The Toronto Blue Jays in the Mark Shapiro-Ross Atkins era have been nothing if not prudent.Their early free-agency moves were splashes similar to those made by a teenage Olympic diver: tiny ones that didn't displace a lot of water. Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, that kind of thing.Even as the team came out of its rebuild and moved into the competitive window the Toronto front office had spent a few seasons promising was soon to arrive, the deals signed were perfectly rational. Nine figures for George Springer was bound to be an overpay at the back end, but overpaying at the back end is what baseball teams have to do to sign veteran free agents.An extension for Jos Berr os and big free-agent contracts followed for Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt, but none of those came close to the moonshot deals signed by top-tier free agents like Gerrit Cole or Jacob deGrom. The Jays weren't in the running for monster contracts like that, and no one really expected them to be.One of the side effects of talking a lot about cost certainty and roster flexibility for the last seven-plus years is that people reasonably assume you have no interest in the hair-on-fire moves that sometimes emerge out of the MLB winter meetings, like $300 million for Trea Turner, and $325 million for Corey Seager. You might as well have asked Ross Atkins to spontaneously take flight. The Toronto general manager remains the guy who once proudly described a series of deadline-day trades as having "turned 14 years of control into 42 years of control." Feel the excitement!All of which makes the Jays' news of recent days, to use the term loosely, a little disorienting. If not bewildering.The Blue Jays have been linked to the pursuit of dual-threat Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, with Atkins conducting media calls from undisclosed locations and reports suggesting the two-time American League MVP visited the team's player development complex in Dunedin, Florida. While no one really knows what any of this means in terms of interest from either side - maybe Ohtani just happened to be in the neighborhood? - it is a significant departure from the Blue Jays' usual way of doing things. Ohtani's expected to land a contract in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars, which is more than double what the Jays paid their entire roster last season. John McCoy / Getty ImagesIt's a contract both absurd and entirely sensible. Ohtani isn't just an incredible hitter and pitcher (assuming his recovery from arm surgery allows him to regain his previous form), he's a rare global star. A Jays team with Ohtani would become the most important MLB franchise in two countries, Canada and Japan, and have a much higher profile in the United States. The Jays have already seen what a jump in popularity can do to their revenues, when the team surged in 2015 and seemingly every second person on the Toronto subway was wearing a blue cap. Those teams also brought in several seasons of booming attendance and television ratings - all of which increased the value to corporate sponsors - and that was without anyone close to Ohtani's worldwide profile.But the pursuit of Ohtani can't only be about selling a lot of merchandise in Japan, given that Toronto also reportedly talked to the San Diego Padres about star outfielder Juan Soto. A trade to land the three-time All-Star is even more against type for the Atkins-Shapiro axis than an Ohtani deal since Soto has only one year left on his contract. The Jays would have to give up some of their top prospects to land him without any guarantee he'd stay beyond 2024.Considering that one of Shapiro's first acts upon coming to Toronto was to tsk-tsk the aggressive prospects-for-stars moves that former GM Alex Anthopoulos made in the waning days of his time in that job, this feels a little like the Orcs deciding they don't mind the Hobbits after all.Again, no one knows how serious these discussions are, but like the alleged Ohtani courting, it suggests the Jays' payroll shackles have been well and truly thrown off. Why it's happened now is harder to discern. The 2023 season ended in disappointment and recrimination, but it's ended like that before in recent years and interest in a competitive team has remained robust in what is one of baseball's largest markets.There are costly renovations to pay for and new premium ticket packages to sell, but unless the Jays have early internal data that suggests they dramatically overestimated the interest in such things - which seems unlikely given the amount of corporate money that swirls around the lower bowl at Scotiabank Arena for Maple Leafs and Raptors games - then there wouldn't necessarily be an urgent need to make an all-in move this winter. The Jays have been a playoff team for two straight years and would be expected to be in the mix again. That's been enough to sell tickets.Perhaps Jays fans shouldn't overthink this. After years of taking pitches and working its at-bats, Toronto's front office seems of a mind to take some mighty hacks. Might as well see if they can barrel one.Scott Stinson is a former national sports columnist for Postmedia News.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Star Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto is poised to land a massive contract in free agency.The salary floor for Yamamoto could be $200 million, multiple executives said, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN, who added that others believe the pitcher may net up to $250 million.Only six pitchers have signed deals worth at least $200 million in MLB history. Rank Player Contract 1 Gerrit Cole $324M 2 Stephen Strasburg $245M 3 David Price $217M 4 Clayton Kershaw $215M 5 Max Scherzer $210M 6 Zack Greinke $206.5M The 25-year-old was posted in late November. Clubs have until Jan. 4 to negotiate a contract. The New York Yankees, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants are reportedly among a slew of teams interested in him. Joel Wolfe, Yamamoto's agent, has said that his client is willing to play anywhere.Yamamoto authored a 70-29 record with a sparkling 1.82 ERA and 922 strikeouts across 897 innings over seven years with Nippon Professional Baseball's Orix Buffaloes en route to capturing the Sawamura Award three times as Japan's top pitcher.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
theScore's MLB offseason team needs series breaks down every club's roster and key departures, along with how holes could be filled in free agency ahead of the Dec. 4-7 winter meetings. Division previews will roll out Nov. 25-30, starting with the AL East.Baltimore Orioles Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty2023 record: 101-61 (1st in AL East)Projected 40-man payroll: $92MKey departures: Jack Flaherty, Adam Frazier, Shintaro Fujinami, Kyle Gibson (STL), Aaron HicksNeeds: Starting pitcher, fourth outfielder, relief pitcherWhere the lineup stands ORDER PLAYER POSITION fWAR 1 Gunnar Henderson (L) 3B 4.6 2 Adley Rutschman (S) C 5.1 3 Anthony Santander (S) RF 2.6 4 Ryan O'Hearn (L) 1B 1.4 5 Austin Hays LF 2.2 6 Cedric Mullins (L) CF 1.8 7 Ryan Mountcastle DH 1.7 8 Jackson Holliday (L) SS Rookie 9 Jordan Westberg 2B 1.1 The Orioles shocked everyone last season by winning 101 games and the AL East title for the first time since 2014. The core is loaded and primed to contend for many years, and there are a number of prospects waiting in the wings. There's no clear place for Baltimore to spend this winter outside of potentially upgrading at first base. However, it'll be interesting to see if general manager Mike Elias makes Santander available on the trade market with the slugger projected to earn almost $13 million next campaign. Expect the shortstop job to be Holliday's to lose heading into 2024.How the rotation looks Alika Jenner / Getty Images Sport / Getty ROLE PITCHER THROWS fWAR 1 Kyle Bradish R 3.8 2 Grayson Rodriguez R 1.8 3 John Means L 0.2 4 Dean Kremer R 1.5 5 Cole Irvin L 0.5 The rotation also exceeded expectations in 2023. Bradish looks like a legitimate building block. The Orioles will count on Rodriguez to take a big step forward after showing flashes across 23 starts in his rookie campaign. This group could use at least one marquee addition to solidify things.Boston Red Sox Rich Gagnon / Getty Images Sport / Getty2023 record: 78-84 (5th)Projected 40-man payroll: $172MKey departures: Adam Duvall, Corey Kluber, Adalberto Mondesi, James Paxton, Luis Ur as (SEA)Needs: Starting pitchers, second base, outfielderWhere the lineup stands ORDER PLAYER POSITION fWAR 1 Jarren Duran (L) CF 2.4 2 Rafael Devers (L) 3B 3.1 3 Triston Casas (L) 1B 1.7 4 Masataka Yoshida (L) DH 0.6 5 Trevor Story SS 0.2 6 Alex Verdugo (L) RF 2.0 7 Enmanuel Valdez (L) 2B 0.3 8 Wilyer Abreu (L) LF 0.6 9 Connor Wong C 0.5 The Red Sox return the bulk of a lineup that finished ninth in OPS and 18th in home runs last season. The team needs more power, especially from the right side of the plate, as the current group features too many left-handed bats. With new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow expected to be aggressive in reshaping the roster, it appears Devers, Casas, Yoshida, and Story are the only locks come Opening Day. Verdugo is most likely the odd man out in the outfield, and Breslow could opt to package away youngsters Valdez or Abreu in a deal for a veteran bat.How the rotation looks Paul Rutherford / Getty Images Sport / Getty ROLE PITCHER THROWS fWAR 1 Chris Sale L 2.1 2 Brayan Bello R 1.6 3 Nick Pivetta R 1.9 4 Kutter Craword R 2.4 5 Tanner Houck R 1.2 Significant upgrades to the rotation are needed if the Red Sox wish to get out of the AL East basement. Sale is set to enter the final year of his extension. While the 34-year-old showed flashes of his old All-Star self last season, he can no longer be counted on as an ace. Bello is the only arm in the projected rotation that is a lock long term. Pivetta, Craword, and Houck could all slide into the bullpen should Boston add starters. The Red Sox rotation ranked 27th in innings pitched in 2023, which put too much stress on a solid relief core.New York Yankees Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty2023 record: 82-80 (4th)Projected 40-man payroll: $237MKey departures: Jake Bauers (MIL), Domingo Germ n, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Frankie Montas, Wandy Peralta, Luis Severino, Lou TrevinoNeeds: Outfielder, starting pitcher Where the lineup stands ORDER PLAYER POSITION fWAR 1 DJ LeMahieu 3B 1.1 2 Aaron Judge RF 5.3 3 Anthony Rizzo 1B 0.9 4 Gleyber Torres 2B 3.2 5 Giancarlo Stanton DH -0.8 6 Anthony Volpe SS 1.9 7 Everson Pereira LF -0.5 8 Jose Trevino C 0.9 9 Estevan Florial (L) CF 0.2 The Yankees showed how thin the lineup was beyond Judge when the 2022 MVP missed almost two months with a toe injury. Stanton's contract is a major issue for general manager Brian Cashman. New York has been linked to a trade for Padres star outfielder Juan Soto, which would be about as perfect of a fit as any move could be. This lineup needs a jolt.How the rotation looks Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / Getty ROLE PITCHER THROWS fWAR 1 Gerrit Cole R 5.2 2 Carlos Rod n L -0.2 3 Michael King R 2.2 4 Clarke Schmidt R 1.8 5 Nestor Cortes Jr. L 0.8 Rod n had a disastrous first season in New York. The left-hander battled through injuries and struggled when he took the mound. The pressure is on for Rod n to prove the six-year, $162-million contract he received last offseason wasn't a mistake. King effectively transitioned from a swingman role to being a full-fledged starter. The Yankees wasted a Cy Young winning season from Cole.Tampa Bay Rays Ronald Martinez / Getty Images Sport / Getty2023 record: 99-62 (2nd)Projected 40-man payroll: $150MKey departures: Christian Bethancourt (CLE), Chris Devenski, Jake Diekman, Robert Stephenson, Raimel Tapia Needs: Shortstop, catcher, starting pitcherWhere the lineup stands ORDER PLAYER POSITION fWAR 1 Yandy Diaz 3B 4.7 2 Randy Arozarena LF 3.3 3 Josh Lowe (L) RF 3.8 4 Isaac Paredes 3B 4.3 5 Brandon Lowe (L) 2B 2.8 6 Jose Siri CF 2.7 7 Luke Raley (L) DH 2.6 8 Taylor Walls (S) SS 1.0 9 Ren Pinto C 0.7 A lot of what the Rays might do this offseason could revolve around Wander Franco's status moving forward. If he's not part of the picture in 2024, Tampa Bay will need to add a shortstop to pair with Walls. The Rays waived Christian Bethancourt and must find a capable option at catcher before Opening Day.How the rotation looks Julio Aguilar / Getty Images Sport / Getty ROLE PITCHER THROWS fWAR 1 Tyler Glasnow R 3.2 2 Zach Eflin R 4.8 3 Zack Littell R 1.1 4 Aaron Civale R 2.5 5 Shane Baz R - Glasnow is set to earn $25 million next season in his final year under contract with the Rays before he's scheduled to hit free agency. The talented 30-year-old has already been tied to trade rumors, and it would rate as a moderate surprise if he's still wearing a Rays uniform by Opening Day. With Shane McClanahan out for the season and Glasnow's future uncertain at best, Tampa should look to add another pitcher to help offset the potential loss of two excellent arms. The club will open next season with an All-Star rotation on the IL.Toronto Blue Jays Mark Blinch / Getty Images Sport / Getty2023 record: 89-73 (3rd)Projected 40-man payroll: $213MKey departures: Brandon Belt, Matt Chapman, Adam Cimber, Jordan Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier, Whit Merrifield, Hyun Jin RyuNeeds: Outfielder, second base, designated hitter, starting pitcherWhere the lineup stands ORDER PLAYER POSITION fWAR 1 George Springer RF 2.2 2 Bo Bichette SS 3.8 3 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B 1.0 4 Danny Jansen DH 2.0 5 Cavan Biggio (L) 3B 1.0 6 Davis Schneider 2B 2.0 7 Daulton Varsho (L) CF 2.1 8 Alejandro Kirk C 1.6 9 Nathan Lukes (L) LF 0.0 The Blue Jays regressed offensively in 2023. The team was middling in numerous offensive categories, most notably home runs. With just two years of team control remaining on Guerrero and Bichette before free agency, the pressure is high on general manager Ross Atkins to make the roster better. His top priority should be adding a slugger to provide the lineup with much-needed pop. Figuring out what to do at third base is also on the checklist for Atkins.How the rotation looks Mark Blinch / Getty Images Sport / Getty ROLE PITCHER THROWS fWAR 1 Kevin Gausman R 5.3 2 Jos Berr os R 3.0 3 Chris Bassitt R 2.6 4 Yusei Kikuchi L 2.6 5 Alek Manoah R -0.4 The big wild card for 2024 is what the Blue Jays can expect out of Manoah. The 2022 Cy Young finalist struggled mightily last season and was optioned to the minors twice. It wouldn't be unthinkable for Toronto to move him by Opening Day. Even if it decides to keep Manoah, the team needs to add depth in case any of the starting pitchers go down to injury or struggle next campaign. Toronto could also flip Bassitt or Kikuchi in a deal to acquire offense.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
There are a number of prominent players on the free-agent market this offseason, headlined by two-time AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. While Ohtani figures to dominate the headlines, plenty of names could significantly alter a club's fortunes for the 2024 campaign and beyond.We take a look at 10 of the top free agents available and try to play matchmaker.Shohei Ohtani Loren Elliott / Major League Baseball / GettyLos Angeles Dodgers: Let's be real: Thirty teams (OK, 29 excluding the A's) could be a fit for Ohtani. He's a once-in-a-century baseball unicorn who's doing things on both sides of the ball that are unheard of in this era. Sure, he won't pitch in 2024, but that's only one year of a multi-year contract - and he'll still be the best hitter on the planet while he rehabs his pitching elbow. From an organizational perspective, the benefits of signing Ohtani beyond the wins include increased international exposure thanks to signing one of the world's most famous and visible athletes.That said, only a few big-market teams can probably afford Ohtani if he's not willing to take a shorter-term deal. Ultimately, the team that's been most heavily linked to him for years - the Dodgers - makes the most sense. On the field, he's an obvious upgrade at DH over J.D. Martinez, who was very good for the Dodgers last year. In 2025, he'll return to the mound and stabilize an injury-ravaged rotation for the long term. The Dodgers can easily afford to build an expensive and sustainable winner around what's likely to be a historically large contract while providing Ohtani with the biggest stage of all in Hollywood.Blake Snell Denis Poroy / GettySan Francisco Giants: Snell's market should be robust, but only one team will land the left-hander. He's the top starter available in free agency after securing his second Cy Young thanks to league-leading numbers in ERA and opponents' batting average while finishing top 10 in K/9, HR/9, FIP, WHIP, wins, and fWAR.Snell, who turns 31 in December, has been linked to the Padres, Dodgers, Giants, and Phillies, but his best fit is San Francisco. The Giants want to make a splash after whiffing on top free agents last winter and could use another top arm to pair with NL Cy Young runner-up Logan Webb. Snell is the type of strikeout artist the Giants need after their starters finished 23rd in fWAR and 25th in K/9 last year, and pitching in Oracle Park would be beneficial for Snell, who's allowed one homer and limited opposing hitters to a .487 OPS in his four starts there.Yoshinobu Yamamoto Koji Watanabe / Getty Images Sport / GettyNew York Mets: Yamamoto is perhaps the most talented and hyped Japanese pitcher to make the move across the Pacific since Masahiro Tanaka, and it's very easy to see why. The reigning three-time Sawamura Award winner (Japan's Cy Young equivalent) is coming off an all-time great season for the Orix Buffaloes, posting a sparkling 1.21 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Perhaps the most astonishing statistic is that he allowed two homers in 164 innings, and he has never given up more than eight in a season in the world's second-best league.The bids for Yamamoto will be high and involve many suitors. Not only is he going to command a massive salary, but he also reportedly wants to pitch for a big-market team. Within those qualifiers, the Mets feel like Yamamoto's best choice. Owner Steve Cohen has shown he'll spare no expense to field a winner, so he'll very likely be willing to both meet Yamamoto's demands and pay Orix a sizable posting fee. The Mets desperately need starting pitching, with an emphasis on finding an ace. Yamamoto is exactly that. He's a perfect fit for Flushing.Cody Bellinger Quinn Harris / Getty Images Sport / GettyNew York Yankees: Bellinger is the top hitter available after Ohtani following a terrific bounceback campaign with the Cubs, where he resembled the same player who won an MVP in 2019. The 28-year-old should have a bigger market in free agency this winter then last after slashing .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers, 29 doubles, 97 RBIs, and 20 steals while playing an athletic center field and Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.The Yankees look like the ideal landing spot for Bellinger, who fits several of their needs, including a left-handed hitter who can play center field. Hitting at Yankee Stadium would be a boon for Bellinger, where his pull-happy swing would line up well with the short porch in right.Matt Chapman Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / GettyChicago Cubs: Chapman's 2023 production fell off a cliff after he won AL Player of the Month in April. The third baseman hit just 17 home runs with 54 RBIs in 140 games and batted around .200 over the final few months of the season. Chapman added a fourth Gold Glove to his decorated defensive resume, but there are some legitimate questions about how the 30-year-old's game will age. Despite the risk associated with signing Chapman to a multi-year contract, teams are still likely to be interested considering the dearth of impact position players available - particularly at third base.The Cubs are currently projected to enter 2024 with Nick Madrigal at the hot corner. Signing Chapman would give new manager Craig Counsell one of baseball's best defensive infield alignments with Chapman, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner anchoring things. The Cubs have been searching for a consistent presence at third base since Kris Bryant, and Chapman could instantly provide stability and consistency at the position for a team looking to take another step toward contention next season.Josh Hader Harry How / Getty Images Sport / GettyBaltimore Orioles: Hader re-established himself as one of the game's premier closers last season after a puzzlingly inconsistent performance in 2022. The 29-year-old has allowed home runs at points during his career, but he can still rack up strikeouts in dominant fashion. Hader could be looking at the five-year, $102-million contract Edwin D az received from the New York Mets as a benchmark in free agency. With four 30-plus-save seasons under his belt, that feels like a fair target for Hader and his representation.The Orioles look poised to make a big splash this offseason. Coming off a 101-win campaign and the first division title since 2014, Baltimore is positioned to add payroll. Orioles general manager Mike Elias said the club will prioritize adding a high-leverage bullpen arm to compensate for All-Star closer F lix Bautista's absence as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Hader would be as good a replacement as the Orioles could find for a reliever like Bautista, who dominated to the tune of a 16.23 K/9 in 2023. The addition of Hader would also allow All-Star reliever Yennier Cano to pitch in a setup role, where he excelled last season.Sonny Gray David Berding / Getty Images Sport / GettyCincinnati Reds: Gray is one of the more intriguing arms available. He's coming off a career-best season with the Twins, and he was the runner-up to Gerrit Cole for the AL Cy Young after posting a league-best 2.83 FIP and allowing only eight homers. Gray also boosted his K/9 rate for the first time in three years and surpassed the 180-inning mark for the first time since 2015. The three-time All-Star may not be an ace, but he's proven himself time and time again as a reliable option for most contenders.Gray's past struggles in New York and his consistent success in smaller markets may point him toward another quieter destination in free agency. Since a return to the Twins may be out given Minnesota's plans to cut payroll, Gray should look into rejoining the Reds. He enjoyed some of his best seasons during his three-year run in Cincinnati, and he seemed to do fine pitching in homer-friendly Great American Ball Park. The Reds are on the rise in the wide-open NL Central, and they need a veteran starter to help stabilize a young rotation that took its lumps in 2023. A Reds-Gray reunion checks off a lot of boxes for both parties.Jordan Montgomery Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / GettySt. Louis Cardinals: Montgomery positioned himself well for a lucrative free-agent deal with an impressive showing down the stretch and into the playoffs for the Texas Rangers. The southpaw posted a career-low 2.79 ERA in 67 2/3 regular-season frames before logging a 2.90 ERA in 31 postseason innings during the Rangers' World Series title run.A reunion with the Cardinals would be a good fit. The Cardinals entered the offseason on the hunt for multiple starting pitchers and could use one more after signing Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. They are familiar with Montgomery, who made 32 starts for them over two seasons before they traded him to the Rangers. Montgomery pitched well during his brief stay in the Midwest, logging a 3.31 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP in 184 2/3 innings for St. Louis.Jorge Soler Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / GettyToronto Blue Jays: Soler rebounded from a dismal 2022 campaign by hitting the second-most home runs (36) of his career. The 31-year-old also cut his strikeout rate by nearly 5 percentage points from the previous season. Soler's been inconsistent in his career but remains one of the game's best pure power hitters. He would instantly provide a tremendous boost to the lineup of any team looking for more home runs.The Blue Jays make a lot of sense for Soler. Toronto struggled to hit homers in 2023, finishing the season 16th after ranking seventh and first in MLB over the previous two campaigns. Soler could help provide George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with more protection in the lineup and make Toronto more difficult to attack for opposing pitchers.Eduardo Rodriguez Mark Cunningham / Getty Images Sport / GettyDetroit Tigers: Rodriguez opted out of his deal with the Tigers after a solid season. He's coming off a career-best year as the veteran rock of a young Detroit staff, and while he will secure a nice payday, the 30-year-old will be a slightly cheaper option than some other left-handers on the market. E-Rod may not be an ace on a contender, but he's an experienced and dependable left-hander who can help get a rotation to the next level.But why mess with a good thing? Although Rodriguez will certainly garner interest, returning to the Tigers is the best fit for him long term. He can continue to guide their up-and-coming staff while also being the dependable veteran atop the rotation that they sorely need. The AL Central remains fairly wide-open, and Rodriguez is the type of pitcher who could help the Tigers make a surprise push in 2024. In two years, he's become part of the foundation in Detroit. The two sides may just need each other.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Ben Verlander and Alex Curry react to New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole winning his first Cy Young Award and San Diego Padres' Blake Snell winning his second Cy Young award.