Blue Jays locked in on pitching but more bats also offer path to improvement

Shi Davidi joined Lead Off and spoke about the Blue Jays finding ways to give Teoscar Hernandez opportunities at the plate and what that means for him fielding.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Amid the ongoing and understandable focus on starting pitching, a secondary but still pivotal issue facing the Toronto Blue Jays is how to properly complement their young and talented position player core this off-season.

From a positional perspective, there are clear opportunities for them to upgrade in centre field and at first base/designated hitter without disrupting some of the pieces they’ve already put in place.

The question then becomes what moves make the most impact for them in 2020 and beyond, and how do they time that up with the adds they hope to make for the rotation this winter, as well.

"It depends on what transpires for us," general manager Ross Atkins replies when asked what the ideal add looks like on the offensive side. "We have to consider if there’s a potential trade away from our team. That could impact what ideal looks like for us as we acquire position players back. First and foremost for us, we want to make sure that we address every pitching need, every pitching opportunity and consider that before we lunge at the position player market – pitching could impact our financial flexibility.

"In an ideal world," he continues, "versatility would be attractive but the most attractive piece is going to be offensive production. It’s going to be balancing that with the acquisition cost. I could paint that in centre field, I could paint that in the infield that’s moving to the outfield, I could paint that and say it’s predominantly at first base/DH. It really just depends on all those other factors."

There’s a lot to digest there.

The first point to key on is that pitching is the priority and the Blue Jays don’t want to put themselves in a situation where they’ve tied their hands with a positional player that prevents them from getting an arm and they’re not aiming small on that front. On Tuesday, they met with the representatives for Jake Odorizzi and should he reject the $17.8-million qualifying offer issued to him by the Minnesota Twins, the Blue Jays have legitimate interest in the righty.

The risk there is that while the pitching market sorts itself out, some ideal position player opportunities could fall off the table, which is why Atkins cautions that "it doesn’t mean we’re not going to acquire a position player before we move on several pitchers."

"But understanding the market to the best of our ability and being a little bit more patient on the position-player front is going to be our strategy," he adds.

OK, then. The second point to key on is what type of add makes sense for the Blue Jays, who have done background work on Japanese hitters Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, a left-fielder/first-base type and Shogo Akiyama, a centre-fielder, and also, at minimum, discussed Mike Moustakas internally.

One question the Blue Jays continue to bounce around is how much more runway do they give players like Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher and Rowdy Tellez. At the same time, they could open up more opportunity in their lineup by moving Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or one of their young catchers for pitching, two possibilities that have been discussed with other clubs.

Barring a subtraction, Tsutsugo would appear to be a redundancy on a roster stocked with big-power/dodgy defence types, but Akiyama, with a reputation as a plus defender and patient hitter, offers an interesting and potentially cost-effective option for centre field.

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For maximum impact, the vote here would go to Moustakas, another left-handed hitter who can play at first, second and third, offer the type of middle-of-the-lineup impact Nelson Cruz gave the Minnesota Twins, and provide the type of accountable veteran presence a young clubhouse needs.

Given what he meant to both the Kansas City Royals early in his career and the Milwaukee Brewers last season, he could very well be the ideal guy to parachute into the Blue Jays rebuild.

"Mike did a number of things for our team and obviously the performance was just one aspect," says Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns. "He also was a great leader in the clubhouse for us – he’s done that throughout his career – and whether it’s with us or someone else going forward, I’m certain he’ll continue to be that type of leader and that type of player.

"He’s a well-respected guy, he’s well-respected around the game, he competes and other players see that and respond to it. Mike plays hard and wants to win. In our game, that’s a big part of leadership."

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Getting Moustakas, a Scott Boras client, signed won’t be cheap, even if he ends up signing for something along the lines of $20 million over two years predicted by MLB Trade Rumors. The Blue Jays would need to beat that by a wide margin and that could take them out of some pitching.

But he’s one position player opportunity that checks a lot of boxes, simultaneously taking some of the production pressure off Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, helping to balance a righty-heavy lineup and filling a clubhouse need.

One skillset the Blue Jays would like to add "in an ideal world (is) someone with a more mature approach," says Atkins. "I think you saw the difference when we had (Eric) Sogard and (Justin) Smoak in our lineup, and what that meant for other guys. It’s hard to quantify but it’s real enough that we’re factoring it in. Professional approach is something that will be important to us as we look to complement our offence."

For now, though, the Blue Jays are locked in on pitching first. But while preventing runs is one obvious way for them to get better, creating more runs offers an important opportunity for improvement, too.

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