Whether it’s about jumping in on J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, or Francisco Lindor, a new report seems to emerge every day about an impact player the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in.
There are some caveats to those reports, of course. Many of them originate with agents, who are incentivized to create the perception that there is widespread interest in their clients. The Blue Jays front office also tends to err on the side of caution, although the Hyun-Jin Ryu contract certainly forced people to re-evaluate their priors on that idea.
For all the reason to temper expectations, though, the Blue Jays do seem to be in on brand-name talent this offseason, in both the free agent and trade markets. As we continue to hear these rumours, it’s important to be mindful of a pool of players whose names have yet to enter circulation, but who may still be crucial to the club’s 2021 plans.
On Dec. 2, the non-tender deadline will bring a new wave of players into the market. While we are typically inclined to believe these guys are merely extra pieces, the financial difficulties faced by a number of clubs due to COVID-19 should make more -- and better -- players available.
Here are a few players who could shake loose that should interest the Blue Jays, whether as potential free agents next week or trade targets in the meantime:
2020 stats: 8.22 ERA and 4.89 FIP in 8.2 innings, with 7.04 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9
MLBTR projected arbitration salary: $4.5 million
Why he could fit: The former third overall pick has had a litany of injuries in recent years and represents something of a reclamation project. He was only able to appear in four games last season after his Tommy John surgery in 2019, and spent time on the injured list with left shoulder soreness. He also had a significant shoulder issue in 2018, and his highest single-season innings total since 2016 is 120.2.
Those are the red flags that make him a non-tender candidate for the Chicago White Sox. He’s no longer in their starting five, and moving on from Rodon could free up close to $5 million for them to allocate elsewhere.
From the Blue Jays' perspective, Rodon is someone who can come in and compete for a starting spot, while escaping the expectations his draft pedigree put on him in Chicago. He is also far enough removed from his Tommy John that he should be getting back to his old self. At his best, the big southpaw has a slider with excellent horizontal movement that’s good for a whiff rate of around 40 per cent, and a low-90s fastball with average spin that he can locate at the top of the zone.
Rodon has an interesting floor because, if he’s unable to crack the rotation, he has potential in relief. He pitched out of the bullpen twice in 2020 and his fastball averaged 96.2 m.p.h. and 94.2 m.p.h. in those outings. The Blue Jays aren’t long on lefty relievers -- especially if Anthony Kay starts at triple-A as expected -- and Rodon could find a role in their bullpen. The injury risk is significant, but he could fill a need in multiple ways.
2020 stats: 5.40 ERA and 6.06 FIP in 8.2 innings, with 5.79 K/9, 5.01 BB/9, 1.54 HR/9
MLBTR projected arbitration salary: $3.9 million
Why he could fit: This would be a bet on talent over production, because there’s not a lot in Urena’s career numbers to recommend him as a free agent target. That said, we’re in an era when pitchers are prized for their abilities more so than their accomplishments. If you find a guy with an elite trait or two, and you believe in your analysts and pitching coaches, that can matter more than an ugly ERA or bloated walk rate.
In August, the Blue Jays acquired Robbie Ray as a rental despite the fact he was in the middle of a brutal season. Grabbing Urena would be a similar move because they’d be counting on molding Urena into something great. That gamble would be based on the elite velocity (95.3 m.p.h.) of his sinker, which has above-average movement vertically and horizontally that can make hitters look silly.
In his brief work last season, Urena got away from that pitch, throwing it 41.7 per cent of the time as opposed to 62.9 in 2019, which probably factored into his rough statistical performance. He also has a bat-missing slider and has tinkered with a curveball, cutter, and changeup. If he establishes a consistent pitch mix and sticks to it, his best years could be ahead.
Much like Rodon, Urena has potential as a bullpen piece if he fails to crack the rotation. It should be noted he hasn’t thrived in that role before, but the sample is relatively small (61 career innings) and with his velocity there’s no reason shorter stints couldn’t benefit him.
2020 stats: .215/.299/.417 line in 164 plate appearances, with 6 HR and 6 SB
MLBTR projected arbitration salary: $2.7 million
Why he could fit: In 2019, Goodwin was seen as a feel-good breakout story and an important complement to Mike Trout on the Los Angeles Angels. His stock has fallen since then, but he’s still a handy and versatile player.
At the plate, Goodwin combines power and patience while hitting right-handers and left-handers equally well. His primary offensive weakness is a tendency to swing and miss, but his career line of .250/.317/.455 is more than respectable. He also has 80th percentile sprint speed, which has translated to efficient, if not prolific, base stealing.
Defensively, the 30-year-old grades out as an approximately average centre fielder, although his metrics have oscillated wildly on a year-to-year basis. He’s also a strong option in the corners. He’s the type of player you don’t necessarily worry about in the field as opposed to a plus defender.
Nothing about Goodwin jumps off the page, but he’s the sort of reliable fourth outfielder who could raise the Blue Jays’ floor at that position and fill in capably if Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. sustained a long-term injury.
2020 stats: .260/.317/.417 line in 189 plate appearances, with 5 HR and 2 SB
MLBTR projected arbitration salary: $2.8 million
Why he could fit: Arcia is a player whose value depends heavily on how you weigh his 2020 performance. Historically speaking, he’s been a defence-first shortstop whose defence has seemed to decline in recent years. If you don’t think his glove work is that impressive anymore, it’s hard to put too much stock in a guy with a career .244/.295/.366 line -- which is precisely why he’s a non-tender candidate.
However, he did show signs of life with the bat in 2020 that are at least intriguing. After years of being one of the worst hitters in the league from a Statcast perspective, his exit velocity was above-average for the first time, which drove his expected stats up.
He also raised his launch angle to 9.6 degrees, which blew away his previous career high of 6.8. Arcia’s progress included a significant bump in his production against breaking pitches -- traditionally his greatest weakness. In four seasons prior to 2020, he never slugged better than .359 against them or whiffed less than 31.9 per cent of the time. This year, he slugged .462 with a whiff rate of 24.5 per cent.
The sample here is too small to inspire complete confidence in a major step forward, but it adds intrigue to Arcia as a target. If the 26-year-old is making offensive improvements -- even marginal ones -- he looks appealing as a part-time infielder who can handle short and has the potential to excel with the glove at less demanding positions like second or third.
2020 stats: 7.50 ERA and 5.69 FIP in 24 innings, with 10.13 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 2.25 HR/9
MLBTR projected arbitration salary: $1.5 million
Why he could fit: Under normal circumstances, there’s no way a guy like Estevez would be a non-tender candidate. He was one of the Rockies' best relievers as recently as 2019, he averages 96.9 m.p.h. on his fastball, and his projected arbitration salary is awfully reasonable.
However, because the Rockies are looking to cut costs, and their payroll is bogged down with sizable guaranteed contracts, Estevez could be pushed out the door after a rough season.
There are plenty of reasons to believe the 27-year-old could bounce back if that comes to pass. His 94th percentile velocity alone isn’t a bad reason to roll the dice on him. Neither is the benefit he’d get from leaving Coors Field, where he has a career 6.57 ERA -- as opposed to 3.24 elsewhere.
Estevez also started incorporating his changeup into his pitch mix at a career-high rate (12.4 per cent) last year and saw hitters bash it to the tune of a .462 batting average and .692 slugging percentage. Those numbers, and its below-average movement across the board, indicate it can be scrapped at his next port of call. Estevez isn’t a player the Blue Jays need, but he’d be an interesting horse to bet on if he comes free on or before Dec. 2.