We’ll start with the DH position. At present, the Blue Jays figure to run a combination of players through the slot, with Teoscar Hernandez’s glove being the least worthy of seeing the outfield. The Blue Jays have been publicly connected to Edwin Encarnacion, and a reunion would be fun and make sense — though we expressed some concerns about his viability in our free-agent top 50:
Encarnacion had his option declined by the Yankees the day after the World Series ended. Though he didn’t look great in the postseason, he finished the regular season having hit .244/.344/.531 with 34 home runs. One potential red flag: he was underneath the ball far more often in 2019 than usual, resulting in a sky-high launch angle (over 22 degrees) and pop-up rate. Could that be a sign of decaying barrel control? Encarnacion will turn 37 in January, meaning he’ll arrive at camp with “Attrition Risk” written on his forehead until he can prove otherwise.
The Blue Jays also brought over Shun Yamaguchi from Japan. Our Mike Axisa compared Yamaguchi, who sits in the low-90s and relies upon his splitter and slider, to Oakland Athletics right-hander Mike Fiers — a competent back-end type. It’s possible the Blue Jays end up using Yamaguchi in relief given they have Matt Shoemaker, the aforementioned Waguespack, and other internal options to sort through — and that’s without factoring in Nate Pearson’s arrival.
The Blue Jays acquired Derek Fisher last July as part of the Aaron Sanchez trade with the Houston Astros. Presumably Toronto is willing to give Fisher more than 40 games to prove his keep. Even so, it wouldn’t hurt to add another outfielder given their current lineup would feature Fisher and/or Hernandez starting alongside Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Ryu’s injury history is troublesome, and he doesn’t throw hard, but he’s been brilliant when healthy thanks to his command, wherewithal, and arsenal depth. Although Roark and Anderson don’t possess impressive sizzle reels, their competency shouldn’t be overlooked. Over the course of the last three seasons, Roark has averaged 176 innings, a 99 ERA+, and 2.85 strikeouts per walk; Anderson, for his part, has averaged 146 innings, a 118 ERA+, and 2.60 strikeouts per walk. The Blue Jays had seven pitchers start 10 or more times last season; three of them had a higher ERA+ than 99: Marcus Stroman, Jacob Waguespack, and Wilmer Font, who was deployed as an opener. Roark and Anderson should be boons.
1. Designated hitter
We praised some of Toronto’s thrifty bullpen additions earlier in the piece. That doesn’t mean the Blue Jays should be content with their relief corps. Rather, Toronto should consider an opportunistic play for Will Harris, the top reliever left on the market.
We’re not suggesting the Blue Jays have to sign Marcell Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos — though both would be welcomed additions — but springing for a downmarket left-handed option (think Corey Dickerson or Kole Calhoun) would help balance out a righty-heavy lineup. The worst-case scenario is, what? That Toronto doesn’t compete and Dickerson or Calhoun becomes a viable July trade candidate, or that Fisher emerges and renders the veteran moot?
Here’s what we wrote about Harris entering the offseason:
Alternatively, the Blue Jays could opt for a more creative approach by, say, acquiring a good defensive third baseman and sliding Guerrero to first base or DH. Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado are the big names everyone wants, but an upside play like Kelvin Gutierrez feels more the Blue Jays’ speed. As an added bonus, Gutierrez is young enough to hang around for a few years if the Blue Jays could figure out a way to help him tap into his offensive potential.
The Blue Jays have added elsewhere on their roster too: infielder Travis Shaw declined offers from multiple American League Central teams before signing with Toronto, league sources told CBS Sports, and Anthony Bass and A.J. Cole were both savvy bullpen additions. Factor in a youthful core that includes Vladimir Guerrero, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, and the Blue Jays seem like a candidate to arrive a year earlier than expected. Indeed, the Blue Jays have been particularly aggressive in remaking their rotation, adding Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Chase Anderson through free agency and trades.
3. High-end reliever
You have to feel a little bad for Harris, who had been an effective reliever with the Astros for years yet will be remembered as the “pitcher who gave up the home run to Howie Kendrick.” Ah well. Harris throws a lot of strikes and gets a lot of empty swings with a low-90s cutter and a curveball that he’s slowly but surely ratcheted up the usage on to over 40 percent. He’s never received many ninth-inning opportunities, though there’s nothing stopping him from being someone’s closer should they so desire.
What else could Toronto add this winter to expedite that process? We have three things in mind.
Adding Harris to a bullpen with Ken Giles and some of the other arms in Toronto would seem to give manager Charlie Montoyo a solid group on paper. And a group who — if the Blue Jays remain aggressive and take some larger steps forward than anticipated — could be pitching in meaningful situations late in the season.
Either way, the Blue Jays would be left with few regrets.