Blue Jays Notes: Senga, Bassitt, Taillon, Reyes, Brantley, Gallo

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The Blue Jays are exploring several roster upgrades, with Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reporting that the club has interest in such players as Kodai Senga, Jameson Taillon, Alex Reyes, and Michael Brantley.  “There doesn’t appear to be traction…at the moment” between the Jays and Chris Bassitt, though the right-hander is another free agent hurler at least under consideration for the team.

Starting pitching is Toronto’s clearest need, and as one agent told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays are “all over the pitching market” right now.  To this end, it is fair to speculate that the Jays have at least checked in on basically every available arm, which has been the team’s strategy for the previous three offseasons.  Davidi adds that the Jays also “have some degree of interest” in Carlos Rodon, Nathan Eovaldi, and their own incumbent free agent in Ross Stripling.  Past reports have indicated that the Jays have extended an offer to Andrew Heaney, and they were interested in Kyle Gibson (before Gibson rejected Toronto’s one-year, $10MM offer to sign an identical deal with the Orioles), and even Justin Verlander, before Verlander joined the Mets.

Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman have solidified the front end of the Blue Jays’ rotation, but there is a lot of uncertainty afterwards, given how Jose Berrios and especially Yusei Kikuchi struggled in 2022.  There isn’t necessarily a guarantee that Kikuchi will even get a clear shot at a starting role, since he could at best be competing with Mitch White for the fifth starter’s job, or perhaps even be relegated to the bullpen if the Jays end up acquiring two new starters this winter.

As noted by both Nicholson-Smith and Davidi, the fact that the Jays were considering getting into Verlander’s market (even on a short-term deal) is another sign of how aggressive the team is willing to be, and perhaps a sign of how far they’ll stretch the payroll.  Bigger spending may be somewhat inevitable given the rising costs involved in the pitching market this offseason, though it might be a reach to see the Blue Jays spend what it will take to sign Rodon or perhaps even Senga, considering how the Japanese ace is drawing a lot of attention from multiple teams.  Speculatively, the Jays’ relative lack of interest in Bassitt could have to do with Bassitt’s desire for at least four guaranteed years, which may be a tall order for a pitcher heading into his age-34 season.

Reyes represents another kind of pitching addition, as the former top prospect is an intriguing bounce-back candidate who would fit on a lot of teams.  That said, Reyes also carries plenty of risk given his long injury history, including a shoulder surgery that kept him from pitching whatsoever in 2022.  It will be interesting to see how Reyes’ market materializes, as the Blue Jays and other teams will naturally be weighing the injury concerns, but the sheer amount of interest could still lead to a decent payday for the right-hander.

Beyond the pitching market, the Jays are also looking for left-handed hitting outfielders.  A gap in the outfield emerged after Toronto dealt Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners, and a lefty swinger could help add balance to a largely right-handed Blue Jays lineup.  Brantley is one possibility, and while he is a player the Jays reportedly came very close to signing in the 2020-21 offseason, health questions also surround Brantley’s market.  Shoulder problems that eventually required surgery limited Brantley to only 64 games last season, and he has missed a lot of time earlier in his career with other injury woes.

Such names as Brandon Nimmo and Cody Bellinger have also been linked to the Jays’ outfield search this winter, and agent Scott Boras told Nicholson-Smith and Hazel Mae (Twitter link) that Toronto indeed had interest in both of his clients.  Boras also said the Blue Jays had interest in another client in Joey Gallo, another left-handed hitter.

Gallo is coming off a thoroughly rough 2022 season, hitting only .160/.280/.357 with 19 homers over 410 plate appearances with the Yankees and Dodgers.  Gallo’s “three true outcomes” style will always limit his offensive productivity to some extent, yet he is only entering his age-29 season, and Gallo’s strikeouts haven’t stopped him from posting some big offensive numbers in the past.  As recently as 2021, Gallo posted a 4.2 fWAR season, and his ability to play a decent center field would also be of interest to a Jays team that would ideally like to give George Springer more time in a corner outfield spot.

With Gallo, Bellinger, and probably Brantley all in line to receive one-year bounce-back types of contracts, the Jays could be planning to address the outfield with just a shorter-term addition, and then focus on a longer-term addition for the rotation.  The Blue Jays appear to be open to all possibilities, however, and their pursuit of free agents is also obviously impacted by what they might do on the trade market, especially with their catching depth being in high demand.

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