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Josh Donaldson’s future
At least five teams have reportedly been in contact with the Blue Jays about acquiring Josh Donaldson, according to Jon Heyman, and the St. Louis Cardinals seem to be the most determined to pry the 32-year-old former AL MVP loose.
Though Blue Jays executives remain steadfast in their plans to contend in 2018, waiting until the August trade deadline to ship off Donaldson might not be wise. Last season, J.D. Martinez was traded at the deadline for three low-level prospects, despite leading the majors in slugging percentage. Though Manny Machado’s request to play shortstop next season has thinned out the third base market, Evan Longoria is likely still available and other versatile infielders could make it a buyer’s market for teams looking to upgrade at the hot corner.
Toronto’s asking price remains high, according to Ken Rosenthal, but if the Cardinals come knocking with a package including Jedd Gyorko and top-100 prospect Jack Flaherty, the Jays would be wise to accept.
Middle infield options
Don’t expect Aledmys Díaz to be the Blue Jays’ lone middle infield solution next season. Ross Atkins told reporters the team is still looking to add another piece to bolster their infield depth.
The Blue Jays have been in talks with the Milwaukee Brewers about acquiring Jonathan Villar, per Jeff Blair. Villar was a star in 2016, slashing .285/.369/.457 with 62 stolen bases, but his horrendous 2017 campaign had him relegated to the bench for parts of last season. The drop-off can mostly be attributed to Villar’s increased strikeout rate and his struggles with the changeup. After slugging .500 on the changeup in 2016, Villar saw that number fall to .217 in 2017, and pitchers increasingly threw it when he got behind in the count. Some quality time with Marco Estrada could fix Villar’s issues, but adding another strikeout prone player might be a bad decision for the Jays.
If Toronto is serious about contending in 2018, César Hernández would be a player to look into. The Phillies’ asking price would be high, likely including Anthony Alford and another top-tier prospect, but the 27-year-old is under team control until 2021 and has a skillset similar to Ben Zobrist. Though not a prolific base stealer, Hernández would immediately become the fastest Blue Jay, according to MLB Statcast data. He’s also a patient hitter who rarely strikes out and seldom swings at pitches outside the strike zone.
Outside of the trade market, Toronto has been connected to 30-year-old free agent Eduardo Nunez, per Heyman. Nunez played 3B, 2B, SS, and both corner outfield spots last year. Though his infield defence isn’t great, Nunez slashed .313/.341/.460 in 2017 and could be an everyday outfield with backup infielder potential for the Blue Jays in 2018.
Looking to add starpower to an already deep outfield, Toronto has reportedly checked in on both J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain, but the expectation is their price tags will be too high for Toronto’s taste.
Shopping in the cheaper bins, Atkins mentioned both Carlos González and Jay Bruce as possible fits, and the team has also been connected to Carlos Gomez. Bruce would likely be the most expensive of these options; however, his negative defensive WAR should rule him out for Toronto. Gomez has had an up-and-down past few seasons, but hit well for the Rangers in 105 games last year. He can play anywhere in the outfield, but a nearly 30 percent strikeout rate is alarming and could be a deal breaker. González is the most interesting of these options. He had a horrendous first half of 2017, but posted an .836 OPS in the second half, with a scorching hot .377/.484/.766 in September and October. However, some of that might be attributed to Coors Field and lucky hitting. His .390 BABIP in the second half should be alarming for Toronto. He’s definitely worth a one-year deal, but anything longer might be cause for concern.
In the trade market, Avisail Garcia is reportedly on the Blue Jays radar, according to Bob Nightengale. The 26-year-old right fielder had a breakout 2017 campaign, finishing as a top 10-offensive outfielder in wRC+, but his defense metrics aren’t pretty. His numbers were also inflated by a major league leading .392 BABIP in 2017, so buyer beware, a significant regression should be expected. Under team control through 2019, Garcia won’t be cheap, and could be a risk the Jays aren’t willing to take.
While offense seems to be Toronto’s main concern, Atkins told the media he expects to add one starting pitcher this offseason. Toronto hasn’t made much noise in the pitching market. They are said to be in on free agent right-hander Alex Cobb, according to Heyman. The 30-year-old recovered from Tommy John surgery last year to post a 3.66 ERA over 179.1 innings. With a fastball in the low-90s, Cobb isn’t a strikeout pitcher, but his curveball ranked amongst the league’s best. Aside from arm concerns, the potential adoption of a 20-second pitch clock in 2018 could disproportionality hurt Cobb’s performance. At 27.3 seconds between pitches, he ranked slowest in the majors in Pace, according to Fangraphs. In a free agent pitching market that lacks depth, Cobb could see his price tag exceed the Blue Jays’ intere