Tao of Stieb: Ideal Blue Jays off-season features Ohtani, Cain, Morrow

Shohei Otani throws right-handed but is a left-handed hitter. (Toru Takahash/AP)

What would an ideal offseason look like for the Toronto Blue Jays? It’s not a simple question to answer.

At this point in their competitive evolution, the Blue Jays are neither fish nor fowl: They aren’t a leading contender to win the World Series, nor are they at a point of tearing down.

They have one more year with Josh Donaldson in the fold, so perhaps they could be in “win-now” mode. But they also have just three seasons before Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis become free agents. So it’s “win now”, or “win soon thereafter.”

With this urgency in mind, let’s set aside some of our traditional reserve, and propose six reasonably attainable outcomes for the coming weeks as the Blue Jays reconstitute their roster for 2018…

1. Sign Shohei Ohtani
There will be 29 other clubs in these sweepstakes, and with Major League Baseball’s recent crackdown on the skullduggery around international signings, it seems unlikely that hidden pots of gold will win the day when it comes to signing the 23-year-old marvel from Japan.

It’s not often that MLB teams get an opportunity to sign a player who is approaching his peak, and Ohtani brings both a pitching arm and a bat to North America next season. With their varied needs and limited flexibility, the Blue Jays could certainly use both.

All teams will likely be willing to go to financial limits imposed by the league, which means the points of differentiation will be somewhat intangible. Could the Rogers Centre – which has a similar feel and set-up to Ohtani’s previous home, the Sapporo Dome in Hokkaido – actually be a feature in selling Ohtani on the Blue Jays as his first MLB stop?

2. Sign Lorenzo Cain
The Blue Jays’ roster is currently encumbered by players who don’t nearly profile as “five-tool” players. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find players who bring more than two of traditional hit-power-glove-speed-arm tools to the field.

Calling Lorenzo Cain a five-tool player is a bit of a stretch, but he’s certainly a player with a more dynamic set of attributes than what the Jays currently have on their roster. And for what it’s worth, he’s won in the post-season and by most accounts seems to be a good dude in the clubhouse.

He’ll be 32 at the beginning of next season, and while this might not be the ideal time to lock yourself long-term into an aging player whose game depends on speed, it’s possible the Jays could get two or three good seasons out of him.

And could his power play up moving to the AL East?

3. Trade Kevin Pillar
Speaking of players who depend on speed, Pillar will be 29 this season, and according to Statcast, he may have already lost a step. If you don’t assume some late-blooming improvements with his bat, we may have already seen his best seasons.

At this point, Pillar still carries the reputation as a Gold Glove-calibre defender, and maybe you can sell the line that he “hit everywhere he played in the minors.”

At the risk of tugging on Superman’s cape, it might be a good time to see what Pillar could fetch on the open market.

4. Sign Brandon Morrow
There’s more than a little sentimentality to this thought, as it would be good to see Morrow finally have a chance to pitch to his potential in a Blue Jay uniform. Moreover, current Blue Jay closer Roberto Osuna needs help at the back of the bullpen, and Morrow could legitimately step in to help close games when necessary.

Certainly, there are flickers of light amongst the many arms who were called into relief duty with the Blue Jays last season, but one cannot depend on carrying over a positive in a small sample from one season to another.

5. Acquire a Shortstop from the Diamondbacks
Arizona currently has a glut of middle infielders, including Ketel Marté, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed. If the Blue Jays could shake loose either Marté or Owings, it would give them some added strength to support Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis up the middle.

Marté might be the preferred option, as a switch-hitter who just recently turned 24. He posted a very respectable .345 on-base percentage last season, with five home runs and four Defensive Runs Saved in just 73 games with Arizona last year.

Owings might be a more attainable target, although he would bring another right-handed bat to a lineup that is already filled with them. Where he offers flexibility is in the field, where he has played more than 400 innings in centre and right field.

If, as Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said on the At the Letters podcast this week, they’d be looking for an infielder who could play short and the outfield, Owings could be a decent target.

6. Acquire an Outfielder from the Marlins
If we’re taking a completely blue-sky approach to this, of course we’d be interested in seeing the Jays acquire Giancarlo Stanton. You could expect some highlight-reel pyrotechnics for the first few seasons, although that contract looks uglier the longer that it runs.

On the other hand, if the Marlins are looking to strip down under new management, perhaps Marcell Ozuna or Christian Yelich might be available? Ozuna has two more years of arbitration, while Yelich is signed to a very reasonable deal through 2021.

If either could be acquired without giving up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette, they could be key performers if the team intends to be more competitive this year and in the years to come.