In rapidly moving market, where might Blue Jays look next?

Sportsnet MLB analyst Jeff Blair joins Tim and Friends to discuss the Toronto Blue Jays acquisition of pitcher Chris Bassitt, breaking down what he adds to the team, and also talk about how outfielder Kevin Kiermaier will fit into the lineup.

TORONTO – With money flowing freely in the first year of MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, it’s a great time to be a high-end free agent.

The latest nine-figure deal – Carlos Correa’s reported 13-year, $350 million agreement with the Giants – means four of the 13 largest contracts in MLB history have been signed within the last 10 days. Joining Correa on that list are Aaron Judge (nine years, $360 million with the Yankees), Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million with the Phillies) and Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million with the Padres).

As for the Blue Jays, they’ve been active, albeit in a lower tier, agreeing to terms with right-hander Chris Bassitt (three years, $63 million) and outfielder Kevin Kiermaier (terms unknown). The Blue Jays had some preliminary interest in Correa and Bogaerts as they often do with elite free agents, but never appeared to push for either player.

After all, they already have an elite shortstop in Bo Bichette and retaining him and/or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. beyond 2025 won’t be cheap. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. Following a busy stretch for the hot stove, let’s check in on where the Blue Jays stand…

At this point, the Blue Jays could leave their pitching alone and still begin spring training with a playoff-calibre staff. Alek Manoah was a Cy Young Award finalist in 2022 and the Blue Jays have to be thrilled with Kevin Gausman’s five-year, $110 million deal in the context of the current market. Any team would be happy to have Bassitt and Jose Berrios as their No. 3 and 4 starters.

Yet there’s always room to improve, and no reason for the Blue Jays to stop looking for help now. They’ve been showing interest in some high-upside relievers since adding Erik Swanson in trade, so that’s an area to monitor.

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Plus, they may not be done adding starting pitching even after landing Bassitt on a deal that means they’ve committed nearly $100 million to their ’23 rotation. One reason for the expense: with the exception of Manoah, a first-round pick, and Berrios, who was acquired in trade, the entire group was acquired in free agency (Gausman, Bassitt, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yusei Kikuchi).

All but Ryu are under contract for 2024, so the Blue Jays may not have to spend as much on rotation help next winter, especially if 20-year-old prospect Ricky Tiedemann can emerge as a legitimate contributor. But in the meantime, there’s a need for stability, which leaves the Blue Jays open to further starting pitching adds, too.

Along those lines, sources said they’ve shown recent interest in Johnny Cueto, who posted a 3.35 ERA in 158.1 innings with the White Sox last year.

Speaking of spending, the Blue Jays’ pending deal with Bassitt makes clear what’s seemed likely all off-season. For the first time in franchise history, team payroll will exceed $200 million in 2023.

In fact, depending what else the Blue Jays do, they could end up over the $233 million competitive balance tax in what would be another first for the franchise.

FanGraphs’ payroll tracker already has them at $225 million before accounting for Kiermaier, who signed a one-year, $9 million deal, or any further moves. Last week team president Mark Shapiro said the CBT was “not an obstacle” for ownership at Rogers Communications, Inc., which also owns Sportsnet.

“The support and the growth of that payroll is unprecedented in the history of the franchise and it continues to be very strong,” Shapiro said.

There’s nothing new to report here, but it’s worth re-stating the obvious: the Blue Jays would look like a more complete team with another bat in place. Among the players who’ve been on their radar, Michael Brantley and Michael Conforto make sense while Joey Gallo could be intriguing in more of a platoon role.

The market for catchers has moved quickly, with St. Louis (Willson Contreras), Minnesota (Christian Vazquez), Atlanta (Sean Murphy) and Cleveland (Mike Zunino) all landing backstops within the last week.

For a Blue Jays team with three young catchers, those developments are significant – in fact, they may give GM Ross Atkins & Co. some leverage in trade talks. Because with due respect to free agents Austin Hedges, Tucker Barnhart and Roberto Perez, the Blue Jays’ catching trio of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno is more appealing.

One source with first-hand knowledge of the catching market described the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Giants and Padres as interested teams at that position. It stands to reason the Astros would also be in that group after seeing Vazquez leave for the Twins.

All off-season, the Blue Jays have said they’re open to keeping all three catchers and figuring out playing time on the go, but under the right circumstances they’d make a deal. And at this point, it looks like the catching market runs through Toronto.

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