Blue Jays notebook: Left-handed relief market keeps moving

MLB insider Ben Nicholson-Smith addresses the Blue Jays slow start to free agency, with many holes still to fill, says he doesn’t think they’ll make any splashy additions that we once thought was possible.

TORONTO – As the left-handed relief market has thinned out in recent weeks, the Toronto Blue Jays have stayed quiet, remaining involved without making splashes.

Brett Cecil, Mike Dunn and Marc Rzepczynski have each signed substantial multi-year contracts since free agency opened, while Aroldis Chapman entered another stratosphere altogether with an $86 million guarantee.

At this point the list of top free agent lefties includes Jerry Blevins, Boone Logan and Travis Wood, each of whom has been linked to the Blue Jays in recent weeks. J.P. Howell’s another free agent who could obtain a big league deal at a time that demand exceeds supply, while the trade market features the Tigers’ Justin Wilson, among others.

Regardless of who they add, the Blue Jays need experience beyond their current options: Aaron Loup, Matt Dermody and Chad Girodo plus minor league invitees such as Brett Oberholtzer and Jeff Beliveau. As general manager Ross Atkins said earlier this month, “it’s important to have an established left-handed reliever that gets left-handed hitters out.”

Given the shortage of lefties available, it’d be easy to make the case that the Blue Jays should move quickly for someone like Blevins or Wood. The price for free agents has been established between $5-8 million per season, so all that remains is setting a term and signing on the dotted line — at least in theory.

It may not play out that way, though. One person involved in the lefty relief market has the impression that the Blue Jays are attempting to sort out their position player needs first, so may be increasingly likely the lefty relief search lasts into the New Year.

RED SOX DONE: The Boston Red Sox freed up $13.5 million in salary by trading Clay Buchholz, but president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters that he doesn’t plan to spend that money on a star player.

The Red Sox are now under baseball’s competitive balance tax and they’d like to stay there, which means Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion won’t end up in Boston, the very place they seemed most likely to land as recently as a couple months ago.

Encarnacion’s agent said Wednesday that he has three- or four-year offers from six teams, but topping the Blue Jays’ $80 million offer will be a challenge with Boston, New York and Toronto on the sidelines.

SPENDING MODERATELY: At this point it’d be a surprise if any free agent displaces the New York Mets’ $110 million deal with Yoenis Cespedes as the biggest contract of the off-season.

That’s a big commitment, but the top contract of the year typically ends up being worth much more. Looking back at the last 10 years, at least one free agent deal has topped $110 million every winter. The last time the Cespedes deal would have ranked number one? Back in 2005, when Johnny Damon, Rafael Furcal and B.J. Ryan were among the top free agents available.

If Cespedes ends up being the lone free agent to obtain a nine-figure deal, it’ll be the first time since 2009 that just one free agent obtains $100 million. Matt Holliday, who signed a win-win deal with the Cardinals that off-season, was the lone free agent to top that mark seven years ago.

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