Creative Ways to Navigate the Weak Free Agent Market

It’s no secret that the 2017 free agent market isn’t quite as strong as we’ve seen in recent years. MLB Trade Rumours predicts that just one free agent, Yoenis Cespedes, will receive a contract for more than $100 million when last season, MLBTR predicted that nine free agents would receive more than $100 million, with seven of them surpassing that mark. What’s the result of poor prospects for free agency? It’s likely that you’re going to get a lot of players who’ll be paid a good amount more than they’re worth. Now, if you’re the Toronto Blue Jays, and you just surpassed 3,000,000 in attendance for the first time since 1993, you can probably afford to overpay for a few key free agents. But, should you? That’s a more precarious question.

At present, the Jays are in an interesting position. From a psychological standpoint, the core of this Blue Jays team will be gone if Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion go to other teams. However, from a performance standpoint, the core will still be here. Between Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, and more, the Blue Jays have enough to do well, but perhaps not enough for a playoff spot.

Also, because many of the Blue Jays’ biggest stars (most notably Josh Donaldson) aren’t under club control for much longer, the tendency would be to make a statement to win now. But, the Blue Jays squad isn’t entirely of the old guard; there’s a new wave of talent on the horizon with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, and a robust prospect base in the lower minors. Given that, and the fact that the top end of free agency will cost more in the long term than its worth, the Blue Jays will need to get creative.

Here are four ways that they can do that:

Get Trading

At the moment, we’re still waiting for the trade market to fully develop for the offseason, but there should be a few key pieces available. Kyle Matte wrote about one such candidate last week: Andrew McCutchen. While McCutchen is one candidate, he’s representative of the type of player that might be up for trade as the offseason progresses. The Pirates are one of a handful of teams that disappointed, and fell at or below .500 in 2016. Others include the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Marlins, Royals, and White Sox. Each have a few valuable commodities, but will have to decide whether they can do enough to improve with what’s available internally, or on the market.

However, the Blue Jays may run in to a trading issue with so few of their top prospects having reached the upper minors. In fact, just three of Baseball America’s Top 10 Blue Jays Prospects played at all in the upper minors last season. And those who did (Connor Greene, Rowdy Tellez, and Richard Urena), don’t project out as supertars. That’ll make trying to get a top trade piece very tough if the Blue Jays don’t want to part with someone currently expected to make the 2017 major league roster. Although that doesn’t mean it’s impossible; the new Blue Jays’ front office’s trade for Liriano at the deadline was pretty crafty.

Look into a Platoon

It’ll be incredibly hard for any one player not-named Edwin Encarnacion to fill in for the production that the Blue Jays’ got from the DH/1B spot last season. Joshua Howsam tried his hand at finding a few such players yesterday, but even the best of the bunch would be a downgrade on their own. However, the solution for a number of present holes could be a strict platoon, something that the Jays utilized very little of in 2016.

In his piece, Joshua went over a couple of the platoon options at DH, in Brandon Moss and Pedro Alvarez. However, the same thinking could be applied when considering another outfielder. Desmond Jennings, Drew Stubbs, and Chris Heisey are a few options who’ve historically hit left handed pitchers at an above average clip. Matt Joyce, Daniel Nava, and Colby Rasmus (!) are a few options who’ve historically hit right handed pitchers at an above average clip. Granted, any platoon comes with some risk as you’re operating in smaller samples, but there is abundant choice from which to pick.

Bet on Defence

In 2016, the Blue Jays did anything but bet on defence when it came to the outfield. Sure, there was (and still is) defensive superstar Kevin Pillar. But he was forced to cover up ground lost by the 36-year-old right fielder with only an arm to offer and the 29-year-old left fielder recovering from a knee injury. With the free-agent market’s top hitters set to garner big dollars, looking to a player with a greater defensive balance  would be an upside play.

This method, while potentially effective, is also admittedly risky. It’s hard enough to perdict how your own player will perform defensively in any given season, let alone gauging the defense of a free agent. However, if the Blue Jays were to go this route an option like Carlos Gomez exists.

In addition to having an uptick in offensive performance once he joined the Rangers late in the season, Carlos Gomez has historically been a great defender. The advanced defensive metrics don’t show it last season, but I’m willing to bet that an ex-Fielding Bible Award winner in centre field could once again be elite if placed in an outfield corner.

Go Big, But Short-Term

The last option bucks the trend of avoiding the big players on the free agent market. In this scenario, one can attempt to envision that the Blue Jays sign the likes of Neil Walker, Wilson Ramos, or Jose Bautista, and that it be a valuable contract. Each of those three players has 2016 baggage; injuries in the cases of Walker and Ramos and poor performance in the case of Bautista. As such, they may be willing to take a deal akin to that of the one that Yoenis Cespedes signed with the New York Mets last offseason.

That deal would have a big short term payout, but the contract would only be for one season, or would include an opt-out clause after one season. Admittedly, this makes more sense for Walker and Ramos than it does for Bautista, who’s substantially older than the other pair. But any such deal of the Cespedes nature would allow the Blue Jays to flex their financial muscle in the short term, without taking on too much money that could be better spent later.

Of course, given the Jays’ strong showing both on the diamond and in the TV ratings in 2016, none of these options should be necessary. However, they do offer an alternative to a free agent market that otherwise has little value to be found at the top. If the team were solely looking for a piece to put them over the top, then perhaps it would make sense to take the hit and grab a Cespedes, Fowler, or Encarnacion. But, with a few holes on the roster, and a rotation that could see some regression (merely on the basis of health), the big play may not make sense.

Lead Photo: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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4 comments on “Creative Ways to Navigate the Weak Free Agent Market”


After looking at some splits for FAs it seems like Joyce(LF) and Alvarez(1B/DH) would be great fits for the offence. They are 120 wRC+ guys vs RH pitching. They could be sandwiched between donaldson, Tulo and Martin to limit platoon damage. A big question will be how many bench players they can/will carry. Alvarez at DH and Joyce in LF. Means you want 2 RH bats. Colabello and Upton? so a bench of Cola, Upton, Catcher and goins/barney.

I could live with that offence. It would be nice not to give full time at bats to smoak. If there is more money to get pearce or napoli for 1B/DH ABs then one can forget about colabello.

Seems like most of that could be done for the price that 1 year of EE is going to cost. Making it happen is a different story obviously.


I wonder who might be available in trade for not much more than salary relief. Without having scanned a bunch of rosters, maybe Bastardo? After his poor 2016, he seems like a decent bounce-back candidate whose $6M salary might well be high for PIT even if they expect him to be better.

Matt Gwin

That’s a good thought; would be another interesting way to spend, but not on long-term FA contracts. Similar to the Liriano deal.


I Love the assets we potentially acquired morales looks good in the 4-hole behind donaldson i think we pursue fowler if jose rejects the qo, plus Pearce, bench of Upton, catcher, smoak and barney. I like it! Still need bp arms.

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