Which top MLB free agents fit best on Blue Jays' roster?

Sportsnet's baseball columnist joins Tim and Sid to discuss what the Toronto Blue Jays can do in the off-season and they have so many different groupings of players that they can add to the roster to address as many holes that they can.

TORONTO – One year after signing Hyun-Jin Ryu to the biggest pitching contract in the history of the franchise, the Toronto Blue Jays are once again positioned to be active in the free-agent market.

Compared to super-teams like the Yankees and Dodgers, the Blue Jays have lots of areas that need improvement. And at a time that much of the industry is paring back expenses, the Blue Jays are able to spend. As GM Ross Atkins said when the off-season began, that could mean “talent that is condensed in one player and a super high impact” or it could be complementary players who aren’t quite as splashy.

“Hopefully it’s both,” he concluded.

The Blue Jays need pitching, want to improve their defence and could certainly use another big bat. Under those circumstances, just about every free agent is a potential fit in Toronto, and many trade candidates are, too. But some are better fits than others.

Using MLB Trade Rumors’ invaluable contract predictions as a guideline, let’s take a look at how this year’s top 15 free agents would fit in Toronto (omitted are Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman, both of whom accepted qualifying offers in lieu of exploring free agency further).

Trevor Bauer, SP

MLBTR contract prediction: Four years, $128 million
Draft pick compensation required: Yes
Age: 29

The top starting pitcher on the market would certainly fit a need for the Blue Jays, who allowed more runs than all but four teams last year. Evidently, there’s support within the clubhouse, as Randal Grichuk recently encouraged Bauer to sign north of the border on Twitter.

There’s also history here, as Atkins was farm director and Mark Shapiro was team president when Cleveland acquired Bauer, then a top prospect, in 2012. Of course both executives have worked with hundreds of players over the years. Familiarity doesn’t guarantee a reunion, or even serious interest. Yet if the Blue Jays do want to make a serious push, they’d have better insight than most on how to appeal to the 29-year-old.

Bauer is open to one-year deals -- a rarity for top free agents -- but agent Rachel Luba says that’s just one possibility. With that in mind, teams face the question of how to construct their offers. Do they push a specific structure and try to sell Bauer on it? Or create a few different potential options and let him go à la carte?

Some teams will get to that point with Bauer. Right now, there’s no guarantee the Blue Jays will be among them. After all, they have an interest in top position players, too.

J.T. Realmuto, C

MLBTR contract prediction: Five years, $125 million
Draft pick compensation required: Yes
Age: 29

Organizationally, catcher is a position of depth for the Blue Jays. With prospects Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno and Riley Adams plus big-leaguers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, they have lots of capable young players coming up. And just last week, Atkins said he’s pleased with what he got from the position in 2020.

“Extremely satisfied,” he said. “But are you ever good enough? You're always thinking about getting better.”

A year ago, that desire to improve led to a meeting between the Blue Jays and Yasmani Grandal. Now, it’s Realmuto who’s available and once again it’s an opportunity worth exploring. Not only is Realmuto established as the game's best catcher, he has a chance to age better than most at the position. At 29 years old, he's two years younger than Russell Martin was when he signed in Toronto and his 84th percentile sprint speed allows him to run the bases better than most. Simply put, he’s a great player in his prime. That’s exactly why he’ll be so expensive.

George Springer, CF

MLBTR contract prediction: Five years, $125 million
Draft pick compensation required: Yes
Age: 31

Since Springer's debut in 2014, just four outfielders have generated more Wins Above Replacement: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich and Bryce Harper. And while Springer was a good player from the moment he arrived in the majors, his best work has come lately with 53 home runs and a .953 OPS over 173 games dating back to the start of 2019.

In centre field, he's not necessarily a Gold Glover but with 82nd percentile sprint speed he can certainly handle the position. In the playoffs, he’s one of the most prolific home run hitters of all-time. It’s a great fit for the Blue Jays, who are viewed by some in the industry as a real factor here. But, of course, Springer will be in high demand league-wide.

Marcell Ozuna, OF/DH

MLBTR contract prediction: Four years, $72 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 30

For some teams, Ozuna would be an ideal fit; Toronto is not among them. As three years with Kendrys Morales showed, full-time DHs limit a manager’s flexibility from day to day and inning to inning. Whether it’s for Rowdy Tellez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or simply a player easing his way back from injury, there’s value in keeping the DH spot free and spending elsewhere.

DJ LeMahieu, 1B/2B/3B

MLBTR contract prediction: Four years, $68 million
Draft pick compensation required: Yes
Age: 32

LeMahieu led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS this summer. The year before that he hit .327 with a .893 OPS and 5.9 wins above replacement. On defence, he plays first, second and third. A three-time Gold Glover, he also scores well on defensive metrics.

On paper, the 32-year-old’s close to a perfect fit for the Blue Jays, whose lineup would gain offensive upside while maintaining all of its versatility. If LeMahieu keeps hitting like this for even a year or two, he’ll be worth a lot more than MLBTR’s projected $68 million over the course of the next four seasons. A return to the Yankees has always seemed more likely, but if you’re the Blue Jays then stealing him from a division rival is certainly worth a shot. If there’s a reason that Toronto shouldn’t be a serious bidder here, I have yet to hear it.

Ha-Seong Kim, SS

MLBTR contract prediction: Five years, $40 million plus $7.625 million posting fee
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 25

There’s an expectation that Kim will be posted in a couple of weeks, and if he's available it stands to reason that he’ll draw interest from the Blue Jays, who have built up a greater Pacific Rim presence in recent years.

Playing for the KBO's Kiwoom Heroes this past season, Kim hit 30 home runs with a .921 OPS. He’s athletic enough to play shortstop and versatile enough to play second or third. At 25 years old, he should be entering his prime, so he’ll be in demand around MLB. The question for any interested team: how much of that offence would Kim supply against major-league calibre pitching?

Didi Gregorius, SS

MLBTR contract prediction: Three years, $39 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 30

A year ago, the Blue Jays showed interest in Gregorius before he signed with the Phillies. After another productive year he’s on the market once more and again he’s a possible fit.

Here’s the question, though: are the Blue Jays willing to move Bo Bichette off of shortstop for Gregorius? Because if not, the idea of multi-positional role might not be appealing for a 30-year-old who has played 887 of his 900 career games at short. He’s a really good player, it’s just that the fit would appear to need some work.

Masahiro Tanaka, SP

MLBTR contract prediction: Three years, $39 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 32

After seven years in the Bronx, it's hard to picture Tanaka anywhere else, but at 32 years old he's still young enough that teams should be comfortable offering multi-year deals. The body of work is excellent -- a career 3.74 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 -- and his average fastball velocity was a career-best 92.2 m.p.h. during the shortened 2020 season.

On paper he’s a fit for the Blue Jays, so I’d be surprised if they haven’t at least expressed some preliminary interest. Whether he sees the Blue Jays as a fit for him is another question.

Jake Odorizzi, SP

MLBTR contract prediction: Three years, $39 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 30

Early last off-season the Blue Jays showed serious interest in Odorizzi, and they’ve been linked to him once again this winter. After a season in which back, abdomen and blister issues limited him to just four starts, he'll be looking to bounce back in 2021. Even so, the possibility of a fit exists between the Blue Jays and the 30-year-old.

He’s no longer tied to draft pick compensation, which is a positive, but the Blue Jays aren’t opposed to signing players who declined qualifying offers. They can simply calculate the cost of the lost draft pick and price that into their valuations, just as they would have done to sign Odorizzi last winter.

Liam Hendriks, RP

MLBTR contract prediction: Three years, $30 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 31

This time five years ago, the Blue Jays had hired Shapiro but Atkins was not yet in place as GM. It was during that time of transition that the club sent Hendriks to Oakland for Jesse Chavez in a deal that would prove to be one-sided. In the five years since, Hendriks has transformed himself into one of the game's elite relievers with a fastball that reached triple digits in the playoffs for the A's last month.

In theory, a reunion is at least possible. Hendriks makes any team better, after all. Yet for him to end up with the Blue Jays I’m guessing plans would have to go awry for him, the team or both. If all goes well for Hendriks, a motivated buyer like the Phillies moves quickly and makes a strong offer. If all goes well for the Blue Jays, their top free agent expenditure is likely a starting pitcher or a position player, not a reliever.

Michael Brantley, OF

MLBTR contract prediction: Two years, $28 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 33

There's a lot to like about Brantley, whose bat to ball skills make him a perennial threat to hit .300 with some power. As with Bauer, Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber, there's familiarity here for Atkins and Shapiro.

Still, Brantley's an imperfect fit. A below-average runner, he's a corner outfielder at this stage of his career and the Blue Jays already have two of those in Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez. But you never know. Maybe LeMahieu goes back to the Yankees, Springer signs with the White Sox and the Mets trade for Lindor. At this point, there’s no sense closing off any options.

Justin Turner, 3B

MLBTR contract prediction: Two years, $24 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 36 next week

Turner's nearing his 36th birthday, but he hasn't stopped generating 3.0-5.0 wins above replacement per year either. The most obvious fit is a reunion with the Dodgers, of course. He's their franchise leader in post-season home runs and he fits a need in Los Angeles right now. But would he make the Blue Jays a better baseball team? Yes. And as long as that’s true, there’s no harm in having a conversation.

Marcus Semien, SS

MLBTR contract prediction: One year, $14 million
Draft pick compensation required: No
Age: 30

This wasn’t the platform year Semien envisioned, but even after posting a .679 OPS, he’s looking for a long-term contract. Agent Joel Wolfe recently told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that “we’ve always viewed Marcus as a $100 million-plus player. His pure value in the industry is north of $100 million.” If that’s the price, it’s pretty hard to see the Blue Jays emerging as a finalist here, especially since they already have a franchise shortstop of their own.

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