Lots of scenarios in play for Blue Jays with tender deadline nearing

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Ken Giles walks back to the mound after walking a batter during the ninth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Fenway Park in Boston. Boston won 7-6. (Winslow Townson/AP)

TORONTO – As the calendar flips to December, nearly all of baseball’s top free agents remain available. From Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg to Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, there are dozens of star players out there.

A few years back, before baseball’s new reality set in, this would have been surprising. But if the last two winters are any indication, the likes of Cole and Rendon could be out there for months to come. At times, the pace of the baseball off-season can make the games seem quick.

Despite the sluggish free agent market, Monday’s tender deadline will spark teams into action on some smaller-scale moves. Clubs have until 8 p.m. ET to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players. Those who get offers will go through the arbitration process over the winter while anyone not tendered will join the aforementioned superstars in free agency.

Over the years, the likes of Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin and Justin Smoak have been non-tendered only to thrive afterwards. With that in mind, the non-tender market’s always worth watching league-wide.

In Toronto, the Blue Jays started their off-season administration early by removing Devon Travis, Ryan Tepera and Ryan Dull from the 40-man roster long before Monday’s deadline. That leaves six eligible players, but only one or two can be considered real locks for 2020 contracts…

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Ken Giles, RHP

MLB Trade Rumors projected salary: $8.4 million

2019 stats: 1.87 ERA │ 53 innings │ 23 saves │ 83 strikeouts │ 17 walks

Even with a projected salary approaching $10 million, tendering Giles is an easy decision ahead of his final arbitration season. A tougher call? Determining whether to trade him or begin the season with him. At last check, the Blue Jays seem inclined to hold onto Giles, who’s an elite reliever when at his best.

Matt Shoemaker, RHP

Projected salary: $3.8 million

2019 stats: 1.57 ERA │ 28.2 innings │ 5 starts │ 24 strikeouts │ 9 walks

The Blue Jays want to keep Shoemaker and Shoemaker wants to stay in Toronto, but it’s not quite that simple, especially since nobody wants to take this case to arbitration (there are few decent comps for the 33-year-old, who missed most of the 2019 season with a torn ACL after signing with the Blue Jays as a free agent).

The sides held extension talks in September, discussing various scenarios that Shi Davidi and I outlined last month. At that point, no deal got close and talks stalled in the weeks that followed.

In theory, the Blue Jays could non-tender Shoemaker if he doesn’t agree to their terms, but that would deplete an already-thin Toronto rotation. As of Monday, both sides are open to a new deal, but it’s unclear where that will lead. One way or another, the sides have plenty to discuss ahead of the 8 p.m. deadline.

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.

Brandon Drury, Util

Projected salary: $2.5 million

2019 stats: 120 games │ .218/.262/.380 batting line │ 15 HR │ 21 2B │ -0.2 WAR

The Blue Jays will have to consider non-tendering Drury after a tough season at the plate. Based on past results, there’s not all that much reason for optimism here. Unless the team forecasts a breakout in his future, $2.5 million seems like a lot for someone who’s hovered around replacement level for two years.

Anthony Bass, RHP

Projected salary: $1.7 million

2019 stats: 3.56 ERA │ 48 innings │ 5 saves │ 43 strikeouts │ 17 walks

The Blue Jays wouldn’t have claimed Bass on waivers in October unless they liked him. Contributing to his appeal, he has a relatively low arbitration number and is coming off a productive year.

Derek Law, RHP

Projected salary: $1.3 million

2019 stats: 4.90 ERA │ 60.2 innings │ 5 saves │ 67 strikeouts │ 40 walks

Walks were a problem for Law, but he finished the season strong and the Blue Jays will need all kinds of relievers to get through the 2020 season. The cost isn’t prohibitive, either.

Luke Maile, C

Projected salary: $800,000

2019 stats: 44 games │ .151/.205/.235 batting line │ 2 HR │ 2 2B │ -0.5 WAR

By his own admission, Maile didn’t produce at the plate in 2019. With roster spots at a premium and lots of catching on the way, Maile looks like a definite non-tender candidate. Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire seem poised to handle the position in 2020, while prospects Riley Adams, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno are making progress in the minors.

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