Unless the Blue Jays are comfortable piecing together two thirds of their outfield on the fly, they’ll need to acquire at least one outfielder this off-season.
Melky Cabrera could be the solution, but after a bounce-back season, he’s one of the top free agent position players available. The sides don’t appear to be particularly close.
Today we take a speculative look at potential outfield options for the Blue Jays, starting inside the organization.
Where Things Stand
The Blue Jays have right field locked down thanks to Jose Bautista, a perennial MVP candidate who’s under team control through 2016. Beyond that there’s a lot of youth and uncertainty. Anthony Gose offers defence, Kevin Pillar has hit at every minor league level and Dalton Pompey impressed during his brief time in Toronto. Still, none has started in the big leagues for a full season, which leaves the Blue Jays with question marks in left and centre.
Lefty masher John Mayberry Jr. provides an option off of the bench, and if healthy the left-handed hitting Andy Dirks could see playing time, too. In theory, they could form a platoon in left field if Toronto doesn’t add more players before opening day. However, claiming Dirks doesn’t preclude the Blue Jays from non-tendering him if they acquire others.
As for Cabrera, he has received a qualifying offer that he’s expected to decline before testing the open market. What happens from there is anybody’s guess.
Bringing Cabrera back would be one solution, albeit an expensive one. This year’s free agent market offers a strong group of corner outfielders, including Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas and Nelson Cruz. Both offer traditional middle-of-the-order power, but Cruz will be expensive after hitting 40 homers and Tomas, who turns 24 in November, could cost even more. Neither one seems like a logical fit given Toronto’s five-year policy and other needs.
The trade market could include Dexter Fowler and Justin Upton, who are both set to hit free agency in 2015. Upton hit 29 home runs with an .833 OPS, but he struck out 171 times. John Hart, the Braves’ new president of baseball operations, could look to cut down strikeouts in which case Upton might find himself in trade rumours yet again. Fowler’s a talented player who posted a .375 on-base percentage in 2014, but now that he’s one year away from free agency, the Astros might want to flip him for a controllable player. If either Upton or Fowler is available, the Blue Jays should see if there’s a deal to be made.
Established Free Agents
The Blue Jays could also turn to free agency, where they’ll find options such as Norichika Aoki, who has never posted an OBP below .349. There’s also a trio of veterans who can still provide value on offence: Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter and Alex Rios . Rios, a former Blue Jays All-Star, seems unlikely to return to Toronto and Cuddyer and Hunter don’t hit for as much power or provide as much defence as they used to.
Nick Markakis would be worth keeping an eye on after putting together another good season in Baltimore (2.5 WAR), but the Orioles appear to be making progress on a long-term deal with the left-handed hitter.
While Gerardo Parra and Drew Stubbs aren’t free agents, they have the athleticism to play centre field. Parra hits righties (.758 career OPS) and Stubbs hits lefties (.823 career OPS), which suggests they could be valuable part-time pieces. What would it cost? Aside from trade chips, both seem set to earn more than $6 million in their final trips through the arbitration process. Peter Bourjos is another skilled defender who’d be of interest to any team seeking outfield depth.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the team with the most outfield depth of all — the Boston Red Sox — probably doesn’t make sense as a trade partner. Still, there are plenty of options between free agency and the trade market.