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Identifying potential breakout hitters Blue Jays could pursue

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When the Toronto Blue Jays entered this offseason it was unfair to expect they’d match last year’s success in the free agent market. Getting MVP candidate Marcus Semien for $18 million was a coup, and grabbing Cy Young winner Robbie Ray for $8 million was a one-in-a-lifetime masterstroke.

Although matching the success of the Ray signing is a virtual impossibility, the southpaw’s success has reinvigorated speculation on who the next inexpensive free agent to take a massive leap will be.

That discourse has tended to focus on pitching for a direct parallel — and because in the Blue Jays context the combination of Pete Walker, Matt Buschmann, and the analytics department is establishing a track record of pitcher turnarounds. The next Ray isn’t necessarily a pitcher, though, and a Blue Jays fan base that saw the rise of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion knows that miraculous offensive breakouts are far from impossible.

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It’s easy to acknowledge that a seemingly lower-tier position player out there is probably capable of making the front office that signs him look brilliant for rolling the dice. It’s tougher to identify precisely who that is. One way to do it is trying to find players who profile similarly to Ray coming into 2021. The checklist for “next Ray” candidates is as follows.

• Less than 30 years old, meaning great upside (Ray was 29 when he signed)

• A rough previous season (Ray was coming off a -0.4 WAR year)

• Some history of being a quality player (Ray was an all-star in 2017, we’ll define this as at least one season of 2.0+ WAR)

• One carrying tool (Ray’s strikeout ability was incredible long before 2021)

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• At least one fatal flaw (Ray’s walk issues were prevalent even in his best seasons before 2021)

With that criteria in mind, here are two guys who have a chance to be the free agent equivalent of Ray:

Jorge Soler

Age: 29
Position: OF
2021 stats: .223/.316/.432 in 602 PA with 27 home runs, good for -0.2 WAR

Carrying tool: Power – Soler hit 48 home runs in 2019, and his max exit velocity has been in the top six percent of the league in every season since 2015. There is simply no questioning his ability to crush the baseball.

Fatal flaw: Contact – Soler has run a career strikeout rate of 26.9 percent, which goes a long way towards nullifying his power, and underrated ability to draw walks. Between 2017 and 2020 his K percentage ranked 241st and 260 hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.

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Road to a breakout: It seems a bit odd to put a guy who took off in the playoffs here, but outside of Soler’s explosive 2019 he’s produced 2.1 WAR in seven seasons by combining slightly above-average offense with rough defense. He’s probably not going to become a Gold Glove outfielder any time soon, but his offense has potential to find a new level.

After joining Atlanta midseason Soler posted a 18.6 percent strikeout rate and 76.1 percent contact rate — both the best he’d ever managed in a 55-game span:

Considering the way the ball explodes off Soler’s bat, if he’s able to put a few more balls in play the sky’s the limit for his offensive contributions.

José Peraza

Age: 27
Position: 2B
2021 stats:. 204/.266/.380 in 154 PA with 6 home runs, good for 0.2 WAR

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Carrying tool: Contact – Although Peraza’s strikeout rate has risen over time, it’s generally done so more or less in step with league averages:

Guys who can put the ball in play continue to be at a premium in the “strikeout scourge” era, and Peraza is outstanding at making contact.

Fatal flaw: Power – Since Peraza broke into the majors in 2015 there have been 207 hitters who’ve accumulated 2,000 or more plate appearances. In that group Peraza’s Isolated Slugging of .107 ranks 198th — a couple of spots down from Joe Panik.

Road to a breakout: Peraza is a tough player to trust considering he’s managed -0.8 WAR since his excellent 2018 season, but he does have some interesting building blocks. Beyond his aforementioned contact ability he’s also an excellent defender at second base—and passable at short—and there’s more to his power potential than meeting the eye.

While Peraza will never be a slugger he got his ISO up to an uncharacteristic .176 last season and despite his minuscule career power numbers he usually posts above-average max exit velocities — suggesting there is some hidden thump in his bat that some coaching staff may be able to coax out.

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The results say that he’s a slap hitter, but once in a while he hits a bomb like this high 432-footer:

If he can find any more consistency with his power, the rest of the skill set is already there.



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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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