LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays were arguably baseball’s slowest team in 2017.
Kendrys Morales, Jose Bautista and Justin Smoak are objectively among the slower runners in baseball, but it’s not just those three. Combined, the Blue Jays stole only 53 bases to rank 29th among the 30 teams. They tripled just five times, the fewest in franchise history.
After a year like that, it stands to reason that the Blue Jays will keep in touch with free agents and trade targets who offer speed. Already, the Blue Jays and New York Mets have reached out on Lorenzo Cain, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.
Cain would cost the Blue Jays their second-round pick in 2018 while reducing their international spending limit by $500,000 next year. He’s 31, well-positioned for a four- or five-year deal. At the same time, he creates value at the plate, in the field and on the bases. There’s no doubt that he’s one of the best players available this off-season.
The likes of Cain, Trea Turner and Byron Buxton can impact the game across the board. Take it from Cincinnati Reds general manager Dick Williams, who watches Billy Hamilton every day.
“Defensive coverage in the outfield, the ability to score from first, which isn’t necessarily quantified in the box score, but leads to more runs,” Williams said. “The threat of the bunt, opening up the field a little bit and then the impact that Billy has on pitchers and catchers in terms of disrupting the flow of the game.”
(Along those lines, Cain’s former teammate Jarrod Dyson would also be an intriguing fit in Toronto. The free agent might not have as much offensive upside as Cain, but he gets on base at a reasonable clip and won’t cost nearly as much.)
To be fair, though, speed is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Broadly speaking, the general managers assembled outside of Orlando this week are more concerned about the overall value a player brings rather than the particular shape that value takes.
Teams want to win games, not footraces and that’s fine with Mike Moustakas, who will be a coveted free despite his lack of speed. To a lesser extent, the same applies to J.D. Martinez and Carlos Santana.
“The bottom line is to be a good offensive player you need to get on base,” Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington said.
The good news for teams interested in Cain? He posted a .363 on-base percentage last year thanks in part to that speed. At this point he’s among many options available to the Blue Jays, and the acquisition price would undoubtedly be steep, but at least it’s a conversation worth having.
LOOKING FOR PITCHING DEPTH
Before the off-season began, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said he hoped to add an impact arm to the 2018 staff. To that end, Blue Jays executives have checked in on a wide range of free agent pitchers early in free agency.
Among the players on the Blue Jays’ radar: Robbie Ross, the longtime Red Sox left-hander who recently became a free agent. Elbow and back issues limited Ross to eight appearances in 2017, but he’s expected to be healthy for the 2018 season and will likely be available on a one-year deal.
From 2015-16, the 28-year-old posted a 3.57 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 116 innings. His fastball sat around 93 m.p.h. during those years and his ground-ball rate approached 50 per cent. That success could appeal to the Blue Jays, whose current left-handed options include Aaron Loup, Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza.
The Blue Jays have also checked on starters, right-handed setup types and swingmen capable of starting or relieving.
Once MLB finalizes a new posting system with the NPB, teams will finally have the chance to make their pitches to Shohei Otani. At that point clubs could get creative as they look to accommodate a pitcher who has stated his preference to pitch and hit.
Would a six-man rotation allow him to hit more regularly? If that’s his preference, teams might have a hard time saying no given the value he’d bring to any organization.