TORONTO – Change for the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season starts with Aledmys Diaz, an acquisition that ushered out the glove-first Ryan Goins by providing at least a part of, if not the entire answer to the club’s needs for an up-the-middle infielder who can make an impact at the plate.
The 27-year-old Cuban is certainly an intriguing play by general manager Ross Atkins, especially if he can regain the form from his 3.5-WAR rookie campaign in 2016, when he hit 17 homers and posted an .879 OPS in 460 plate appearances while earning an all-star nod.
But Diaz regressed this past season, posting a .682 OPS in 79 games with the St. Louis Cardinals around 46 games with triple-A Memphis. In combination with defensive inconsistencies at shortstop and the development of Paul DeJong, he became expendable, allowing the Blue Jays to acquire him Friday for outfield prospect J.B. Woodman, a second-round pick in 2016 who posted a .699 OPS at low-A Lansing.
For the Blue Jays, Diaz offers more palatable extended-term protection behind shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and second baseman Devon Travis, both coming off injuries and facing durability questions. During Diaz’s time in Memphis, he sought work at other positions to develop his defence around the diamond, playing nine games at third and six at second, where he was said to look comfortable.
“We’re excited about his versatility, some of his major-league success and reason to believe there’s some bounce back,” Atkins said in a brief interview. “Glad to add him to the organization and hopefully he’s a piece to the solution. But we’ve got a lot of work remaining.”
Signed by the Cardinals for $8 million as an international free agent in March 2014 (he worked out for the Blue Jays before signing with St. Louis), Diaz will essentially cost the same as the $1.8 million Goins was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn in arbitration.
Goins, along with right-hander Tom Koehler, was sent to the open market when he didn’t receive a 2018 offer ahead of Friday’s 8 p.m. deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players. His glove will be missed, especially with Darwin Barney a free agent, which means there may yet be another piece to this. But Diaz gives them some flexibility, and he still has an option remaining, too.
“He’s a part of our solution,” Atkins repeated.
Parting ways with Koehler, projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $6 million in arbitration, was no surprise. But the split with Goins signalled that some transition was coming. The 29-year-old, beloved for his defence, slashed .237/.286/.356 with a career-best 62 RBIs resulting from a freakish .330 average with runners in scoring position that included a 10-for-14 mark with the bases loaded.
“Both are great players I would expect are playing in the major-leagues,” said Atkins. “We still have interest in them. It’s a matter of alternatives and what the costs are and balancing those with where there is and isn’t some depth in the market. Really it came down to wanting roster flexibility and financial flexibility.”
The Blue Jays tendered their other nine arbitration-eligible players – Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Loup, Travis, Ezequiel Carrera and Dominic Leone – leaving them at roughly $136 million between projected salaries and contracts on the books.
At a payroll of $160 million, the area in which they started last year, that gives Atkins some $24 million to bolster the starting rotation, augment the outfield and deepen the bullpen. All of which is why Diaz is a beginning, but very far from the end.
HUNT FOR OHTANI: The pursuit of Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani is fully underway after Major League Baseball clubs ratified on Friday a new posting system agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball.
The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters were set to post the right-handed pitcher and outfielder with a release fee of $20 million. The negotiation window for Ohtani expires Dec. 22 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Last week, The Associated Press and other outlets reported that Ohtani’s agent – Nez Balelo, the co-head of CAA Baseball – sent out a memo to all 30 teams asking interested clubs to submit their evaluation of the player’s abilities as a pitcher and hitter; explain their philosophies on player development and training; describe their spring training and minor-league facilities; detail how they’d help Ohtani’s cultural assimilation into the city; show how Ohtani could integrate into the team’s organization; and to demonstrate why the city is a desirable place to play.
Atkins didn’t want to get into specifics, but credited Pacific Rim Operations head Dan Evans, assistant GMs Joe Sheehan and Andrew Tinnish, pro scouting director Ryan Mittleman, scouts Jim Skaalen and Jon Lalonde, pro scouting co-ordinator David Haynes and co-ordinator baseball research Jeremy Reesor for having “worked tirelessly.”
“It would be hard to quantify how much work has gone into ensuring that we do everything we can to put our best foot forward,” said Atkins. “Whether or not that ends up in a positive result for us is very difficult for me to tell you. Time will tell. We’ll learn relatively quickly how much we are in the fray. But we are extremely confident that we’ve done everything in our ability to ensure that we will be.”
TINNISH RETURNS: Family reasons cut short Tinnish’s reunion with Alex Anthopoulos in Atlanta, with the Canadian executive rejoining the Blue Jays on Friday after withdrawing from the vice-president, amateur and international scouting position he accepted from the Braves on Monday.
Tinnish, who worked with the new Braves GM and former Blue Jays GM in Toronto, said in a statement that “despite a great opportunity from the Braves, I feel the best decision for me and my family is to remain in Toronto with the Blue Jays.”
Atkins welcomed Tinnish, an assistant general manager who oversaw the club’s international operations, back to the fold.
“He is an exceptional executive with a tireless work ethic and he’s as passionate about the Toronto Blue Jays as any individual that we have,” said Atkins. “We’re just elated to have him back here and elated to have his talent and passion for the Blue Jays helping us get better every day.”