Trade market might be best route for Blue Jays this winter
TORONTO — A relatively weak free agent class is fuelling the expectation that the trade market will be quite active across the league this winter.
With the Toronto Blue Jays looking to add bats at multiple positions, that could be the route they decide to look to fill at least one of those needs.
A middling farm system might make blockbusters difficult for GM Ross Atkins to engineer, but there should be a number of bats on the market that would represent significant improvements for a Jays lineup that needs to add power and has clear holes at second base, third base, and left field, while also having some DH at-bats available.
They could also conceivably trade for some starting pitching depth, although the free agent market is overflowing with options that could fill that obvious need.
After beefing up the coaching staff yet again by naming familiar face DeMarlo Hale as associate coach on Monday, the attention will quickly turn to the roster.
The Jays got started early last year, trading Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners on Nov. 16, and it would not be surprising to see them attempt to strike early again, well ahead of the winter meetings in Nashville from Dec. 3-7.
Here are 17 of my favourite trade targets for the Jays, some of them available and some just great fits that needed to be highlighted as potential options if they do become available.
LF Juan Soto, SD
With San Diego expected to trim payroll and Soto a year away from free agency, he’s the clear-cut gem of the trade market.
It would be a mistake to consider trading Ricky Tiedemann for one season of Soto, but any other prospect in the system should be on the table for a hitter this good.
LF Mike Trout, LAA
If Trout ever asks out of the tire fire that is the Angels organization — and he will one of these days, mark my words — the Jays should at least make a call.
It might be only for 130 games or so, but a move to left field and more DH time could help keep the future hall of famer healthy and he still crushes the baseball heading into his age-32 campaign.
2B/3B Ha-Seong Kim, SD
If Soto is the prize in San Diego, Kim is a close second thanks to his versatility, plus glove and ability to crush left-handed pitching.
The Jays should’ve signed this guy when he came over from Korea a few years ago, but they might get another chance with Kim slated for free agency a year from now and the Padres needing to cash in on their trade chip now.
LF Lars Nootbaar, STL
The Jays and Cards have been hooking up on trades with regularity over the years and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them do it again.
As with the Reds, the main focus for the Cards is starting pitching, so it will be interesting to see if they can align in the end, but there’s no shortage of options in St. Louis that could help the Jays.
In the outfield, Nootbaar is a lefty bat with a well-rounded profile, while Canadian Tyler O’Neill is a buy-low candidate with oodles of power.
Somewhere in the middle of those two is Dylan Carlson, who rakes against left-handed pitching, but the switch-hitter hasn’t found much success over the past two seasons with just 13 homers over his last 743 trips to the plate.
Out of all of these names, O’Neill is the one I’d be most interested in gambling on relative to what it would cost to acquire them.
Nootbaar is the best player but it’s Johnny Obvious to say he will cost the most.
LF/DH Anthony Santander, BAL
I have no faith these two teams would pull off a division trade, but Santander and his big-time pop from both sides of the plate would fit like a glove in left field.
LF/DH Brent Rooker, OAK
Rooker could regress in a big way because he strikes out too much, but with 31 homers last season he would help in the power department and can play a bit of left field.
He also had a gaudy .874 OPS against left-handed pitching.
LF Lane Thomas, WSH
Drafted by the Jays in the fifth round in 2014 and flipped to the savvy St. Louis Cardinals on July 2, 2017, in exchange for international bonus pool money, Thomas broke out in his age-27 season this year hitting 28 homers for the Nationals and posting 2.7 fWAR.
With the Nats still in a rebuild, they might look to cash in on that and Thomas’ ability to destroy lefties with a .881 career OPS would help the Jays lineup a lot.
3B/2B Ryan McMahon, COL
Another name that could at either the keystone or the hot corner, McMahon has yet to have that breakout season that many have expected, and his strikeout rate is going in the wrong direction, landing at 31.6 per cent this season.
Still just 29, you can still dream on the breakout if you want.
2B/3B Jorge Polanco, MIN
Times might be tight financially for the Twins this winter, but they still exercised Polanco’s $10.5 million club option.
If it’s with the idea of trading the 30-year-old, the Jays should be all over the switch-hitter who has posted a .270/.338/.455 slash line with 95 homers since the start of the 2018 season.
2B/3B/LF Jeff McNeil, NYM
The Mets are probably spending once again this winter, but if the retool continues and McNeil is available, he’s another name that fits at all three positions of need and would give the Jays lineup a high-contact hitter to wedge in between some of the swing and miss.
There isn’t much power, but when healthy McNeil has been one of the most productive hitters in baseball from the left side.
3B/2B/LF Ezequiel Duran, TEX
Duran is usually the odd man out in a stacked Texas lineup, which means he could be available for pitching.
Like a few of the options on this list, he’s a perfect positional fit because he can play third base, second base and left field, the three spots the Blue Jays are looking at upgrading in various ways this winter.
Acquiring someone early on who can potentially play all three positions would give them more options down the road at the winter meetings in Nashville in December.
Duran hit 14 homers as a 24-year-old last season and is a major breakout candidate heading into 2024 if he gets full-time at-bats.
3B/2B Yoan Moncada, CHW
Moncada hasn’t been very good the last two years with a combined 86 wRC+, but the upside is massive still heading into his age-29 season and if the White Sox finally tear things down, he might be cheap third base option.
DH/LF Eloy Jimenez, CHW
Power, power and more power. That’s what Jimenez, who’s averaged 33 bombs per 162 games over his career, would bring to the Jays DH spot. He’s been hurt a lot, and you don’t want him in left field very often, but the upside is there for a monster season with some good injury luck.
Owed $13 million in 2024, Jimenez also has two club options for 2025 and 2026, meaning the Jays could quickly walk away if it doesn’t work out or keep the 27-year-old around if things click.
3B/2B/LF Spencer Steer, CIN
The Reds have a glut of young infielders and interesting outfielders, making them one of my favourite quiet trade matches for the Jays.
The issue might be that Cincy needs starting pitching and the Jays don’t have much of that to sell, but Steer can play all three positions the Jays have holes at — second, third and left field — and just put up an .820 OPS in his first full big league season.
Jonathan India is the most obvious trade candidate that the Reds have, and he’d fill a need as the everyday second baseman for the Jays, but Steer fits better as the more versatile option.
LF/DH Jake Fraley, CIN
If the Jays are building a left-field platoon with a right-handed hitting free agent, Fraley crushes right-handed pitching with a career .805 OPS.
3B/2B Brandon Drury, LAA
Drury was given multiple chances in Toronto across three seasons back from 2018 to 2020, slashing just .208/.253/.353 across 149 games.
Since then, however, Drury has broken out to the tune of 54 homers and a 119 wRC+ over the past two seasons.
The Angels need to rebuild, and Drury could give the Jays a pretty productive one-year stopgap at either second or third, with the 31-year-old slated for free agency at the end of next season.
SP Mike Soroka, ATL
A change of scenery candidate this winter after years of enduring multiple Achilles tendon injuries, why not send the Calgarian back home at the age of 25?
The righty struggled to a 6.30 ERA in his first big league innings since 2020, but the results were better at Triple-A with a 3.41 ERA across 17 starts.
The Jays need to build up some rotation depth and Soroka could compete for the wide open No. 5 spot in camp.
SP Edward Cabrera, MIA
One of only two starting pitchers on this list simply because of the fact it’s hard to envision the Jays front office needing to use what little prospect resources they do have to trade for a pitcher of any kind when that’s the clear strength of the free agent market, Cabrera would be an exciting arm to add to a fifth starter competition.
Still just 26 next season, the electric righty has struggled with command issues over his first 41 big league starts, but he’s still managed to register a 4.01 ERA across 197.2 innings.