As long as Rowdy Tellez is the Toronto Blue Jays’ primary option at first base, you can be certain they’ll be looking for an upgrade. It’s not impossible to imagine the big 24-year-old becoming an above-average hitter considering his raw power, but his plate discipline issue is a huge mountain to climb.
It’s safer to assume help will have to come from outside the organization, and there’s a good chance that means free agency. Here are a few guys they could look at:
The Clubhouse Presence: Jose Abreu
Plays: First Base
2019 stats: .284/.330/.503 line with 33 home runs and a 1.9 WAR in 693 PA
How it works: Abreu isn’t what he once was, but his next contract will reflect that. Now the soon-to-be 33-year-old should be available on a short-term deal at a price tag that won’t be cheap, but shouldn’t be extravagant. At this point in his career the veteran stabilizes a lineup more than he drives it, but he projects for a wRC+ around 120 and a WAR of approximately 2.0 in 2020.
Another factor that could make Abreu appealing to the Blue Jays is the fact he’s a well-respected Spanish-speaking veteran. Since the team jettisoned Kendrys Morales and Freddy Galvis, that’s been a vacant, but important, role in the team’s clubhouse. Youngsters like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. don’t necessarily need supervision, but a veteran role model, especially one of Abreu’s calibre, wouldn’t hurt. This is a secondary consideration, but the big first baseman can still swing the bat and his leadership capabilities represent a nifty bonus.
The Swiss Army Knife: Brad Miller
Plays: First Base, Second Base, Third Base, Left Field
2019 stats: .260/.329/.565 line with 13 home runs and a 1.2 WAR in 170 PA
How it works: Miller is far from a big name, but he’s undoubtedly a useful player. If the Blue Jays truly value positional versatility in any first base additions — as GM Ross Atkins implied following the season — it would be hard to do much better than Miller, who was a full-time shortstop as recently as 2016. Nowadays the 30-year-old plays second base, third base, and a little outfield, to go along with first base.
The journeyman is probably best imagined as a left-handed — and actually effective — version of Brandon Drury who can play just about anywhere. He could be the primary first baseman against right-handed pitching, but also move around as needed. His biggest weakness is his inability to handle southpaw pitching (.225/.284/.334 line in his career), but he could be deployed in a platoon. Manager Charlie Montoyo likes to get his whole bench involved anyway, so the idea of a guy who only starts against righties isn’t much of a leap for the Blue Jays.
The Pure Stopgap: Mitch Moreland
Plays: First Base
2019 stats: .252/.328/.507 line with 19 home runs and a 0.7 WAR in 335 PA
How it works: If the Blue Jays determine they are seeking an inexpensive short-term option, Moreland is the kind of name they could look at. He doesn’t really hit lefties, his positional versatility has deserted him over time, and he simply doesn’t have the legs to patrol the outfield anymore.
What Moreland does provide is a good glove that would help the Blue Jays’ young infielders and a bat that can do some damage against right-handers. The 34-year-old had an anomalous season from a defensive metric standpoint in 2019, but it was his best offensive campaign since 2015 thanks to a robust 112 wRC+.
If the Blue Jays sign Moreland it’s a pretty good indication they don’t see 2020 as their moment, but they could certainly do worse. The former Boston Red Sox first baseman is far from a star, but he’d be a decent bet to give Toronto more than Justin Smoak did last season.
The Outside-the-Box Move: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
Plays: First Base, Corner Outfield
2019 stats: .272/.388/.511 line with 29 home runs in 557 PA (NPB)
How it works: Unlike the options listed above, Tsutsugo would represent a long-term solution at the first base position. He has largely been an outfielder in Japan recently, but doesn’t grade well there and has experience at first base. The Blue Jays have lacked a true left-handed power threat for some time now, and Tsutsugo could be that guy. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is actually coming off something of a down year and has hit as many as 44 home runs in a season and posted a line as strong as the .322/.430/.680 masterpiece he crafted in 2016.
The Japanese slugger’s swing has been compared to Bryce Harper’s and he has plate discipline to go with his prodigious power. The swing-and-miss in his game is something of a concern, but the strikeouts he racks up should be offset by walks to some degree. There’s always a heightened risk level with international imports, but Tsutsugo looks like the type of player who’d perfectly complement the Blue Jays’ young core.
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