With a handful of free agent signings already in the books, including two belonging to the Toronto Blue Jays, the MLB off-season should continue to gain traction with the passing of Monday’s 5:00 p.m. ET deadline for accepting qualifying offers.
Toronto has already inked designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33-million contract and 23-year-old Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a seven-year, $22-million deal. With starting jobs still available in the bullpen and outfield, plus potential openings at backup catcher and first base, the Blue Jays could remain one of the league’s more active teams in the weeks and months ahead.
Here are some of the latest rumours.
Toronto interested in Bruce again?
The Blue Jays have discussed a trade with the New York Mets for outfielder Jay Bruce, whose $13-million team option for 2017 was picked up earlier this month, ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported Sunday.
This isn’t the first time that the Jays have been linked to Bruce, of course. In February, the Blue Jays had reportedly agreed to a three-way trade with the Los Angeles Angels and Cincinnati Reds that would have landed Bruce in Toronto and sent Michael Saunders to L.A. The deal fell apart late in the process, but at the time, Shi Davidi noted that Bruce had removed the Blue Jays from his no-trade list and was “said to have been very excited about the possibility of heading north.” Later in the year the Blue Jays were again linked to Bruce in summer trade rumours.
Bowden suggests that Bruce would be a potential platoon partner for Melvin Upton Jr., with Bruce primarily facing right-handed pitchers. Despite his significant defensive limitations, Bruce hit 27 of his 33 home runs off right-handers in 2016 with an .872 OPS. Bruce is also very familiar with Toronto hitting coach Brook Jacoby, who was his hitting coach for some of his strongest seasons in Cincinnati.
Edwin as Ortiz’s replacement in Boston? Not that simple…
Many have circled the Boston Red Sox as a leader to sign Edwin Encarnacion, especially with David Ortiz’s retirement leaving a vacancy in the middle of a lineup that led Major League Baseball with 878 runs last season. Rob Bradford of WEEI Boston downplays that possibility, however, citing MLB sources who tell him the Red Sox have not engaged in any serious discussions with Encarnacion at this point.
Boston’s president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has expressed a desire to be flexible with the club’s designated hitter position. With a talented MLB roster and a strong pool of young talent to draw from, Boston could look internally or to a free agent seeking fewer years than Encarnacion.
“We’re not looking to have just a DH,” Dombrowski told Bradford. “I think really in today’s game the only way you really do that is to have somebody like David Ortiz and most of the time you really prefer to have some flexibility.”
Encarnacion’s agent Paul Kinzer made it clear last week that his client is open to Toronto’s American League East rival, especially given his vote of confidence from fellow Dominican slugger Ortiz.
“He loves Boston,” Kinzer told WEEI at the GM meetings. “You look at his highlights from last year, I think five of his home runs were hit there. He loves to hit there. The atmosphere … That’s always one of his favourite road games.”
Versatile Pearce drawing interest from Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are interested in Steve Pearce, a free agent who split the 2016 season between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Saturday. Shi Davidi mentioned Pearce as a potential target for the Blue Jays on Friday.
Toronto’s interest in Pearce parallels their reported interest in Bruce in two ways. Pearce represents a potential platoon option, this time at first base with Justin Smoak, and is a player that the Blue Jays have been linked to in the past.
In early 2014, Pearce was designated for assignment by the Orioles but declined an opportunity to join the Blue Jays after an injury to Chris Davis gave him an opening to increased playing time in Baltimore.
It seemed like a small thing at the time, but Pearce went on to break out that season with 21 home runs and a .930 OPS over 102 games. He’s also emerged as a threat against left-handed pitching, which is where much of his appeal would lie for the Blue Jays. Despite a down year in 2015, Pearce posted an OPS of 1.109 against left-handers in 2014 and 1.028 last season.
Pearce also offers potential suitors a great deal of defensive versatility, something that might fit well in Toronto’s 25-man roster now that the DH role is permanently occupied by Morales. With experience playing at first base, second base and both corner outfield spots, Pearce’s flexibility would allow manager John Gibbons to weather injuries at multiple positions and maximize Toronto’s offence against left-handed pitchers.