TORONTO — An up-and-down performance coming off a knee injury and a tough two-error game in the postseason have done nothing to change how the Toronto Blue Jays view Bo Bichette.
Publicly, at least.
It’s not a question of the 22-year-old’s offensive ability. The bat is real, and he’s got that franchise player feel.
So why has the Blue Jays front office been linked to so many shortstops over the past year? Names like Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons and, loosely, Francisco Lindor have all been connected to the Jays since last year’s winter meetings in December.
The answer seems to be simple: defence.
All three of those names would be upgrades with the glove – Statcast’s Outs Above Average had Bichette, Gregorius and Simmons all at minus-1, while Lindor was the second-best defensive shortstop in baseball at plus-5, per that metric – providing attractive veteran steadiness, and in turn shift Bichette into what many believe would be a plus second baseman defensively.
If that sounds like a win-win, it’s because it is. It makes the Blue Jays a better team in multiple ways.
Would an acquisition like that irk Bichette and throw off the clubhouse chemistry GM Ross Atkins and Charlie Montoyo have talked so extensively about?
Bichette would likely get over it, but he’s stated numerous times in the past how proud he was to prove doubters wrong and make it to the big leagues at the most important defensive position on the field. That hasn’t changed 75 games into his career.
Publicly, Atkins is a big believer in Bichette at short, but he also left the door open for that to change, potentially in the very near future with all three of the aforementioned names still very available.
“He has shown the ability to be an average to above-average shortstop at times, and in our view he is going to close that gap and consistently be an average to above-average shortstop,” Atkins said. “It wouldn’t surprise me, if in a year or two, we’re talking about him in the Gold Glove category. Bo checks every box on professional athleticism and elite Major League Baseball-calibre players. He’s going to be a very, very good shortstop in our view for a long time.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re out on shortstops altogether because of our conviction in Bo. We have to stay in in every market and consider, ‘Are there ways to get better?’ But again, we do very much believe in Bo.”
If Simmons can return to health off of two years of ankle injuries, he’s an elite defensive shortstop, the best of this generation. That’s intriguing for a club that has stated its desire to improve defensively all across the diamond.
A chase of Lindor involves so many layers – from the prospect package it will take to the loot ownership will have to invest in order to extend the 27-year-old for a decade – but it’s hard to go wrong with one of the game’s most dynamic and likeable players.
Elsewhere, even though Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems to want to play third base, that’s the wrong move for a team trying to win. The expectation is that his first baseman’s mitt will get the most use next spring.
In the end, it may be likely that the Jays prefer to address either second or third base, with Cavan Biggio’s versatility allowing them to be flexible with their infield fix.
“We have guys that can play different positions, that have played different positions, and can move around the diamond,” Atkins said. “That affords us the ability to focus on acquiring the best players. Then, factor in the acquisition cost, obviously. It doesn’t mean that we’re out on shortstops altogether because of our conviction in Bo. We have to stay in every market and consider ways to get better, ways to think about improving our team. We do very much believe in Bo, and because of Cavan’s versatility and the athleticism and youth around our team, we feel that we can be more open-minded about the positions that we acquire and not fixate on one.”
The all-in target: C J.T. Realmuto
No matter which offseason free-agent ranking list you look at, Trevor Bauer, George Springer and Realmuto are atop it in some order.
Clearly the top three names on the market, each offers something different.
What Bauer and Springer offer are clear needs for the Jays.
Quietly, however, Realmuto would be a major upgrade for the Blue Jays behind the plate, despite the catcher position being an area of depth within the organization.
Despite throwing a vote of confidence in the direction of incumbent Danny Jansen, who struggled with the bat for most of the summer but finished strong, and noting the offensive presence of Alejandro Kirk, Atkins openly questioned if they needed to go out and find an upgrade.
“Extremely satisfied, but are you ever good enough?” Atkins said about his catchers. “You’re always thinking about getting better and there are several ways to do that.”
One way would be handing Realmuto the $100-plus million earmarked for Springer and using the remaining catching depth – Jansen, Kirk and prospects Riley Adams and Gabriel Moreno, both of whom need to be added to the 40-man roster this week or they’ll be available in the Rule 5 draft next month – to upgrade centre field and the rotation.
Far from likely, but it’s a possible path to improvement if you want to invest in a position where it’s next to impossible to find a star like Realmuto.
The best target: 2B/3B DJ LeMahieu
The Jays were in on LeMahieu in the winter of 2018, prior to the then 30-year-old signing a two-year contract with the Yankees that ended up being a massive bargain.
All LeMahieu did was go out and slash .336/.386/.536 in two years with New York, setting himself up for a bigger payday this winter as he heads into his age-32 season.
Not much has changed in two years from a Blue Jays’ perspective here.
Thanks to Biggio’s versatility, there’s room for either an upgrade at third or second, with that player needing to be sound defensively and preferably have the ability to get on base at an above average clip.
That’s LeMahieu in a nutshell.
The likely target: LeMahieu
How much they spend on the rotation and Springer’s interest level in joining Toronto may have a lot to do with how Atkins attacks infield upgrades, but there’s no doubt LeMahieu is near the top of the list as the Jays’ front office starts this process.
The buy-low target: SS Andrelton Simmons
At the age of 31, Simmons is either a player in decline or one who has simply suffered through two years of unlucky left ankle injuries.
Despite the health issues, Simmons is still regarded as one of best defensive shortstops you’ll ever see when he’s right, and the Jays kicked tires on him at the trade deadline back in August.
Shifting Bichette off shortstop might surprise some, but it’s clearly an option on the table as the Jays investigate every possible way to improve.
Even with a deep shortstop group hitting the market next winter, a motivated Simmons will likely seek a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value.
The off-the-radar target: SS/3B Ha-Seong Kim
Calling Kim off the radar is a bit of a misnomer since we have him sitting at No. 8 overall on our list of the top 50 players available this winter.
But the reason Kim is currently hovering under the radar as a potential option for teams is no one is quite sure where the ceiling lies or where the price will go.
Add in the fact that he hasn’t been posted by the Kiwoom Heroes — that’s expected to happen after American Thanksgiving — and you can see why Kim’s hype train is still sitting on the KBO tracks.
Despite the track record of Korean position players coming to the big leagues — it’s not good — the allure of Kim is that you’re getting the 25-year-old’s prime years and he can capably handle short, third or second defensively.
That gives the team that acquires him a solid production base, with the hope his offence translates and Kim turns into a star.
For the Jays, Kim’s age, upside and defensive versatility are perfect fits, while fellow South Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu’s presence is just icing on the cake.