MLB Rumour Roundup: Blue Jays among frontrunners for Springer, LeMahieu

MLB Insider Ben Nicholson-Smith joined Sportsnet Central to discuss why things are moving so slowly on the MLB’s free agent market and why George Springer should be the top priority target for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The MLB off-season keeps slogging along, with nearly all of the biggest names left unsigned as the final days of 2020 tick away. Baseball's hot stove is as frigid as the winter air.

Still, there are rumours and reports aplenty — many of which find the Toronto Blue Jays at the core. Perhaps Jays fans won't see any marquee free agents under the team's proverbial Christmas tree, but there is plenty of buzz to keep track of for when the calendar flips to 2021.

Here's a look at the latest rumblings.

Some execs see Springer sweepstakes as two-team race

In theory, George Springer has his pick of which outfield he'll roam next season. That's how it should work when you're among the most sought-after position players, anyway.

But right now, there's reason to believe Springer will land in one of two outfields: the one at the Rogers Centre or the one at Citi Field. ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Monday that the Blue Jays and the New York Mets are leading the pack of teams pursuing Springer's services.

"There are others, too, but executives believe this is a two-team race between the duo seen as the likely biggest spenders this winter," Passan wrote. "Certainly this benefits Springer; bidding wars these days are few and far between. But Springer also understands that there are scenarios in which both teams go in another direction.”

Last year Springer, who has a career 131 OPS+ in seven seasons, avoided arbitration with the Astros by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $21 million. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he'll fetch $125 million over five years on his upcoming deal, wherever that may be.

MLB Network's Jon Morosi corroborated Passan's findings about the Blue Jays and Mets being in on Springer, and he discussed that situation Tuesday on Sportsnet's 590 The Fan.

"I think, at the end of the day, the Jays’ offer is going to be very competitive to what the Mets put out there," Morosi said. "And it’s just going to be a matter of, with things being pretty close, does George want to play in New York or does he want to play in Toronto?"

Reds tightening the budget, listening on Castillo

Last season, the Cincinnati Reds wedged into the playoffs after posting their first winning record since 2013. Now, they might be on the verge of tearing things down again.

After trading away closer Raisel Iglesias and non-tendering power relief arm Archie Bradley (and, presumably, sitting out the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes), the Reds are open to additional shakeups.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that starters Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray are being discussed in trades, adding that "belt tightening this winter is clear" for the organization.

Gray, 31, is coming off an excellent season (3.05 FIP, 129 ERA+), but Castillo is particularly noteworthy because he appears to still be on the rise.

The 28-year-old averaged 97.4 m.p.h. on his fastball last year (96th percentile in MLB) and was in the 85th percentile or better in exit velocity, expected ERA, expected slugging percentage and expected wOBA. He also posted career bests in ERA+ (148) and FIP (2.65) in 2020 and — *furiously knocks on wood* — hasn’t spent a day on the injured list since the Reds called him up in June of 2017.

If the Reds are motivated enough to trim payroll, they could partner up with the Blue Jays for a "pretty unique trade," Morosi said.

As Morosi explains, the Blue Jays could try to attach someone like Castillo to a trade involving Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who is coming off a down year (102 OPS+) and is owed $44.64 million over the next four years — through his age-32 season.

"The Jays are clearly one of the teams — along with the Mets — who are comfortable taking on money," Morosi said. "Comfortable swinging a pretty significant trade that involves added payroll obligations. And when you are one of the handful of teams that are comfortable doing that, you can really make some pretty incredible moves.”

Blue Jays may be biggest threat to Yankees on LeMahieu

But wait, Blue Jays fans ... there's more!

Next to Springer, the most intriguing position player on the open market might be versatile infielder DJ LeMahieu. And according to Passan, Toronto is in the hunt to add the reigning AL batting champ.

“The Blue Jays, sources said, have emerged as significant players in the LeMahieu sweepstakes -- perhaps the biggest threat to him re-signing with the New York Yankees, with whom a significant gap remains," Passan wrote. "The Mets also have expressed interest in LeMahieu. New York is seen by a number of executives as the best landing spot for Bauer."

LeMahieu is due for a major salary bump now that his two-year, $24 million agreement with the Yankees is over. He signed that in January of 2019, after posting just a 91 OPS+ in his final two seasons with the Colorado Rockies.

In the past two years wearing pinstripes, LeMahieu won a pair of Silver Slugger awards, finished inside the top-five of MVP voting twice and produced a whopping 145 OPS+. So, yeah, he's looking to swap out his prove-it contract for a "proven" contract.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts the 32-year-old will receive four years and $68 million in his next deal. They also predicted that he'll sign with the Blue Jays, for whatever that's worth.

Mets are “looking into” Tomoyuki Sugano

A name some baseball fans might be less familiar with amid the off-season churn is Tomoyuki Sugano, a Japanese pitcher who is currently posted for MLB teams after spending eight years in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league.

But pay attention, because Sugano was consistently effective in NPB — with a career 2.94 ERA and 1.035 WHIP — and could make an immediate impact in a big-league rotation.

Last week, Passan linked Sugano to the Blue Jays, as one of the teams showing interest in the 31-year-old.

Now, Joel Sherman of the New York Post is reporting that the Mets are in on him as well. Sherman quoted one anonymous executive, who said the Mets "have as good a chance as anyone."

Sugano has won two Sawamura Awards (NPB equivalent to the Cy Young Award) and is coming off one of his best seasons, going 14-2 with a 1.97 ERA and 0.888 WHIP in 2020.

The Blue Jays, Mets and whoever else wants to negotiate with Sugano have until Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. ET to coax him into putting pen to paper. After that, Sugano's 30-day posting period will end and he'll be returned to NPB's Yomiuri Giants.

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