Do the rumours make sense? A closer look at recent Blue Jays rumblings

MLB insider Jon Paul Morosi discusses the Blue Jays likelihood to address their holes via free agency instead of trade, in order to hold onto their prospects, and thinks Dexter Fowler is the best fit.

Theoretically, the off-season is supposed to be a time when baseball fans can turn their attention to other interests like backgammon, combat juggling and crochet. In practice, that’s not how it works.

The MLB hot stove is immensely engrossing with seductive rumours and a virtually endless set of possibilities. It’s a time for dreaming, wishing and praying, which are some of the core tenets of fandom. Pondering what a top-end free agent might look like in your favourite team’s colours is at least as fun as a duel between two fourth starters during the dog days of August.

So far this off-season the Toronto Blue Jays are no strangers to the rumour mill. Not only is there rampant speculation about whether the team will retain stars like Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, they have also been linked to a number of free agents and players available on the trade market.

When the Blue Jays come up in major rumours it’s easy to be excited, but skepticism is usually more warranted. Reports can originate from agents trying to create the illusion of larger markets for their clients, so it’s hard to know what has legs.

Here’s a look at some of the players the Blue Jays have reportedly been targeting and whether that interest passes the common sense test…

Curtis Granderson

Age: 36

Postion: Outfielder

Bats: Left

2016 stats: .237/.335/.464 line with 30 home runs, 59 RBI and 2.6 Wins Above Replacement in 633 plate appearances.

2016 team: New York Mets

Remaining contract: One year $15 million

How would it work? The fit is certainly easy enough to see. Even at 36, Granderson isn’t a defensive liability like Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders were last season and his left-handed bat would fit in a lineup dominated by right-handers. He’s also an experienced leadoff hitter which can’t be said for anyone else on the Blue Jays roster.

Granderson is far more effective against right-handers and it’s easy to envision him in a natural platoon with Melvin Upton Jr. Here’s how the veteran duo fared last season facing opposite-handed pitching:

Granderson vs. RHP 23 44 .241 .347 .479
Upton Jr. vs. LHP 9 24 .275 .341 .533

That’s the kind of production the Blue Jays could certainly live with in left field, but there are a couple of stumbling blocks. Granderson’s contract is a bit steep for a platoon corner outfielder, he doesn’t bring the contact hitting element the club would prefer and he’ll be 37 by the time next season begins.

The biggest issue with Granderson is that he might be stuck in an awkward middle ground where he’s too expensive as is and could cost too much prospect capital if the Mets were to eat a significant portion of his contract.

Verdict: Makes some sense

Dexter Fowler

Age: 30

Postion: Outfielder

Bats: Switch

2016 stats: .276/.393/.447 line with 13 home runs, 48 RBI and 4.7 Wins Above Replacement in 551 plate appearances.

2016 team: Chicago Cubs

Contract Status: Free agent with a qualifying offer

How would it work? Fowler is the top free agent outfielder available and Kevin Pillar would probably prefer not to man the outfield alone. That’s reason enough for the Blue Jays to be interested. The 30-year-old also checks some major boxes for the Atkins/Shapiro braintrust as an athletic and versatile switch hitter.

Although Fowler has a spotty record defensively, he improved significantly last season, and has played all but one of his career innings in centre field. Confined to a corner, it’s safe to assume he’d be a plus defender.

The issue with the former Cub is going to be the price tag. Fowler will command the kind of financial commitment the current Blue Jays regime has yet to make. Moreover, the all-star outfielder presents a significant “buy high” risk coming off a career-best season.

Whoever signs Fowler will be buying his decline years and they’d best hope they’re getting decline of the borderline star he was last season, not the average regular he’s been more often in the past.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with checking in at the top of the market on your greatest position of need.

Verdict: Makes good sense

Jay Bruce

Age: 29

Postion: Outfielder

Bats: Left

2016 stats: .250/.309/.506 line with 33 home runs, 99 RBI and 0.9 Wins Above Replacement in 589 plate appearances.

2016 team: Cincinnati Reds/New York Mets

Remaining contract: One year $13 million

How would it work? Much like Granderson, Bruce has potential to be a powerful platoon partner in a corner outfield spot with Upton Jr. He’s a younger and cheaper option than Granderson with unassailable left-handed thump.

Unfortunately, beyond that there’s very little to like about what Bruce brings to the table nowadays. The slugger has struggled in the field in recent years, costing his team more than 10 runs in defensive value in four of the last five seasons. That defensive showing combined with an inability to get on base all that much means Bruce has been worth just 0.2 WAR in 1823 plate appearances since 2014.

At this point the right fielder provides home runs and nothing else, but the Blue Jays knew that prior to the 2016 season and still rather puzzlingly tried to get their hands on him them.

Verdict: Makes no sense (but seems true nonetheless)

Jerry Blevins

Age: 33

Postion: Reliever

Throws: Left

2016 stats: 11.14 K/9, 2.31 BB/9 and 0.86 HR/9 in 42 innings with a 2.79 ERA and 3.05 FIP.

2016 team: New York Mets

Contract Status: Free agent without a qualifying offer

How would it work? The Blue Jays’ bullpen – which was hardly overflowing with southpaws to begin with – lost a good one in Brett Cecil. Blevins is known for using the left side of his body to throw baseballs. Ipso facto, he’s the type of guy the Blue Jays need.

While there’s elegant logic there, the idea that Blevins could fill a Cecil-like role is silly. The 33-year-old is essentially a LOOGY at this point in his career. Over the last four seasons he’s appeared in 211 games and worked only 164.1 innings. He’s held left-handed hitters to a measly .204/.259/.309 line during that time showing that he’s very good in a specialist role.

What he isn’t is a setup option from the left side like Cecil was. Instead he’s an upgrade as a left-on-left matchup guy over the trio of Aaron Loup, Chad Girodo and Matt Dermody. He could be a player worth investing in, but he doesn’t fill the Blue Jays’ most obvious need.

Verdict: Makes some sense

Steve Pearce

Age: 33

Postion: First Baseman/Second Baseman/Outfielder

Bats: Right

2016 stats: .288/.374/.494 line with 13 home runs, 35 RBI and 2.0 Wins Above Replacement in 302 plate appearances.

2016 team: Tampa Bay Rays/Baltimore Orioles

Remaining contract: Free agent without a qualifying offer

How would it work? Pearce is the type of player who could help virtually any team thanks to his positional versatility and ability to thrash left-handed pitching. The late bloomer is a good defensive first baseman, but he won’t embarass himself at second or in the outfield and even played a couple of games at third last season.

On the Blue Jays, Pearce could start against southpaws and be the team’s primary bench bat on days when righties start. The natural inclination would be to platoon him with Justin Smoak, but it’s also worth noting that his career numbers against right-handers are actually better than Smoak’s.

Steve Pearce .244 .322 .406
Justin Smoak .223 .316 .403

Both the Blue Jays’ need and the fit are impossible to deny here.

Verdict: Makes good sense