First basemen the Blue Jays could target in trade

With Justin Smoak a free agent and Rowdy Tellez is coming off a rookie season that isn’t particularly encouraging, it’s clear that first base is a major hole for the Toronto Blue Jays. While GM Ross Atkins has hinted at positional versatility being a quality he’s interested in, there are a number of ways they can go about filling the position.

Free agency is a valid route, but so too is the trade market where there are some interesting bats floating around who could be a major upgrade for the Blue Jays’ lineup.

The One-Year Trial: Jake Lamb

Jake Lamb is a bounce-back candidate. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Age: 29
Hits: Left
Plays: First Base and Third Base
2019 stats: .193/.323/.353 line with 6 home runs and a 0.0 WAR in 226 PA

Contract Status: Projected salary of $5 million in 2020, reaches free agency after the season

How it works: Lamb is coming off two disappointing and injury-plagued seasons, but as recently as 2017 he was a force with the bat. Between 2016 and 2017 his 59 home runs ranked 29th in the majors between sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Abreu. At 29 he’s young enough that it seems unlikely that he’s completely lost that power stroke — a quality made all the more enticing by his top-notch plate discipline.

Lamb is undoubtedly a reclamation project, but he’s an affordable one and a guy that the Arizona Diamondbacks probably wouldn’t have a problem moving on from. If the left-hander slugger gets things on track in 2020 then he earns himself an extension. If he crashes and burns then it comes in a season where the Blue Jays probably weren’t close enough for the playoffs for it to matter. As a bonus, Lamb is an experienced third baseman who could switch spots with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. if the rookie completely unravels defensively.

The Sturdy But Pricey Vet: Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt probably isn't worth $16 million per season, but he's a reliable starter. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Age: 31
Hits: Left
Plays: First Base
2019 stats: .234/.339/.403 line with 17 home runs and a 0.5 WAR in 226 PA

Contract Status: $32 million through 2021

How it works: Belt’s 2019 was unimpressive, but he’s been as reliable as they come in recent years. Between 2015 and 2018 his WAR of 12.3 ranked sixth among MLB first baseman — one spot above Edwin Encarnacion. He’s long been considered a guy who could produce gaudier numbers if he didn’t have to hit in San Francisco, and the Blue Jays could put that to the test.

Belt’s significant $16 million annual price tag could either be partially absorbed by the Giants, or they could send prospect capital to make it more palatable to the Blue Jays. Both scenarios could have some appeal for Toronto.

While Belt would simply be a two-year stopgap for the Blue Jays, he’d be one of the more proven options available. He’s no star, but he would be a trustworthy professional not too dissimilar from the outgoing Smoak, but with a touch more youth and athleticism. The only possible monkey wrench is that Belt has a 10-team no trade list. There’s no saying whether the Blue Jays are on it or not.

The Inter-Division Deal: Nate Lowe

Nate Lowe doesn't have a clear role in Tampa Bay. (Reinhold Matay USA TODAY Sports)

Age: 24
Hits: Left
Plays: First Base and Third Base
2019 stats: .263/.325/.454 line with 6 home runs and a 0.5 WAR in 169 PA

Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible in 2022

How it works: Lowe is coming off a strong rookie year where he posted an above-average wRC+ (107), but with Ji-Man Choi and Jesus Aguilar in town, it’s hard to imagine how he’ll find regular playing time in Tampa Bay. The 24-year-old profiles as more of a good player than a great one, but he’s got pop, solid plate discipline, and an all-fields approach that’s tough to shift. Whether he’s a long-term solution at first base is up in the air, but he’d be a far better bet than Tellez if the Blue Jays want to give another young guy a try as opposed to going with a stopgap.

The Rays may be hesitant to deal within their division, but ultimately they’re a forward-thinking club that will do whatever it takes to make their team better. With super utility man Brandon Lowe under contract through at least 2024, and outfielder Josh Lowe making his way through the system, they might be best served shipping Nate out of town to ease the confusion.

If the Blue Jays offer a reasonable trade, the Rays won’t dismiss it due to the fact they share a division.

The Post-Hype Masher: Dominic Smith

Dominic Smith finally found his grove in 2019, but was blocked by Pete Alonso. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Age: 24
Hits: Left
Plays: First Base and Left Field
2019 stats: .282/.355/.525 line with 11 home runs and a 0.8 WAR in 197 PA

Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible in 2022

How it works: Smith was a big-time prospect for the Mets who looked like their first baseman of the future as recently as a couple of years ago. The slugger struggled badly in his taste of MLB action in both 2017 and 2018, though, jeopardizing his potential role with New York. Last year he found success at the highest level only to have a Pete Alonso-shaped door slammed in his face.

The former 11th overall pick played a little bit in the outfield in 2019 in attempt to get in the lineup with Alonso, but he showed poorly defensively and is really more of a first baseman. Unlike the Mets, the Blue Jays could accommodate his defensive limitations and put him in the lineup every day. His impressive production from 2019 might not be replicable, but he’s got raw power and prospect pedigree worth believing in — even if his plate discipline isn’t ideal.

Smith is far from a sure thing, but rescuing him from New York could be a fruitful venture.

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