DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
Unlike many Blue Jays fans, I agree with most of the front offices decisions to start this offseason. Nobody anticipated Encarnacion's market would fall so dramatically, Dexter Fowler was too expensive, and so was every reliever the Blue Jays were supposedly interested in. The front office reacted quickly to Encarnacion's market, but have waited for a good deal when looking for outfielders. Unfortunately, this has left the Jays without any serious replacement for Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, and with most of the big free agents already signed, the team has few alternatives to the current internal options. Luckily, there are a few under the radar options which the team could pursue, which I believe could at least be suitable players next season.
The first of these options is Brett Gardner. The longtime Yankees outfielder is rumored to be available in trade talks, and with the Yankees (mostly) focusing on contending for the epic 2018 free agent class, they should be willing to move Gardner. There are several reasons for the Jays to be interested in Gardner. His left-handed bat would be a welcome addition to the lineup, but his strong OBP (.351 in 2016) and his ability to steal bases (16 SB in 2016) improves the team on several levels where it struggled last year. In addition, Gardner also provides solid corner defense, with a DRS of 12 and a UZR/150 of 5.8 last season. Gardner’s contract is also reasonable, with only two years remaining at 12 and 11 million a year respectively. He has also put up at least 2.4 WAR in each of the last 4 seasons. There are a few barriers to the trade however. The first is the prospects the Jays would have to give up would certainly hurt the team’s prospect capital. More importantly, the two teams are division rivals, and haven’t made a trade with each other since 2002 and it’s highly unlikely that the two clubs would suddenly break this trend for a trade like this. In addition, the Yankees probably consider themselves to be contenders, and probably don’t want to part with Gardner unless they can receive major league talent in return.
If the Blue Jays want to stay away from the trade market, there options are limited, but one of their options could be Angel Pagan. The 35 year old outfielder is a free agent, and put up 2.1 WAR in 2016. Because of his age and subpar 2015 season, the Jays could probably land Pagan on a short term deal. The switch hitter has managed double digit stolen bases in all but one season since 2009, and recorded a solid OBP of .331 in 2016. Unfortunately, Pagan has been a below average defender in recent seasons with a -6 DRS in 2016 and an even worse mark of -20 in 2015. Despite these seemingly bad numbers, Pagan was playing center field in 2015, and improved dramatically once moved to the corner in 2016. With Kevin Pillar manning center for the Jays, we could expect these numbers to improve significantly as a result of his excellent center field defense. Because of this, I would support the signing of Angel Pagan to a short term deal to be a decent corner outfielder for the next couple of seasons.
My third and final outfield option for the Jays to consider is Khris Davis of the Oakland Athletics. Unlike the previous two, who are contact and speed guys, Davis is all about power and strikeouts. Last season, Davis managed to hit 42 home runs and drive in 102 RBI’s. while recording a 27.2% strikeout ratem and a 6.9% walk rate. Overall he put up a WRC+ of 123 last season despite all the strikeouts and a modest batting average of .247. Beyond power, there are some things to like about Davis. He is under club control for 3 more seasons, MLBTR projects he will earn just 5 million next season and had an exceptional hard contact rate of 39.1% in 2016. However there are some serious negatives when examining Davis. The first is his below average defense, with a career DRS of -5 and a career UZR/150 of 3.1. In addition, Davis swings at 31.2% of pitches which are thrown outside the strike zone. The final reason is the rebuilding Athletics have little reason to part ways with a 28 year old outfielder who is under relatively cheap control for the next several seasons. Considering all, I would support a pursuit of Davis, but the Jays need to be aware of the price he would take to acquire.
All three of these players represent decent and under the radar free agents that the Blue Jays should consider acquiring. The need for an outfielder is extreme and not acquiring one will cost the Jays dearly in 2017. I would personally support the acquisition of Gardner in particular, but honestly wouldn’t mind if the Jays picked up any one of these players. Regardless, the team needs to consider players who aren’t big names, and all of these players would have some value to the club if acquired next season.