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Top free agents Blue Jays should hope wind up outside the AL East

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Considering the Toronto Blue Jays possess a strong core and money to spend — as well as some notable holes — the offseason ahead presents fertile ground for rumours, speculation, and wishcasting.

There will justifiably be a lot of attention given to how this team finds upgrades, but its fortunes will also be determined by how its AL East rivals do the same. After all, the Blue Jays finished behind three teams within their division in 2021, which means they have some leapfrogging to do if they want to reach their goals.

Not only are the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox particularly worth monitoring throughout free agency based on the quality of the players they bring in, Blue Jays fans should also pay close attention to how those players mesh with Toronto’s strengths and weaknesses. The Yankees and Red Sox probably won’t be actively seeking Blue Jays killers this offseason, but they might well find them.

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Here are a few guys that could be especially damaging to the Blue Jays if they wind up in the AL East:

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Trevor Story

Age: 28

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Position: SS

2021 stats:.251/.329/.471 with 24 HR in 595 PA, good for 3.5 WAR

Why he’s got Blue Jays killer potential: Story is a difficult hitter to project from here on out because his production has slipped in recent years, and it’s hard to know how he’ll fare without the benefit of hitting at Coors Field. He’ll probably be above-average offensively, but not enough to strike fear into Blue Jays fans – even if his power is no joke.

Where Story could be a problem if he turned up in Yankee pinstripes, for instance, is his defence. Since he broke into the league his +69 DRS ranks third among all shortstops, while his UZR of +15.4 ranks eighth. Statcast’s Outs Above Average is all over the place with his work ranking him as high as 99th percentile and as low as 4th percentile at his position on a season-to-season basis, but the general consensus is that he can pick it.

The Blue Jays’ lineup figures to remain predominantly right-handed in 2022, and Story could take hits away on the left side of the infield, especially from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who gets more than his fair share of knocks on blazing-fast grounders. Story has the ability to soak those up, as he showed on this 112.3 mph Renato Nuñez sizzler:

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Also, Story is an elite runner who could pick on a Blue Jays’ catching corps that caught a mediocre 22 percent of base stealers last year — and could see that number decline as Reese McGuire gets less playing time. The shortstop wouldn’t be fun for the Blue Jays to see 19 times a year.

Marcus Semien

Age: 31

Position: SS/2B

2021 stats: .265/.334/.538 with 45 HR in 595 PA, good for 6.6 WAR

Why he’s got Blue Jays killer potential: Losing Semien would be a massive blow to the Blue Jays regardless of where he goes, but the added sting is that he’s particularly well-equipped to hurt the club he was an MVP finalist for in 2021.

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Last season, the star infielder refined his approach in a Jose Bautista-like way by focusing on pulling as many fly balls as humanly possible. The result was a season in which he absolutely peppered left field with hits and ranked fifth among qualified hitters in pull percentage (51.3 per cent):

That’s notable from a Blue Jays perspective because left field projects to be their greatest defensive weakness. Despite a puzzling mention as a Gold Glove finalist, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has poor range out in left. In his two years as a full-time outfielder his Sprint Speed has never risen above the 41st percentile and his Outs Above Average have never crawled above the 14th. His strong and accurate arm makes up for some of his issues, but a guy like Semien could benefit from his presence out there – when he’s not clearing the wall altogether.

Max Scherzer

Age: 37

Position: RP

2021 stats: 11.84 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9 with a 2.46 ERA and 2.97 FIP in 179.1 innings, good for 5.4 WAR

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Why he’s got Blue Jays killer potential: Scherzer is a killer, period, and no fanbase wants to see him show up in their division. That’s particularly true for the Blue Jays because of the way he handles right-handed hitters.

Last season he held righties to a .177/.211/.330 line with 128 strikeouts against just 10 walks, a level of dominance only matched by Corbin Burnes. The veteran’s slider is a devastating pitch, and he’s not afraid to dabble in right-on-right changeups to keep same-handed hitters off his fastball. A lineup centred around George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Bo Bichette, and Guerrero Jr. would be in tough against Scherzer and the last time he faced the Blue Jays — in 2020 when they had a similar core — he held them to three hits and no runs over 7.1 innings.

Beyond the platoon splits, Scherzer has made himself at home in his relatively few trips to Rogers Centre. His ERA there (2.16) is his third-best in any stadium in which he’s pitched at least five times and his K/BB ratio (42:6) is truly absurd. It’s probably all small-sample noise, but it’s possible the mound in Toronto suits him nicely for whatever reason.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Kendall Graveman

Age: 30

Position: RP

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2021 stats: 9.80 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 0.48 HR/9 with a 1.77 ERA and 3.19 FIP in 56 innings, good for 1.1 WAR

Why he’s got Blue Jays killer potential: After completely committing to a relief role for the first time in 2021, Graveman saw his velocity spike and became a late-inning force.

He’s on this list for the same reason as Verlander, broadly speaking, because he absolutely erased right-handers with his newfound power sinker-slider combo on the way to allowing a .117/.222/.126 line against them. Out of the 117 righties to face Graveman in 2021, just one got an extra-bases hit, and that knock was this slashing 87 mph liner that barely stayed in bounds:

The fact that Graveman gets righties isn’t the only issue he’d present as a divisional opponent for the Blue Jays, it’s how he gets them. The high-leverage reliever uses his 96.6 mph sinker 62.8 per cent of the time, and while Toronto hits fastballs well, they are much better against four-seamers.

In 2021, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer were the top two fastball hitters per 100 pitches according to Statcast’s run value metric. Against sinkers, they didn’t crack the leaderboard. When you look at last year’s Blue Jays (who are under contract for 2022) the majority were more vulnerable against sinking fastballs than four-seamers on a per/100 pitch basis last season:

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Although Biggio looks like a half-decent matchup for Graveman, much of this team’s lineup would be far better off avoiding a pitcher who ties right-handers in knots by pounding sinkers that run like this:

The former Toronto prospect has serious Blue Jays killer potential, as well as Blue Jays’ target appeal.





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Twins Insider Reveals Carlos Correa WBC Update

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(Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

 

Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa made all kinds of headlines during the MLB offseason.

He agreed to three different contracts with three teams, but the first two (a $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants and a $315 million pact with the New York Mets) were nixed due to concerns over his surgically-repaired right ankle.

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The third time was the charm, as the Twins snagged him for $200 million and a chance to make it $270 million.

He has been a regular for Team Puerto Rico in international competitions such as the World Baseball Classic.

However, he has decided to step away and not represent his country in the 2023 edition that will start in a little over a month.

“Carlos Correa is withdrawing from the World Baseball Classic after making a joint decision with the #MNTwins. Correa’s wife is due with the couple’s second child the same week that Puerto Rico opens WBC play. Twins don’t want Correa juggling family/WBC. Story to follow,” Twins insider Dan Hayes tweeted.

It appears that the decision was a joint one between Correa and the team and doesn’t have anything to do with his ankle.

Correa has played, so far, in eight WBC games, in two editions.

He has performed admirably, with a .333/.500/.750 line (10-for-24), 10 runs scored, three homers, and nine RBI.

He has a cool 10/4 BB/K ratio, too.

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In other words, Puerto Rico just lost one of their best players for the tournament.

Will they be able to overcome that loss? It remains to be seen.

The player, meanwhile, will be focusing on his family before focusing on the Twins’ 2023 season and the challenges ahead.

The post Twins Insider Reveals Carlos Correa WBC Update appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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Seven-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green retires after 12 season

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PHOENIX — Seven-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green retired on Monday after 12 seasons in the NFL.

The 34-year-old spent a decade with the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Arizona Cardinals for the last two seasons of his career.

Selected by the Bengals with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2011 draft out of Georgia, Green was a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first seven seasons, topping 1,000 yards receiving six times.

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The 6-foot-4, 207-pounder had a rare blend of size and speed and his low-key personality made him a favorite among teammates. He teamed with quarterback Andy Dalton to lead the Bengals to the playoffs every year from 2011 to 2015, though they never won a game in the postseason.

“I’ve never been a man of many words, so I’ll keep this short,” Green wrote in an Instagram post. “Thank you. Thank you to all who have supported, encouraged, and inspired me throughout my career.

“Special thank you to the University of Georgia, Cincinnati Bengals, and Arizona Cardinals for the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I’ve stayed true to the game and it owes me nothing. Be blessed.. Love y’all! The next chapter begins?”

He missed the 2019 season with an ankle injury, but returned to the Bengals in 2020.

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Green was solid in his first season with the Cardinals in 2021, catching 54 passes for 848 yards and three TDs. His production dipped to 24 catches for 236 yards and two TDs this season, though he remained a popular presence in the Cardinals locker room.

He finishes his career with 10,514 yards receiving — which ranks 44th in NFL history — and had 70 touchdown catches.

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The Cardinals Were Wise To Avoid Trading For Frankie Montas

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(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

 

At the trade deadline in 2022, the St. Louis Cardinals made some key moves to strengthen their starting rotation, adding veterans Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana.

Both proved to be solid pickups, with Quintana ultimately drawing the start in Game 1 of the Wild Card series against the Philadelphia Phillies and Montgomery pitching a few solid innings out of the bullpen in Game 2.

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But there was another starter that the team had eyes on.

Frankie Montas was that starter.

He was ultimately acquired by the New York Yankees before the Cardinals added Montgomery.

However, Montas has struggled with his health recently, meaning the Cardinals were smart to not make a move for him.

The 29-year-old finished the 2022 season with a 5-12 record and an ERA of 4.05 in 27 starts.

Now, the veteran right-hander may miss the entire 2023 season due to a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Quintana went 3-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts with the Cardinals, while Montgomery went 6-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 11 starts with his new team.

Montgomery is also a potential candidate for a contract extension, which could help ease the burden on the Cardinals, who currently only have one starter under contract for 2024.

The Yankees, despite having signed Carlos Rodon to go along with Nestor Cortes and Gerrit Cole, find themselves in a difficult spot with Montas.

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They now have an open spot in their starting rotation that will need to be addressed at some point during the season, if it is not addressed soon.

Ultimately, the Cardinals dodged a bullet by not going after Montas, which made a key difference down the stretch in 2022.

The post The Cardinals Were Wise To Avoid Trading For Frankie Montas appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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