A year after being major players on the trade market, the Toronto Blue Jays are at it again, except from the other side of the aisle.
According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, the Blue Jays are getting inquiries about star outfielder Jose Bautista:
Not a shock: teams are inquiring about Toronto RF Jose Bautista— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) November 12, 2013
While general manager Alex Anthopoulos has balked at trading his star slugger in the past, there have been no guarantees of that this offseason.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Blue Jays are focusing on improving their rotation this offseason:
The Blue Jays traditionally are willing to listen on anyone, so there's been speculation they could even move Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion.
The big focus, though, is on starters. It'll help that Brandon Morrow appears to be back to full health. But they know they still need help. Toronto's 4.81 rotation ERA was second worst to Minnesota's 5.26.
Heyman also mentioned that Toronto would look at getting better at second base and catcher as well.
Bautista has had his share of injuries over the last two seasons, playing in only 210 games. Still, even with the injuries, the power has been there with 55 home runs and 138 RBI. He also has a club-friendly contract that will pay him $28 million over the next two seasons, and a $14 million team option in 2016.
While it would take a lot for the Blue Jays to give up Bautista, especially considering their lack of outfield depth, the team will pull the trigger on the right deal.
So, which MLB teams have the right pieces and are best positioned for a blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays?
The Rangers inquired about Bautista prior to the trade deadline this year, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler:
Rangers have continued to ask about Encarnacion and Bautista, but still appears that Blue Jays won't trade either one.— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnobler) July 31, 2013
The Rangers are looking for outfield help after Nelson Cruz declined their qualifying offer, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. And the Rangers just so happen to have help at second base and pitcher.
With former top MLB prospect Jurickson Profar waiting for his starting spot at second base, Ian Kinsler would be a perfect target for the Blue Jays. Over the last three years, he's batted .262/.341/.438 with 64 home runs and 221 RBI. Add in the fact that he's owed $57 million over the next four years and you have a club-friendly contract.
Then there's all the pitching the Rangers have. Out of all of their pitchers, Yu Darvish is the only real untouchable. But that leaves players like Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Neftali Feliz available for the taking.
If I were the Blue Jays, I'd go after Holland or Harrison, considering how well they've performed over the last three years:
The Rangers could also throw in a mid-level prospect as well in the deal to help entice the Blue Jays. Maybe someone like outfield prospect Lewis Brinson or second base prospect Rougned Odor would do the trick. Both players would help add depth in the minor leagues and be ready to contribute in a few years.
A few players could easily be switched out in the deal, but Kinsler and either Holland or Harrison would have to be a part of any deal.
St. Louis Cardinals
With how good their farm system is, the Cardinals are always in position to make a blockbuster deal. They have the pitching and the hitting that could satisfy the Blue Jays' needs.
With Carlos Beltran being a free agent, the chances of the Cardinals re-signing him don't look good, especially if big-market teams enter the mix.
That leaves Matt Holliday and Jon Jay as starters in the outfield. Another power bat is exactly what the Cardinals would need to replace Beltran. In fact, here's how the two players compare over the last two seasons:
In 86 more games played, Beltran only has a big advantage in average. One would think Bautista could get the 43 RBI in that amount of time to equal Beltran's total in that category.
The point is, the Cardinals have to replace Beltran's numbers and Bautista can be that guy. And they play the same position, which is even better.
So, who would the Blue Jays be interested in?
For starters, Shelby Miller has to be in the mix. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly will take up four spots in the rotation. Then there's also Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia, who will compete for the fifth spot.
The Cardinals have depth in the rotation and Miller would definitely pique the Blue Jays' interest.
Kolten Wong is another player who could be a part of the deal. The Cardinals already have Matt Carpenter in place at second, making Wong expendable.
If you pair up Wong and Miller, along with a few low-level prospects on each side, this deal would get done. Both teams would fill needs on the roster and get better immediately.
The Mets would be an odd team to get into the mix, but as Mark Simon of ESPN New York opines, it's a move GM Sandy Alderson should seriously consider:
Bautista is exactly the type of hitter that manager Terry Collins was describing when he made an end-of-season wish for someone who could hit behind David Wright.
Bautista has the best home run rate in the majors over the past four seasons, averaging one every dozen at-bats, and he’s equally adept at hitting them on the road as he was in hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. Bautista doesn’t hit many cheap home runs.
Simon added that he asked ESPN insider Jim Bowden what it would cost the Mets, and he said a potential trade would have to start with Jonathon Niese:
He came up with the idea of a package that included Jonathon Niese and two prospects, one being Cesar Puello (the idea being to return a power-hitting prospect to the Blue Jays). We imagine the other prospect would have to be one of the Mets' higher-end youngsters, though that’s just a guess.
While Niese is a good pitcher, he's not the piece of the puzzle the Blue Jays need to make it to the top of the AL East. He has a combined 3.9 WAR over the last three seasons, according to ESPN, and has given up 46 home runs in that same timeframe.
Will the Blue Jays trade Jose Bautista?
While Puello would be a nice addition for 2015 or 2016, the fact remains the Blue Jays are trying to compete now. R.A. Dickey will be 39 next year and doesn't have too many years left in the gas tank—even if he does throw a knuckleball.
Now, if the Mets threw Travis d'Arnaud into the mix, then it's a different story. The Blue Jays could build around the young catcher and have a centerpiece to the franchise for many years to come.
Then again, the Blue Jays already got rid of d'Arnaud once and it's unlikely the Mets will part with him.
Who's Best Suited?
In the end, if any team makes a deal for Bautista, it's going to be the Cardinals. Like all of the other big names that teams are listening to offers for, the Cardinals have enough depth to soften any type of blow a trade would have.
St. Louis could give up Miller, Wong and another prospect and still be set for the future.
But stranger things have happened during the offseason and this one should be no different.