Do the Blue Jays rumours make sense? Winter meetings edition

Shi Davidi, Mike Wilner, and Jamie Campbell discuss the high prices of free agents, and the pros and cons of sitting back and letting other teams pay up.

Baseball’s marathon of an off-season tends to hum along at a slow and steady pace with one notable exception.

At the winter meetings, the gathering of agents, executives and reporters puts the whole sport into a higher gear causing the flow of transactions and rumours to go from a drip to a gush.

This year, blockbuster deals for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton grabbed headlines and the rumour mill has been churning away all week. As a team with obvious holes and a little money to spend, the Toronto Blue Jays are being attached to more than their share of names.

Here’s a look at some of the players the Blue Jays have reportedly been targeting lately and whether that interest passes the common sense test…

Jose Bautista

Age: 36

Postion: Outfielder/Designated Hitter

Bats: Right

2016 stats: .234/.366/.452 line with 22 home runs, 69 RBI and 1.4 Wins Above Replacement in 517 plate appearances.

2016 team: Toronto Blue Jays

Remaining contract: Free agent with qualifying offer from the Blue Jays

How would it work? In short, it almost certainly wouldn’t. Bautista is a franchise icon, and with his market looking cloudy the notion exists that the Blue Jays could sweep in and reclaim him at a reasonable price.

The problem is there simply isn’t room for him on the team. Toronto has committed to a full-time designated hitter in Kendrys Morales, a first baseman in Justin Smoak and a utility man expected to play a lot of first in Steve Pearce.

At this point in his career, Bautista is best served spending most of his time at DH, while mixing in the odd game at first. He showed last year that his work in the outfield is no longer everyday-worthy and it’s hard to expect that to improve as he approaches 40.

Bautista still has value, but the Blue Jays aren’t short on either right-handed power or 1B/DH types. Add that to the fact they can net a draft pick from his departure, and it’s pretty safe to assume they let him leave town.

Verdict: Makes no sense

Charlie Blackmon

Age: 30

Postion: Outfielder

Bats: Left

2016 stats: .324/.381/.552 line with 29 home runs, 82 RBI and 3.9 Wins Above Replacement in 641 plate appearances.

2016 team: Colorado Rockies

Contract Status: Arbitration eligible for 2017 and 2018.

How would it work? Blackmon has obvious appeal to the Blue Jays brass as a left-handed hitter with a well-rounded game that combines power, speed and defensive ability. It’s the type of skill set that would be handy on any team, but the fit is especially good for a righty-dominant team with a couple of empty corner outfield spots.

The issue isn’t whether the Blue Jays would have a spot for Blackmon, or his salary – which projects to be $9 million according to MLB Trade Rumors. Instead, it’s what the Rockies are looking for in return.

It’s been reported that Colorado is interested in acquiring Marcus Stroman in a Blackmon deal, and that’s simply too high a price to pay. In almost every case, a 25-year-old starter with four years of team control is worth significantly more than a 30-year-old outfielder with two.

For a deal to be struck a lot more work would need to be done. In the wake of the Ian Desmond signing, the Rockies are looking more and more like they’re in win-now mode so they won’t give up a piece like Blackmon without a healthy return coming the other way.

Verdict: Makes some sense

Brad Ziegler 

Age: 37

Postion: Reliever

Throws: Right

2016 stats: 7.68 K/9, 3.44 BB/9 and 0.26 HR/9 in 68 innings with a 2.25 ERA and 3.10 FIP.

2016 team: Arizona Diamondbacks/Boston Red Sox

Contract Status: Free agent without a qualifying offer

How would it work? The Blue Jays need some relief help, and despite his unorthodox sidearm delivery, Ziegler is as steady as they come. In nine major-league seasons, he’s never posted an ERA above 3.49 or pitched fewer than 58.1 innings.

The right-hander is old and his fastball is Buehrle-esque from a velocity standpoint, but there’s no indication that he’s losing effectiveness. Last season the veteran right-hander set career highs in K/9 and WAR as a late-inning weapon for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox.

In 2016 Blue Jays relievers struggled mightily with inherited runners and having a guy with a career 66.3 percent career ground ball rate could help remedy that issue. The list of teams that could use Ziegler is long, and the Blue Jays are certainly on it.

Verdict: Makes good sense

Chris Iannetta

Age: 33

Postion: Catcher

Bats: Right

2016 stats: .210/.303/.329 line with 7 home runs, 24 RBI and 0.9 Wins Above Replacement in 338 plate appearances.

2016 team: Seattle Mariners

Contract Status: Free agent with no qualifying offer

How would it work? The Blue Jays need a backup catcher, but Iannetta doesn’t seem likely to be their guy. For one, the 33-year-old hasn’t played fewer than 81 games since 2012 and might not want a role behind a workhorse like Russell Martin.

Perhaps more importantly, Iannetta’s skill set doesn’t seem like a great investment right now. In the past, the veteran backstop got by on solid offensive production that masked his defensive deficiencies, but he hasn’t hit a lick since 2014 putting up a .199/.298/.332 line over the last two years.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Iannetta’s work behind the plate has been 98 runs below average over the course of his career, with framing and blocking as his primary weaknesses. If he’s shaky behind the plate and can’t be trusted to produce with the bat it’s hard to see the value.

Most teams opt for a traditional catch-and-throw guy as their backup catcher, and considering the problem the Blue Jays had throwing out base stealers last season they should probably do the same.

Verdict: Makes no sense

Neftali Feliz

Age: 28

Postion: Reliever

Throws: Right

2016 stats: 10.23 K/9, 3.52 BB/9 and 1.68 HR/9 in 53.2 innings with a 3.52 ERA and 4.53 FIP.

2016 team: Pittsburgh Pirates

Contract Status: Free agent without a qualifying offer

How would it work? Pittsburgh has become the Mecca for pitchers in need of a career boost and Feliz was a successful pilgrim last season. The 28-year-old put up his best strikeout rate since 2009 and saw his velocity spike back over a 96 mph average for the first time since 2011.

As the Blue Jays saw with J.A. Happ and the Los Angeles Dodgers discovered with Joe Blanton, the “Ray Searage magic” can have some staying power and Feliz’s top-notch heat last year seems to indicated that he’s back. There’s no doubt the right-hander is both an injury and performance risk, but the payoff could be significant.

As long as the commitment is within reason, there aren’t many better upside plays in the relief market.

Verdict: Makes good sense

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