a WNBA team to Toronto, so thanks. Total faith this operation is thinking forwardly)... but whatever. It won't happen. If it did? Lets go. Money is money, and caution with it is an ideal path... but if all Shohei Ohtani costs is money... when you have obscene amounts of it... you at least have to try. Your best.

#2. Cody Bellinger (CHC -- OF/1B)

Count me wary of Bellinger, there's a lot of bad in the profile... although I think it's far more likely he's a terrific player for the next half decade than a washout. It's the washout risk that gives me pause... and for somebody about to score a larger contract than George Springer did (and sure George was a little older at the time)... Springer's track record was far more accomplished and consistently excellent. 

In a weak position player class, somebody's gonna play too much for what Bellinger does (or can potentially do). He's a good outfielder, can draw a walk, strikes out a ton and will knock one over the fence for ya. Sounds like a really good #5 hitter to me, a very valuable piece at his peak... not somebody throwing an entire bank at. Depends on the bank, of course.

#3. Yoshinobu Yamamoto (JPL -- SP)

"We have enough pitching already!", you say? By 2023 evidence, sure... but when it comes to the ye old tale of a pitching staff... oh how quickly the ground beneath you can quake and collapse.

And be real. If you go into 2024 relying on the same level of consistency from those starters, hey I admire the positive thinking (what's your secret?) but do yourself a favour and don't wager anything serious on it. Considering track records? Entirely possible. Considering stupid luck and its blind torpedoes? I've seen too many good plans fail spectacularly.

I don't like handing Alek Manoah the 5th starter job without a serious challenge (sorry Bowden Francis). Signing Yamamoto, as clearly in demand as he is, would be a huge play in the opposite direction of that... and arguments of allocating resources aside blah blah blah Yamamoto looks fun. Fun! And this team needs some goddamn fun again, compared to the Seventh Seal march to inevitable death it so skillfully cosplayed last year. Plus you have a bit of a tradable strength here... affordable established starting pitching for something useful.... Kikuchi and Nate Pearson for Matt McLain there done it everyone close your textbooks I retire. 

#4. Blake Snell (SD -- SP) *NL Cy Young

Yamamoto excites me way more than Blake Snell. Why is that? Snell is an established excellent MLB pitcher, probably about to win a second Cy Young (two in different leagues) and *** EDIT: He did win that second Cy ***  

His track record screams quality. Perhaps it's the excitement that comes from the unknown? Something that maybe no one was ever seen before? I've seen Blake Snell before... he's very very good, hard to hit, loses the strike zone often (and thus struggles to go deep into games fairly often). I wouldn't protest if the Jays added Snell, but I'd be very surprised if it happened.

#5. Aaron Nola (SD -- SP)

I was extremely onboard with Toronto signing Nola, until the Phillies brought him back. At that contract... I still like Nola, but not quite that much.

#6. Jordan Montgomery (StL/TEX -- SP)

Let's just all laugh at the Yankees for trading him away for essentially two good weeks of Harrison Bader. Whoops. 

Montgomery is a good pitcher who will get handsomely paid by someone. He's earned it... Lefty knows what he's doing up there.

#7. Matt Chapman (TOR -- 3B)

We know him fairly well, and the vibe seems fairly strong that he ain't coming back. He's a mighty fine player, hard to replace, but also such an infuriating hitter to watch I suspect his defensive magic will be his only Toronto legacy. And even said magic seemed to be waning in the past season... his instant step devolving to great from excellent. 

I liked Chapman but... I grew to expect him whiffing on sixty million fastballs down the middle. Curious to see where his career goes from here: honestly for me it's 50/50 he rebounds into a fringe MVP candidate or the bat completely falls off the cliff... with the likely result somewhere in the sticky, infuriating middle. That likely result is one I'm cool shaking hands and moving on from.

#8. Josh Hader (SD -- RP)

No thanks.

#9. Sonny Gray (SP)

Yes thanks.

If the Blue Jays decide to zag when they should obviously zig, adding Sonny Gray to their rotation almost writes itself. Here's yet another #3 starter! This team already has five of those! But they're all good enough to easily be the ace of the Rockies or the Pirates!

Gray is superb. His well-timed season puts his price a little too far beyond what Toronto probably is looking for, if looking for starting pitching. Don't go back to the Yankees, Sonny. They hated you! Now the Dodgers... yeah, you'll somehow be 10-2 with a 1.91 and start the all-star game. You heard it here first, Bauxites.

#10. Shota Imanaga (JPCL -- SP)

A short Japanese left-hander who just turned 30 in September, with impressively consistent results in the NPB. Intrigued enough to say... why the heck not.

#11. Eduardo Rodriguez (SP)

His weird Tigers tenure intrigues me more than his potential joining of the Blue Jays. He's a very good pitcher... just not into it at this moment.

#12. Teoscar Hernandez (OF/DH)

The heart says yes. Yes! Mr. Seeds is back....

Teo is such a delight, and this sorry baseball 2023 squad was badly in need of delight. But... signing Hernandez now I have my hesitations. I wonder how he ages: is he more Nelson Cruz or Mark Trumbo? Sure, his defense has improved into the range of serviceable, but now he's getting to the age where that can reverse quite sharply. Unlike a, say... Jose Bautista... Teo doesn't walk enough to make a modest decline in pop tolerable.

I don't know, frankly. But I'd lean into bringing him back. The obvious tiebreaker, heart versus mind, is that the heart wants the vibes back. A player you like cheering for beyond a fresh set of laundry.

#13. Jeimer Candelario (WSH/CHC -- 3B)

Lets not. Overpaying for meh?-to-good players in free agency rarely ends with: "I'm sure glad we signed that guy for more years and commitment than anybody else would". 

Third base is about to be a hole, sure... but the internal options interest me way more than blocking them for a very average player*.

*you all can roast me on this come June 23rd, 2024

#14. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (ARZ -- LF)

Like Teoscar Hernandez, it would be fun to have Pina Power back. 

He's not as good a player though, despite his amazing hot streaks (which are always balanced out by the ice cold ones). And watching the postseason, he's still an unpredictable adventure in the outfield. A chuckle each time he made a leaping catch, the announcers proclaiming "He's such a good defender! Ho Boy!"... when it was his initially terrible read that necessitated the leap at all. But he does catch them.... and his lethal arm continues to snipe foolish baserunners. What an odd player. But an objectively good one.

#15. Jung Hoo Lee (KBO -- OF)

Colour me extremely interested... although those who don't hit for a lot of home run power overseas always worry me somewhat (call it the Skogo Akiyama effect). But I really like the package Lee has, plus the age (only 25, whereas Akiyama was 32 when he came to the Reds). I'd be very down for this... it wouldn't much address the lack of power in the lineup but one would figure its an upside play on Lee developing more of that as he enters his prime, while jumping into a useful MLB role fairly quickly. Flip a coin.

#16. Jorge Soler (FLA -- DH/"OF")

Can you hide somebody like Soler in left-field because you have an absolute steer manning center in Varsho? Honestly... probably once in a while. Fenway Park springs to mind. 

Soler's power is enticing of course, but I'd be concerned with how inconsistent Soler is from year to year. The outcomes are endless: he could lead the American League in homers (which he has done), or go bat .202 while making an obscene number of outs. He'll be 32 when the season starts and is already a dreadful fielder. You could talk me into a short-term, two year deal but anything longer than that seems reckless.

#17. Lucas Giolito (CWS-LAA-CLE -- SP)

All your mid-rotation starters are belong to us! there's a joke I should've Gee-o-let it go.

(why are all these tomatoes hitting me????)

Giolito is interesting but he hasn't been all that good the past two seasons. I suppose he was decent in the White Sox half of 2023, but then absolutely horrible in the Angels/Guardians half. Just a guy*

*"just a guy" is exactly how I referred to Kevin Gausman multiple times in previous articles like this. I've been quite wrong before. Glad to be wrong on that one.

#18. Marcus Stroman (CHC -- SP)

I'd love to have the Stro Show back. When healthy (a 2023 injury completely derailed the second half of his season) he's still an extremely good pitcher... pounding the infield dirt and grass into clouds of dust via the groundballs he serves on the menu.  Stroman is about to turn 33, and I imagine will be looking for one last big contract. Getting him seems like such a Dodgers play anyhow.

#19. Seth Lugo (SD -- SP)

Longtime swingman makes good! He's the Ross Stripling of this year's free agent class. An older pitcher finally getting a chance at starting most of an entire season and turning in a career year. Happy for him, go get paid. It makes little sense for it to be here, obviously.

#20. J.D. Martinez (LAD -- DH)

Like Jorge Soler except without even the faint notion he can play a defensive position. Martinez is also older, but also a much more consistently terrific hitter: he's had an OPS over .860 in 8 of the past 10 seasons... and one of those was the shortened 2020 year (where he really struggled). He's a really, really good hitter... but signing him means you're locking in the DH spot most games. It's not the craziest idea but it depends how you value your flexibility. If you're wondering, Martinez has played 12 defensive innings the past two seasons (in LF for the Dodgers this past year).

#21. Jordan Hicks (StL/TOR -- RP)

Great having ya. Someone is gonna see that 103 MPH fastball and throw him a truck of money, thinking they can unlock its fullest potential. Sounds like a very Rockies thing to do. 

#22. Jack Flaherty (StL/BAL -- SP)

We're entering the reclaimation project tier of starting pitchers, where I realistically could see the Blue Jays taking a flyer on someone and Flaherty would be a compelling choice. He seems to have just completely lost the strikezone the past couple seasons and neither the Cardinals or the Orioles could help him locate it again. Pete Walker appears to have a certain touch with these types of things.

#23. Mitch Garver (TEX -- DH/C)

Another limited defensive player but like J.D. Martinez the bat is mighty intriguing. Unlike Martinez, Garver just can't stay on the field: he hasn't played more than 93 games in the past five seasons (and before you say it yeah he only played 23 in the shortened season). He's quite a bat when he can get out there, but therein lies the rub. He'll also be 33 when the season starts, which is not an age where injuries tend to go away.

#24. Michael Wacha (SD -- SP)

Wacha has actually been very good the past couple seasons, so he's looking for the big payday I imagine. Doesn't really fit here.

#25. Kenta Maeda (MIN -- SP)

I like this type of guy as a, which I mentioned earlier, "lets not just hand Alek Manoah a rotation spot" play. Maeda probably can't give you more than 100 innings but they'll be quality and he is rather funky to watch. Not a bad idea, but not a headline move either.

#26. Rhys Hoskins (PHI -- 1B/DH)

A few people here have thrown the Hoskins idea out there, and I also heard Arden Zwelling mention it on the At The Letters podcast, so I'll throw my take into the vast ring as well. I think it's a great idea: buying low on an elite hitter who just missed an entire season and will likely want a shorter term deal to rebuild his value. 

Some have suggested even trying him as the left-fielder! I think that's a completely terrible idea! He's coming off a severe lower body injury, hasn't played the outfield at all since he was 25 (he'll be 31 opening day), and he was one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball when he did! 

Nevertheless, Hoskins would do just fine as a DH and occasional first-baseman. I think it's a nice high-reward gamble should the Blue Jays decide to pursue this avenue.  

#27. Robert Stephenson (PIT/TB -- RP)

Man... if you're a big-armed reliever who has been passed around the league for a while, possibly even and/or a former starting pitching prospect that failed... at this point aren't you just praying to get traded to Tampa Bay? Because odds are they're gonna tweak ya, you'll put up an ERA of like 1.20 for half a season and all of a sudden you're a free agent about to get paid. 

Stephenson is a particularly notable name to me since he was the Reds Great Pitching Hope some time ago, in the sad era of Johnny Cueto being gone, Homer Bailey expensively falling into the core of the Earth and the ghosts of Scott Feldman and Matt Harvey were inhaling significant innings. A move to the pen didn't help Stephenson's consistency, and after matching good half seasons with bad ones for the Rockies and Pirates, the Rays got their hands on him, told him to throw way more cut fastballs, and all of a sudden he completely stopped giving up hits or walks and replaced those with strikeouts. Usually a good idea.

It obviously won't be the Blue Jays, but whoever throws a bag at him will be banking on that increased cutter usage unlocking some kind of elite pitch... and if so a guy who can be a strong setup man on a potential playoff team. A random one I'm curious about. 

#28. Yariel Rodriguez (JPCL -- RP)

A very skinny Cuban reliever who has pitched well in Japan the past few seasons. The numbers, beyond allowing few hits, don't blow you away... but what do I know? Clearly, as you must know this deep into this piece... nothing!

#29. Reynaldo Lopez (CWS/LAA/CLE -- RP)

The Atlanta Barves signed him between the time I started this piece and the time I got down to Lopez on the list... so I don't have to waste any more words on him. Thanks, Alex Anthopoulos! You have saved me several minutes of my life. 

#30. Mike Clevinger (CWS -- SP)

Dude has been a pretty effective starting pitcher when he's been physically capable of taking a mound, which I was surprised to learn has been 47 starts over the past two seasons. While he's never been a perfect picture of prompt probable prosperous pitching perpetuity (precisely)... it's mainly the one major injury, suffered almost immediately upon joining the Padres, that has made the significant gap in his career.

While I'd wager Clevinger can be a useful MLB starting pitcher for some time longer, there are concerning trends. Mainly, he'll be 33 on opening day and his strikeout percentage has been a nudge below league in both seasons since the injury. As such, he strikes me as more of a guy that a meh-to-bad team signs on a short deal, and then cashes in on as a trade chip should their team be terrible and Clevinger appeal to a contender looking for bottom rotation help. 

#31. Kevin Kiermaier (TOR -- CF)

It was very, very fun watching him play on our side for a change. All is forgiven and then some. I'm struck by how healthy Kevin was this past season: Appearing in 129 games is tied for the second most in his entire career. He's about to be 34 and considering how hard he plays, how playing on real grass will be much better for his creaky hip, and that the Blue Jays have an obvious replacement with minimal defensive dropoff... well it's been a slice. And a good slice, not a crummy Pizza Pizza level slice. Just please please don't end up a Yankee... it was so delightful finally cheering for you.

#32. Nick Martinez (SD -- P)

Swingman here! Step right up and get your swingman! Missed out on Seth Lugo? Don't wanna take a chance trading for Ross Stripling and eating some money? Take your own chance! Swingman here! Step right up!

#33. Aroldis Chapman (KC/TEX -- RP)

God no.

#34. Michael Lorenzen (DET/PHI -- P)              

Only if we let him bat and/or play the outfield again. His career batting line of .233/.282/.429 is considerably better than Daulton Varsho's 2023, and I'm sure Lorenzen is a better fielder than Jorge Soler at this point... just saying...

Okay okay in all seriousness, I do find Lorenzen The Pitcher interesting as well. Depending on the Manoah plan, here's a guy you can sign without necessarily having to guarantee a rotation spot (assuming he's into that, which looked like a 0 percent chance until he left Detroit for the Phillies). As a decent floor, good-ish upside play for the back of the rotation, or multi inning relief option... just a versatile guy if at the right price. 

#35. Sean Manaea (SF -- P)

Manaea appeared on this same list, this same article, last year... and without looking at my words back then (oh to be so young again), I probably said something in the tune of "intriguing guy, high upside but lots of things to be concerned about". 

This is exactly how I feel again, just that now the upside seems lessened to me. It's more likely 2023 is simply who he is, and while it seems the Giants turned him into a very effective relief option for a lot of the season... this is a big meh from me. I suspect I'd be hardly alone in being seriously underwhelmed should this be one of the Blue Jays larger moves* of the winter.

*future Dodgers 2024 All-Star Sean Manaea, I mean

#36. Harrison Bader (NYY/CIN -- CF)

Your poor man's RH Kevin Kiermaier. Bader was pretty darn good for a little four year stretch there for the Cardinals (2018-21) but injuries have swallowed up his offense to the point that I'd be thinking more "non guaranteed minor league invite" instead of multi-years and multi-millions. MLBTR projecting him to get 2 years/20 makes me think of Philip J. Fry with a handful of cash in his hand. As a 'cheap' (key descriptor there) fourth outfield option I'd be fine with it... maybe in limited duty he can stay healthy and mash a lefty for ya. 

#37. Tyler Mahle (MIN -- SP)

While the Minnesota Twins enjoyed the last laugh over the Toronto baseball squad in 2023... it likely will be Cincinnati fans cackling at Minnesota's expense for several more years than that.

It made sense at the time, but now just 42 innings of Twins Mahle later while Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand appear like young building blocks towards the next good Reds team (as does Will Benson, whom the Reds gained from the Guardians for swapping the third player in the Mahle deal, Steve Hajjar). Despite this, Tyler Mahle is still an enticing option for a starting rotation: a still young (29) starting pitcher with a good track record when healthy, likely looking to rehab his value on a shorter deal. There's still risk: it was a shoulder injury that cut his 2022 season short, and then the dreaded Tommy John surgery this past year which will keep him out until at least the mid-summer of 2024. Hmmmm... seems like a modest upside play that a team featuring an already strong and deep rotation might make...

#38. Gio Urshela (LAA -- IF)

As a 3B stopgap until you see whether Orelvis Martinez or Addison Barger can take the job... it's far from sexy but the logic isn't bad. Urshela can also play other positions should somebody (ideally) steal that job from him, and maaaaybe his bat rebounds to league average just by virtue of escaping the Cursed LA Angels? As an extreme contact hitting, good defending, no walks or power bench piece... that's a useful spare part on a good team. It's when he inevitably gets over 400 at bats that I begin to worry.

#39. Amed Rosario (CLE/LAD -- IF)

It's Urshela again, only younger and worse. Well, maybe not. Rosario's 2019 and 21-22 were pretty valuable, even as a guy who can do a lot of things but none of them excellently. It's a more exciting play than Urshela, considering the comparable youth and upside attached to that... but he wouldn't be the first completely league average hitter to inexplicably just lose something and fall off forever, even at age 27. I'm... vary, even if the role in Toronto wouldn't likely to be asking him too much.

#40. Whit Merrifield (TOR -- 2B/LF)

That certainly worked out better than we had any right to expect it to, right? For a few brief moments he was pretty fun, but it seems pretty obvious his bat doesn't hold up as an everyday player anymore, and he also seems to stop hitting when he isn't in said lineup everyday. Somebody will give it to him regardless, surely.

#41. Justin Turner (BOS -- 3B/1B/DH)

Man. I've always liked Turner the hitter, and in so many ways he can give this Blue Jays team a dose of what they sorely need. Even as his bat is slowly dripping OPS as that ghoul Father Time catches up to him, he's still been an above average hitter every darn season for a decade now. I tend to believe in that more than the age (39) worries me, and while Turner has also been durable at this stage I don't think throwing 100+ games of third base at him would be wise either. For reference, the Dodgers split his time evenly there and DH in 2022, while the Red Sox barely played him anywhere other than 1B or DH. Considering Boston has Rafael Devers, I think the Dodgers info there is way more informative. 

If the Jays added Turner I would like it, as I think there's clearly still some punch left in that stick. If he's the best hitter they add? Then we've got a problem. He opted out of his second year in Boston and one presumes he's thinking of a similar two year deal once again.

#42. Jason Heyward (LAD -- OF)

Weird, weird career, and a nice 2023 story. He's been around for like 15 years and still won't turn 35 until next August. The Dodgers intently hid him from LH pitching (only 29 plate appearances) and it seemed to agree with him, so a similar role seems his best way onwards. 

#43. Yuki Matsui (JPPL -- RP)

A tiny (in relative baseball terms) LH reliever from Japan who has been absurdly dominant the past three years. Who knows? Do you? Do I? 

#44. Frankie Montas (NYY -- SP)

Yet another one for the Book of Endless Examples of How Pitching Is Bad For You. Montas had turned in a couple seasons of very good work in Oakland, good enough for the Yankees to come calling and swap some prospect capital for what looked like a good middle rotation arm... assuming Montas' shoulder didn't just burst into flames almost instantly. Which it did. Whoops!

Some can call Montas an upside play but I'm gonna have to see he can even throw a ball with any regularity before guaranteeing anything. Hard pass here. Funny trivia though: three of the players Oakland received in that one trade with New York combined to start 71 games for the woeful 2023 A's. I mean, none of them beyond JP Sears were all that good... but just saying. 

#45. Brandon Belt (TOR -- 1B/DH)

I doubt at this age he'll suddenly rediscover how to hit that high fastball, but I think 2023 proved he could still work around that and provide a team something. Whether or not he wants to try it again seems fairly up in the air... he's already made his money, won his rings, and unless the Giants come calling he's reaching the stage of a particular career where you wander the league wearing a lot of unusual laundry people will not associate with you. Remember how Jim Thome was a Dodger? Jason Giambi in Cleveland? Edwin Encarnacion as a White Sox? Personally, Belt as a Brewer would be incredibly fun. I'd like to see the Captain put some cheese on that captain's hat.

#46. Hector Neris (HOU -- RP)

Another 7th inning reliever, ho hum. Not what we need to be spending dough on.

#47. Jakob Junis (SF -- P)

Started out as a serviceable starter for some bad Royals teams, then became very bad himself (the Royals will do that to ya), then went to San Francisco and seemed to rediscover most of what he was before... though mostly as a bulk reliever for the Giants in 2023. Guys this hittable, who have spent their entire careers in spacious home ballparks... you know what I mean. 

#48. Luis Severino (NYY -- SP)

Finally, one down on the list I can really get behind. At points watching Severino over the years, he legit terrified me. "Great... this guy is gonna win at least two Cy Youngs for the Yankees... how fun". 

Injuries have erased that tantalizing future for now, limiting him to just 18 innings between 2019-21. While his return as a nearly unhittable monster in 2022 brought back said terror in me, those maladies kept him down at 102 innings over 19 very good starts (7-3, 3.18). Then in 2023, in the same number of appearances, something happened. His ERA more than doubled, batters hit .301/.366/.555 off of him (including 23 dingers in 89.1 innings) and the strikeout rate cratered to well below league average.    

All reasons to be... apprehensive, despite Severino not losing anything on his great fastball velocity apparently. Signing him is such a classic high-risk/high-reward play... either he just gets hurt again and its a complete waste of a dozen million bucks (to guess-timate what he might get) or a brilliant rebound season where he gives you 130 absurdly good innings... or worse he's healthy and absolutely terrible for a second straight year. It's not my money, so obviously I like the high upside wagers when they present themselves. Go for it! Take that financial risk that won't affect my wallet at all! 

#49. Liam Hendriks (CWS -- RP)

Dude spends all winter fighting cancer, beats the bloody thing, comes back to pitch and immediately tears his elbow so it's Tommy John time. Considering what a downright good and cool dude Hendriks appears to be... life just ain't fair sometimes all the time, man.

I think there might've been a better chance of the Blue Jays giving Hendriks a third look had they not locked into the multi-year option with Chad Green. I'd still be cool if they went this direction regardless... after last season I sorely just want people on this team I like, logistics towards winning games be damned. 

#50. Tim Anderson (CWS -- SS)

I know what you're thinking, because I'm sure thinking it too. The last time the Blue Jays went off and signed a young-ish experienced shortstop coming off a down offensive season... worked out pretty well, right? 

I'm of course referring to the second Alex Gonzalez, obviously... dude hit 17 home runs in 85 games, an OPS of .793 for us back in 2010. Or maybe Freddy Galvis? 18 home runs in 115 games ain't shabby either... a .743 OPS in that mostly putrid 2019 season. What? That's not who you're thinking of? 

I love my games of misdirection (you can tell) but getting into it, 2020 Marcus Semien and 2023 Tim Anderson were on very different levels. Semien played hurt for much of the shortened pandemic season, and an ill-timed slump wrecked his overall numbers in that smaller sample. 2023 Anderson was just really, really BAD, but a few warning signs (a drop off 66 points of isolated slugging from 2021) appeared in 2022 as well. Whatever the culprit, it's an astonishing fall for a player almost surely licking his lips at a six figure free agency deal just this past winter. After a season as one of the very worst players in the majors, where even his defense took a sudden bad turn... one wonders if he can even secure ten million for a single "rebound and prove it" season.

The Semien comparison only matches in how you might be adding a very good player at a short discount because of an off year, with the most important difference being how much incredibly worse Anderson was. Most guys don't get to bat .245/.286/.296 in over 520 at bats unless you're Alfredo Griffin or your team is very, very bad. And yet... hmmmmm. Anderson seems amiable to change positions, his OPS+ the past five seasons go: 128, 140 (pandemic), 118, 109 and 60, and if it doesn't work you probably only have him on a one year deal anyway. I suspect the decline in power is real, but all he needs to be is the 2021/22 version of himself to be a very useful player anyhow. It's... a compelling option. 

Other Players! I'll rapid fire most of them.

Victor Caratini (C) Your classic 'okay hitting backup catcher, for a backup catcher'

Adam Duvall (OF) Seeing as I remember Duvall from his Reds heyday, it's downright bizarre that as he's gotten older, he's played more centerfield than he ever did before. He was always a strong left-fielder, and that was during the time Cincinnati kept trying so desperately to make Billy Hamilton an everyday guy (the only thing Hamilton ended up good at was indeed playing centerfield). Duvall is the kind of hitter that would drive us bonkers in many other configurations of the Blue Jays, but now we all seem so thirsty for any breathing body that can launch a ball over the fence that even someone with a complete allergy to walks (a career .291 OBP!) is appealing. The sad part is... I'm not opposed to the idea either. 

Erick Fedde (P) Fedde-getabout it!

Kyle Gibson (SP) He can certainly give you innings in bulk, as uninspiring as they might be. Annnnd the Cardinals just signed him anyhow.

Clayton Kershaw (SP) Duh. But any other uniform than Dodger blue feels wrong at this point. I just want him to keep pitching forever.

Craig Kimbrel (RP) His opening five seasons in Atlanta have to be up among the most dominant five year stretches for any reliever in the history of the damn game. Then he kind of wanders in the woods... occasionally popping up for absolutely stellar years and then answering them with complete stinkers. He was overall really good for the Phillies in 2023, and also probably cost them a trip to the World Series. Just an electrically unpredictable career, and I don't know what to think of him. Myself, I'd prefer to keep the fork away from the open outlet.

Phil Maton (RP) A good middle reliever and I hate spending good money on those. If you're that desperate for them odds are you aren't a good team anyway.

Wade Miley (SP) Cards on the table: I really like Wade Miley. Fun to watch, like a clever 1990s lefty who just keeps hitting low corners. But aside from his stint on the 2019 Astros, where he badly faded down the stretch anyhow, Miley has not been the same guy on American League teams. Hasn't been the healthiest either as those late 30s loom upon him (he'd look good back in Cincinnati regardless)

Matt Moore (RP) Another in the pile of hot Rays pitching prospect that is amazing for a couple years then flames out. Took Moore a while in purgatory, but being left-handed always gives you a chance, and now he seems to have become a high quality LH reliever the past couple seasons.

Tom Murphy (C) Usually guys don't suddenly start hitting the stitches off the ball after they leave Colorado, but Murphy has 38 home runs in 807 plate appearances as a Mariner, for an OPS+ of 116. He's a 33 year old backup catcher I'd never heard of until writing this, but those numbers catch the eye.

Emilio Pagan (RP) Pitch to contact middle relief arm. And scene.

James Paxton (SP) Paxton and the Jays... together at long last? He was fairly decent for the Red Sox in 96 innings... first time he'd cleared 20 frames since 2019. 

Joc Pederson (DH) He's nobody's notion of an everyday outfielder anymore, and was never much of one to begin with... but aside from the occasional blip Pederson's bat has been potent enough to slot into a middle part of the order again RH pitching. As a power hitting platoon bat with little defensive value about to turn 32, it's not the splashiest pickup but a useful one perhaps.

Tommy Pham (OF) A late bloomer who can still hit enough to be useful to a good team. Heck, Arizona was batting him 3rd for much of the postseason... which was not entirely wise. Like Pederson, it's probably best to minimize how often Pham roams the outfield grass (although maybe more 50/50 than 20/80) 

Hunter Renfroe (RF) Another hitter of that Duvall mode, only younger, healthier, but not as good a fielder. All Renfroe really brings are home runs, which would be good! But if he isn't hitting 25-35 of them... well even the late season injury riddled Reds dropped him after just a dozen games. Could be an intriguing flyer but I'd want some backup plan/competition in camp.

David Robertson (RP) Soon to be a fun question on the MLB version of "Who He Play For?"

Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP) I thought he mostly looked just fine. Very cool with a reunion.

Gary Sanchez (C) I wonder if just telling him to leave the catching gear at home forever and focus primarily on hitting could bring out something. It doesn't work for every catcher (some just need to be that level of into the game as it happens) but its clear Sanchez just has so much raw power... I've always believed there's a 40 home run season or two in that bat. 

Ryne Stanek (RP) The OG Opener. Looks like and has the name of somebody who should be playing steel guitar in a country band.

Michael A. Taylor (OF) The 4thiest outfielder that ever 4thiest. Wonderful defender, questionable bat. I love guys who catch everything but we saw that last year. I wouldn't say no, however.

Joey Votto (1B) I'm sure you're all shocked, shocked! That I'm putting Votto on the list. Well for the record... this is MLBTR's list and they have him on there too. So take that.

Obviously I'm going to make a case to sign him and yes obviously I am aware that in objectively logical terms... it's not a move that makes optimal statistical sense. Well... forget optimal sense. I've seen that before, it was called the 2023 Blue Jays and it made me loathe this franchise in ways I thought unpossible (it even made me fail English, Principal Skinner). Frankly, I doubt a 40 year old Votto can match what we got from Brandon Belt in 2023... but you don't really need to completely hide him from lefties either (his recent splits lean neutral), he isn't just a total DH despite the age, his walk and home run rates were still above MLB average in 2023... don't put the dish away he ain't washed yet.

But really... Votto coming to Toronto to presumably finish his career, help the Blue Jays (even in a limited role as necessary) make it to the playoffs and overcome their recent demons... how can you not get excited for that storyline? The PR for the team alone makes it almost worth it... but the real addition could just be having his rather fun wacky personality around, being both a long time beloved veteran leader and an incredibly direct and thoughtful quote/interview. On the field I think he can help, off the field it almost surely would make following this whole thing endlessly more fun. 

You really wanna see him go sign in Boston or Tampa, or on the Yankees and watch them have an absolute hoot winning ballgames while Votto proves he still bangs? Or ending up in some soulless situation like Colorado or the White Sox where it doesn't work and he retires by May? Come on. Even if it turns out he can't cut it here... well sad as it would be that would be the second best place for it to all end. Make the Blue Jays fun again. Bring Votto home. Buy him a chessboard as a bonus for the press conference too.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts on free agency. Not a lot of hitting out there! Still, the realistic big splashes like Bellinger or Yamamoto would excite my bitter young heart... a buy low option like Hoskins or Anderson certainly intrigues... and bringing my man Joey into the fold would legitimately make me buy an overpriced jersey. Lets see what happens.