With Francisco Lindor out of the table, the focus will be renewed in the coming days on the Blue Jays’ pursuit of a better free agent. If a meaningful upgrade is not possible through trade, it will have to go through the open market.
To be clear, a successful deal shouldn’t be ruled out entirely. The rebuilding Chicago Cubs will likely continue to revise their roster by making Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks and possibly infielder Javier Baez available. The Cincinnati Reds have reportedly discussed debutants Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. Additional candidates will appear in the coming weeks.
There are options to consider, but not as many as before. Top starters Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Lance Lynn have found new homes through trading, and Cleveland has made its long-awaited move by sending Lindor and right-hander Carlos Carrasco to the Mets for a set of leads.
The pace of the MLB offseason starts to pick up with spring training in just over a month and the Jays are waiting to take their first big step. As the oft-cited “opportunities and alternatives” begin to dwindle, negotiations with the best free agents take on an even higher priority. None will be cheap.
The big four remain available. Center fielder George Springer appears to be the better choice, while infielder DJ LeMahieu, wide receiver JT Realmuto and right-hander Trevor Bauer have also drawn attention. Premium options like lifter Liam Hendriks and starter Jake Odorizzi exist, but the only players who fall for the Jays’ stated goal of adding “high impact” coins are at the top of the market.
The asking prices are scary, but that’s the cost of doing business. The bargain-hunting teams don’t engage with the best free agents any more than people come to Yorkville for sales. The interest of the Jays is real, it is the will to respond to requests that remains in question.
The world may be in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession, but baseball’s upper class seems immune to cutting costs. According to SNY’s Andy Martino, Springer is looking for a deal well over $ 150 million (US), while the Jays hit back with something closer to $ 115 million. Bauer, according to multiple reports, is looking to beat Gerrit Cole’s record annual salary of $ 36 million.
LeMahieu’s situation hasn’t received much attention lately, but earlier reports suggested the Yankees were willing to pay $ 75 million over four years, while batting champion AL wanted $ 100 million on five. Realmuto’s demands are not being made public, but at the start of the offseason MLBTradeRumors planned to receive a five-year contract worth $ 125 million.
Those are mind-boggling numbers, especially considering the Jays’ biggest free agent contract is the $ 80 million, over four seasons, they gave southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu last offseason. Even as the asking price of the Big Four declines, it remains at a level that has not been discussed in Toronto since Vernon Wells signed a seven-year, $ 126 million extension in 2006.
The high cost comes with a ton of risk. These are the types of contracts that define a front office’s reputation. They can either upgrade the franchise to competitor status, or add an overpriced contract to the books that limits future transactions. Sometimes they do both.
The beautiful thing about the roster assembled by Atkins and chairman Mark Shapiro is that the Jays have entered the offseason with all doors open. They had the potential capital to do a big business and enough money to make a meaningful signing. All the possible scenarios were on the table. This is undeniably positive, but with it comes heightened expectations.
At this point, the Jays have no choice but to do something big, even if it means stepping out of their comfort zone. Atkins and Shapiro started the offseason talking about their financial flexibility and their desire to make a meaningful addition. Skepticism about their intentions grows each time the organization ends up as a finalist in the negotiations.
The biggest problem with attracting a member of the Big Four is that it doesn’t seem like Toronto is the preferred destination for any of them. It’s reasonable to assume that Springer would prefer the Mets given their proximity to his hometown and the buzz surrounding new owner Steve Cohen. LeMahieu is inclined to work on something with the Yankees and although Bauer has played with all the fans this winter, he went out of his way to praise the San Diego Padres.
Money can change everything and the Jays are one of the few teams to spend a lot of it. Players use them as leverage in other negotiations, but Toronto can exert its own pressure. And, with a projected payroll of around $ 80 million, it’s an offseason where the Jays can do something big. He’s sitting on the sidelines as an eternal runner-up that they can no longer afford.