Where Blue Jays fit in rapidly-shifting free agent market

After spending heavily on their infield, Jon Morosi joins Sportsnet Central to discuss the Texas Rangers' spending spree.

TORONTO – As recently as a few weeks ago, many agents and executives were predicting that the start of the MLB off-season would unfold slowly, especially for top-end free agents.

With a lockout looming, there was all kinds of uncertainty about the rules that govern the business side of the game. Plus, off-seasons have started developing more slowly in recent years, dragging on long last the point that they could truly be considered entertaining. Under those circumstances, few anticipated what was coming.

In recent days, teams have committed billions in future payroll as many of the game’s top free agents have found new homes. From an entertainment standpoint, it’s been refreshing. And since the deals have been happening in such quick succession, teams and agencies have had to adjust their own plans and expectations as options emerge and disappear.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been active, signing starter Kevin Gausman to a five-year, $110 million deal and adding reliever Yimi Garcia for $11 million over two years, but they still need another starting pitcher, more relief help and an infielder. They can still spend, and trades are on the table too.

Whatever they do, they must adapt quickly in a market shifting by the hour. A closer look at the rapidly developing infield and starting pitching markets will offer more clarity on what exactly the Blue Jays’ options are.

High-end infield market moving quickly

As you’d expect from a team willing to spend and eager to improve, the Blue Jays spent plenty of time assessing a particularly intriguing group of top-tier free agent infielders.

After a 45-home run, 7.3-WAR season from Marcus Semien, the Blue Jays would have been happy to bring him back, though it never appeared they’d go near the seven-year, $175 million deal that he ultimately got from Texas. The Blue Jays also showed recent interest in Javy Baez, the free-swinging, powerful and defensively gifted infielder who’s reportedly on the brink of a six-year, $140 million deal with the Tigers.

And while the Blue Jays were rarely publicly linked to Corey Seager before he landed a 10-year, $325 million deal from the Rangers, they really liked his skillset and potential. On paper, he may even have been the best fit of all. A left-handed hitting 27-year-old with MVP upside? Price aside, some in the industry viewed Seager as the ideal acquisition for the Blue Jays, where he could have played third base while spelling Bo Bichette at shortstop.

But when the contract required to sign Seager was one of the biggest in MLB history, you can’t really set price aside. Team president Mark Shapiro said earlier this winter that he’s not anticipating a payroll that exceeds baseball’s competitive balance tax and with another $30-million player, the Blue Jays would suddenly start approaching that territory for 2023. Since Carlos Correa seems poised to land an even bigger contract than Seager, he doesn’t look like a fit right now either, especially since he belongs at shortstop with his next team.

Even with those deals in place, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant and Chris Taylor remain available and that’s before we even get to a trade market that includes Jose Ramirez, Matt Chapman and perhaps Ketel Marte. Further down the free agent list there are more depth options such as Kyle Seager, who could capably play third base, or Josh Harrison, who’s now choosing between multiple offers, according to an industry source.

As Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported, the Blue Jays do have interest in Taylor. Not only can he play second base, third base and shortstop, he's also an option in centre field, which could be appealing for a team in need of contingencies behind George Springer. With those attributes in mind, the Blue Jays expressed interest in Taylor early this off-season and he remains a fit.

All things considered? Many players are now off the board, but there still are enough viable options remaining to believe the Blue Jays will ultimately get an infielder they want.

Where did all the pitchers go?

If the season began tomorrow, Ross Stripling or Nate Pearson would likely be the Blue Jays’ fifth starter behind Gausman, Jose Berrios, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah. That’s a strong group, but one the Blue Jays would like to strengthen further.

Yet the options are quickly diminishing with mid- or back-end starters like Andrew Heaney, Michael Wacha, Jon Gray, Anthony DeSclafani and Steven Matz all signing. Alex Wood and Alex Cobb are said to be finalizing deals with the Giants, which would thin the starting market further.

Simply put, executives are starting to run out of options to pursue – and since many teams still need starting depth the Blue Jays are sure to face lots of competition.

Remaining in free agency is a group including Yusei Kikuchi, Tyler Anderson, Danny Duffy and Rich Hill. Given the high price of pitching to this point, Kikuchi is a candidate for a multi-year deal, and it’s conceivable Anderson could command one too.

Perhaps Tuesday’s 8 p.m. ET tender deadline will set free some intriguing arms in need of a change of scenery. Remember, it was just last year that Carlos Rodon was non-tendered and he’s now poised to land a lucrative multi-year deal. Otherwise, the Blue Jays could turn to trades.

For a Blue Jays team likely looking to find next year’s version of Matz without making a cumbersome commitment some creativity will be required here. Yet their aggressiveness in this market so far shows a willingness to spend on bounce-back pitchers with the potential to round out a promising rotation.

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