The Jose Bautista era in Toronto ended with a whimper. The Blue Jays limped through October and finished with a disappointing 76-86 record, good for 4th place in the AL East. Bautista himself had his worst season as a Jay, finishing with 23 home runs, 65 RBI, and a .203/.308/.366 slash line. Replacing Bautista should be a priority for the Jays during the off-season as internal options are very weak. With Kevin Pillar and Teoscar Hernández likely filling two spots in the outfield, it is time to take a look at three options for the outfield for the 2018 Jays.
I’m going to assume that top tier Free Agent J.D. Martinez is unrealistic for the Jays, given his high cost. While it would be great to pen an article saying “sign Martinez, case closed”, that’s not fun. Here are three options to consider.
Lorenzo Cain is coming off of a decent year compared to his previous campaigns. His 15 home runs were one shy of his personal best. His 26 stolen bases were also just shy of his back to back 28 stolen base seasons. He hit a respectable .300/.342/.421 slash line in 155 contests and had a 5.3 BWAR season. A defensive ace in the outfield, his presence might warrant a positional shift for someone, including himself. A short deal between 2 and 4 years around $9 to $12 million per season would be a good fit. Bringing in another center fielder might bristle some Jays fans as Kevin Pillar is undoubtedly the better player on the field, but Cain represents better numbers at bat and along the base paths. Pillar started 2017 strong but finished with 16 home runs, 42 RBIs and a slash of .256/.300/.404. Moving Cain to right field might be a waste of resources in an outfield that has a lot of question marks for 2018.
Here we go again. The Bruce-to-Toronto wagon is circling again. This time it makes sense to explore as a possibility because of the hole left by Joey Bats. Bruce was superior to 2017 Bautista in every way, racking up 36 home runs, a .254/.324/.508 slash line, and plenty of time left on his biological clock at 30 years old. Unlike previous times Bruce has been connected to Toronto, this time his only cost is money. This might be the sticking point for the team as he is coming off of a deal where he made only $13 million in 2017. Bruce is likely going to want to get paid in a big way so a 5 year, $100 million dollar deal might be in store for the slugger. This is a better option for Toronto than Cain because it doesn’t force a positional shift. It also does not present the problem of what to do with Kevin Pillar. Bruce slides into the lineup rather easily and might be the match in heaven for the Jays. Hopefully, the price is right.
Another Kansas City Royals free agent? Melky enjoyed a couple of seasons in Toronto before getting paid well by the Chicago White Sox. Then he declined quickly at the plate and finished with a WAR of -0.1 for 2017. If the Jays can lure him back to Toronto on a deal somewhat similar to what he had during his time with the team (2 years, $16 million) he might be a decent backup signing if they fail to land anybody else better. Melky may be a bit riskier to sign at 32 when compared to Jay Bruce, but he might also come cheaper. If he can agree to a short term deal, a return could be a possibility. If unsigned and the Jays can’t get anyone else, at least he is a better option than the platoon of Steve Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera.
Okay, What About…
Time for a lightning round of names, in case you were wondering about other options.
Howie Kendrick: Might come cheap, but he’s also 34 and looks to have lost a step or two along the base paths.
Carlos González: CarGo saw massive decline in his offensive production but might come on a cheap deal.
Cameron Maybin: Likely wouldn’t want a positional shift, is not the big bat Atkins and Shapiro want.
Michael Saunders: No.
Jason Werth: Saw big time decline in his bat, would be more likely to serve as a bench player for a contender.
Ichiro Suzuki: Doesn’t fit any of the plans for the outfield. Would be cool to see (for like, a game), but he would not help them win games and I assume he will retire.
Colby Rasmus: Another LFer who might need a shift in position. has a decent bat but he’s likely to be a bench player and not much more.
We’ve come far just to say “Jay Bruce is our guy”. He fits pretty much everything management wants and he has always been linked to coming to Toronto. At a reasonable deal, he might be the most viable option. At this point, the key focus for the Jays should be improving the bullpen and landing a competent starter *coughLanceLynncough* instead of shooting big piles of cash at free agents. If done right, the Jays could retool and be competitive enough to make for interesting baseball in August. As for the window on this team being closed…even if it is, there are still a lot of good-to-great players on this team to reconsider blowing everything up and starting again.
All player statistics and further information via the following sources:
Baseball Reference: https://www.baseball-reference.com/
Jay Bruce article via Sportsnet: http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/report-blue-jays-expected-pursue-outfielder-jay-bruce/