How non-tendered players could impact Blue Jays in free agency, trades

MLB insider Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Jeff Blair in studio to discuss the rumours that the Blue Jays are interested in free agent starter Dallas Keuchel.

The free agent market expanded by a few dozen names over the weekend as teams non-tendered the players who were getting uncomfortably expensive through the arbitration system.

In the aftermath of those decisions, established players like Billy Hamilton, Avisail Garcia and Jonathan Schoop are now free to sign with any team. Some of those players crowd a slow-developing free agent market while others will impact the trade market.

Relatively speaking the Blue Jays were quiet ahead of the non-tender deadline, cutting loose Yangervis Solarte, as expected, but nobody else. Still, other decisions around the league could have ripple effects in Toronto as the rest of the off-season unfolds…

New options emerge on the catching market

Catchers James McCann and Caleb Joseph were non-tendered, adding to a list of free agent backstops that already includes Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos and Martin Maldonado. That’s less than ideal for the Blue Jays, who are exploring the possibility of trading Russell Martin this winter. As more alternatives materialize, the Blue Jays could lose leverage in trade talks.

Martin’s still a skilled receiver who gets on base, so there figures to be some demand for him as he enters his age-36 season. The Blue Jays would have to pay down most of his contract in any trade – likely taking on $15-17 million of his $20 million salary based on the recent free agent deals signed by veteran catchers Kurt Suzuki (two years, $10 million), Jeff Mathis (two years, $6.25 million) and Brian McCann (one year, $2 million).

Another starting pitcher of interest

Mike Fiers posted a 3.56 ERA in 172 innings this year, but the Athletics non-tendered the 33-year-old instead of paying him a projected $9.7 million in arbitration. The decision makes more sense when you look past his 12-8 record and impressive ERA, as Fiers outperformed his 4.51 xFIP by nearly a run. Plus, his stuff isn’t exactly overwhelming; his average fastball sits below 90 m.p.h. and he generates fewer swings and misses than most. Chances are, that 3.56 ERA will rise in 2019.

Still, the Blue Jays need innings and Fiers has pitched 150-plus frames in each of the past four seasons. And if any team knows that low-velocity right-handers can succeed it’s the Blue Jays, who watched Marco Estrada use the same change-up, curve and high fastball formula also preferred by Fiers.

While it makes sense for the Blue Jays to start the off-season by aiming higher and pursuing the likes of Lance Lynn, they could reach a point where Fiers becomes a consideration on a one-year deal.

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.

More relievers flood the market

This year’s class of non-tenders added to a deep relief market, a development that could help the Blue Jays. Given that 2019 projects as a rebuilding year in Toronto, the Blue Jays don’t have to rush a deal and can instead wait for bargains to emerge later in the winter.

Among the relievers worth monitoring: right-hander Brad Boxberger (non-tendered by the Diamondbacks with a projected $4.9 million salary), right-hander Blake Parker (non-tendered by the Angels with a projected $3.1 million salary) and left-hander Luis Avilan (non-tendered by the Phillies with a projected $3.1 million salary). None of these relievers will light up a radar gun, but all could be useful on the right deal.

Boxberger’s home run issues persisted in 2018, but his fastball-change-up combination still induces strikeouts, so he’d be an interesting spring invitee at the very least. More intriguing are Parker (3.26 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9, 66.1 innings) and Avilan (3.77 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 45.1 innings), both of whom pitched respectably in 2018.

Going forward, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Parker or Avilan outperform more coveted free agents like Joe Kelly, yet these recent non-tenders are likely to be available on modest deals. Considering the Blue Jays’ need for relievers, either Parker or Avilan could be a worthwhile target on a small-scale one-year contract.

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