With the probable departure of Matt Chapman to a team willing to pay the $150 million he’s reportedly seeking this winter, the Jays will likely be in the market for a new third baseman. What should they be looking for, and who might fit the bill?
This is the second instalment in my series of articles about the Blue Jays’ offseason needs and possible solutions. The first instalment, talking about left field, can be seen here.
Start with some ground rules about being realistic. First, about availability. It would be wonderful to speculate about Ke’Bryan Hayes or Alex Bregman, but they only seem reasonable until the drugs wear off. Second, about capacity. Justin Turner and Evan Longoria were fine third basemen once, but it would be unfair to expect them to play a full year at the hot corner at this point in their careers. And third, about cost. The Padres are rumoured to be “listening” about Manny Machado, but his remaining 10 years and $333 million would make him a tricky fit.
So, what should the Jays be looking for?
The easy ask would be a slugging 3B. Try to sign Candelario as a FA? But as a 29-year-old in a weak market, he will be looking for a long-term, mega-contract (MLBTR predicts four years and $70 million). Plus, his Statcast X-stats line predicts regression – his .251/.346/.471 comes with an x-stat line of .233/.319/.405 (for reference, the average MLB player had an x-stat line of .247/.320/410 in 2023). And Baby Ruth’s game is very one-dimensional – in 2023, his OAA/400 (outs above average normalized to 400 attempts) was an acceptable +2, but in 2022 it was -7.
Eugenio Suarez of Seattle is also rumoured to be available. He has a career ISO (power) of .208, which is very good, and he had an OAA/400 of +9 at third base in 2023. But he has had a wRC+ of 102 or less in three of his last four seasons, and his +9 OAA is very much an outlier (from 2019-2022, his OAA/400 was zero). And Steamer projects him at a 103 wRC+ and 2 WAR in 2024, at age 32. So, possibly, more of a fallback option?
Jorge Polanco of Minnesota is also rumoured to be available. The 30-year-old has power, with a career ISO of .176, but he is a natural second baseman – he has only played 180 innings at third over the seven seasons (though 103 of those innings were in 2023, with a negative OAA). He is a 20-homer, 20-double type at this stage of his career.
But it is not clear that power is the Jays’ greatest need. No matter what additions they make this offseason, 2024 success will depend on the regulars returning to form. If Vladdy and Kirk and Dan-Jan and George and Varsho continue to underperform at the plate, no addition will make the difference. So the only scenario that gives Jay success in 2024 is that those players return and start hitting for some degree of power again.
Remember in 2022 when the Jays were supposedly an elite power team, they hit 200 home runs. In 2023, when some believe they were terrible, they hit 188. Is 12 home runs really that critical a decline? I believe that what the Jays need more at third is a player with excellent OBP skills, and who can get the key hit (even if only a single) when needed
So what if we change the paradigm? Say that the Jays look for more of a McMahon type – an elite or near-elite fielder at 3B who contributes with the bat, but more as an OBP guy than a two-outcome stereotype? Someone young enough to potentially contribute for several years, with upside, maybe with a bit of positional versatility (in case a Barger or Orelvis explodes at 3B in spring training). And he should be cheap-ish in trade value, and ideally blocked in his current organization so he is more than just a dream candidate.
Let’s talk about Jared Triolo of the Pirates.
The 2023 seasn was Jared’s first (partial) year in the bigs. He hit for a 118 wRC+, but did it on a .298/.388/.398 line with only 3 HR in 54 games. This result was consistent with his minor league stats – he was .286/.412/.432 in AAA. Now, Jared was a bit lucky – his x-stat line was .250/.323/.372. But there may be upside. JT had a 98 wRC+ at home … but a 137 on the road. And remember, this was his first year. A guy named Vladdy had a 106 wRC+ in his first year.
So how about JT’s defence? Usual SSS (small sample size) caveats, but his 2023 OAA/400 at 3B was +10 and at 2B was even higher. For context, a OAA/400 of +10 at third, if maintained, would put JT top-4 in baseball (just ahead of Ryan McMahon).
And what about his baserunning? JT must be a tortoise on the bases, right? Well, in 209 PAs he put up a +1.8 in baserunning. That extrapolates to +5.0 in 581 PAs – which is what Daulton Varsho played in 2023 when he put up a Jays-high +2.8.
Why would the Pirates even consider trading such a paragon? Well, remember my saying that it would be foolish to consider trading for Ke’Bryan Hayes, one of the top young 3B in the game? Guess who he plays for – and who has him signed through 2029? And on 2B, the Pirates have Nick Gonzales, a 7th overall pick who debuted in 2023, and Termarr Johnson, who was drafted #4 overall in 2022 and is already MLB’s #26 prospect (higher than Ricky T!). They could use JT as a utility infielder / injury backup, but he would lose a lot of value (BTV only values him at $10m). So he is more valuable to Toronto than to Pittz – which is often the starting point for a good trade.
Now, some might say that the Jays can not afford to gamble on a relatively unproven rookie – that the “days of Bo and Vladdy goodness” are fast coming to an end. But in my view, (a) there are no 3B FAs or available trade candidates who really knock my socks off. The best are Chapman and Candy, who are declining and will demand mega-contracts, and (b) I much prefer to think longer-term and to make gambles like Varsho with significant upside. And (c) it would be dangerous for the Jays to overcompensate for 2023 and to completely sacrifice defence, particularly on a position as defensively important at third base (and particularly with Bo still struggling at shortstop0
The bottom line
The Jays might want to enter the Candelario sweepstakes. But with the D-Backs, Reds and Angels reportedly interested (and potentially many others), it is far from certain that the Jays could sign him – even if they ignore the troubling X-stats. In the absence of other obvious trade candidates (where is the next Josh Donaldson trade when you need it?), it may behoove the Jays to think outside the box.
ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO