Blue Jays’ Biggest Offseason Needs: Team Enters Free Agency Period With Sixth-Shortest World Series Odds
The Toronto Blue Jays failed to meet high expectations in 2023, bowing out of the wild-card round for the second consecutive season and the third time in the past four seasons.
Team executives now have the challenge of figuring out how to get the team over the hump in 2024 and poised for a deep playoff run. The clock is ticking with superstars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette under team control for just two more seasons before potentially testing free agency or commanding massive long-term extensions. And with a payroll already projected around $130 million (including estimated arbitration salaries) for 2024, and many holes on the roster to fill before spring training, the Jays will have to make some shrewd moves and signings to stay under the $237 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which they’ll likely not want to even come close to flirting with anyways.
Blue Jays to win 2024 World Series
Hyun Jin Ryu, Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, Whit Merrifield, Kevin Kiermaier, and Jordan Hicks are all now free agents, although the Blue Jays did submit a one-year, $20.32 million qualifying offer for Chapman. He has until Nov. 14 to either accept or reject the qualifying offer. If he turns down the qualifying offer and decides to sign with another team (and he likely will), the Blue Jays will receive draft-pick compensation.
MLB Trade Rumors is projecting Chapman will command a deal somewhere in the six-year, $150 million range after he claimed his fourth Gold Glove Award at third base this season. Toronto is rumoured to be interested in bringing him back on a multi-year deal, but it remains to be seen if the Jays will be willing to commit to the term and dollars required to make it happen.
Belt and Kiermaier signed with Toronto on separate one-year deals last offseason, and they both boosted their respective stock with impressive seasons north of the border. In September, Kiermaier expressed his desire to play on natural grass instead of artificial turf for health reasons next season, presumably ruling out a potential return to Toronto and Tampa Bay. He specifically pointed out Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium as venues he enjoys playing in. Belt, who had a miserable start to his Blue Jays tenure with a .164/.246/.273 slash line in April before turning the heat up the rest of the way, is now pondering retirement.
A reunion with Ryu is unlikely after the lefty battled injuries throughout his four-year tenure with Toronto. He never lived up to the four-year, $80 million contract the team signed him to back in 2019.
Merrifield had a mutual option with the Jays for next season, but both parties declined it. He likely won’t be back after his late-season struggles, but his versatility will certainly be missed.
Hicks, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in July for a playoff push, was excellent in 25 games for Toronto down the stretch, posting a 2.63 ERA and seven holds. The flamethrower will be in for a sizable raise from the $3.25 million he earned last year, and it’s widely assumed many clubs will be in the running for his services, including the Jays.
Third base: As it currently stands, either Santiago Espinal or Cavan Biggio will be the starting third baseman for the Jays next season. It’s unlikely Toronto’s brass is comfortable with that arrangement, at least on a full-time basis, so the team will likely make an addition in some capacity at the hot corner. There are some intriguing free-agent veteran options at third, including Evan Longoria and Justin Turner. Eduardo Escobar or Jeimer Candelario are also available on the market. But it’s hard to imagine an upgrade here over Chapman unless Toronto does something via trade.
DH/corner outfielder: The Jays will have to do something to replace the pop Belt provided primarily out of the designated hitter spot last season. I know what you’re thinking: Ohtani! Yes, the Blue Jays are considered by many top analysts and reporters to be somewhat in the mix for the two-way player’s services, but they’re definitely not frontrunners, at least for now. Shohei’s hulking bat would definitely vault Toronto into another echelon of World Series contenders, but it’s hard to imagine the team coughing up north of $500 million for Ohtani, especially when he won’t be returning to the mound until 2025 after undergoing an elbow procedure.
Shohei Ohtani’s next team: Blue Jays
So who else is a logical and financial fit?
Well, would the Jays consider a reunion with either Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez? Both former Blue Jays are on the market and seemed to really enjoy and bond with their teammates while previously playing in Toronto. Or, how about rolling the dice on Canadian Joey Votto? The former National League MVP is now 40, but his veteran presence could be invaluable to the team. Yes, his numbers have been in a sharp decline over the past few seasons, but perhaps a homecoming might inspire him to greatness for one last season in the majors. He wouldn’t break the bank either at this point in his career and would likely be satisfield with a one-year deal to play at home. Maybe a veteran slugger like J.D. Martinez would fit the bill on a short-term deal? The 36-year-old swatted 33 homers and drove in 103 runs for the Dodgers last year.
Pitching depth: You can never have enough pitching, right? Starting pitching is a strength of this team heading into next season with Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi, and Chris Bassitt all under contract and poised to hold down the rotation again. That leaves one spot in the rotation up for grabs, and if Alek Manoah can rediscover himself, he might have the inside track on that job. Or, the Jays could turn to top prospect Ricky Tiedemann to fill the void. Either way, there will be injuries at some point, and adding a budget-friendly veteran starter (think Corey Kluber, Michael Wacha, James Paxton, Noah Syndergaard, etc.) or two to the mix would be beneficial for depth and insurance purposes.
As for the bullpen, Toronto looks strong again with Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson anchoring the back end. The club also exercised Chad Green’s two-year, $21 million option, giving the team another high-leverage reliever to call upon. Lefties Genesis Cabrera and Tim Mayza are also back to quiet the top left-handed bats in the league and Trevor Richards and Yimi Garcia are competent arms the team can lean on. Enticing Hicks to come back on a short-term deal would really solidify the bullpen.
Second base: Are the Jays ready to hand the job next year to Davis Schneider and his awesome mustache? He raked after being called up from Triple-A Buffalo last August, hitting six homers while slashing an incredible .426/.526/.894 for the month. His numbers tanked in September, though, which could leave some doubt whether or not he’s ready for a full-time role heading into next season. The aforementioned Biggio and Espinal could help platoon at second, but maybe Toronto will want to add a veteran to compete at the position. The free agent pool is thin at second, though, with Jean Segura, Tony Kemp, and Adam Frazier perhaps the best players available.