November 1st marked the beginning of the MLB free agency period. After the Toronto Blue Jays were swept by the eventual World Series runner-ups, the Tampa Bay Rays, in the 2020 Wild Card series, they will need to upgrade the lineup in order to fare better in coming postseason appearances. There are some intriguing players who are now available. Let’s discuss the Jays’ biggest hole in the lineup and take a look at some of the players who could fit the bill.
Last year, the Jays signed Travis Shaw to a low-cost deal in hopes that he could bounce back from a poor performance in 2019 and post numbers similar to his 2017 and 2018 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. While he definitely improved over his 2019 season, Shaw was a below-average hitter with a slash line of .239/.306/.411/.717, good for a 95 OPS+. This is not the type of offense you want from a corner infielder. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s permanent move to 1B/DH, the Jays will need to acquire an everyday third baseman. Alternatively, they could sign a second baseman and move Cavan Biggio to third base.
LaStella is primarily a second baseman, but has also played 749 career innings at third base. He owns a career slash line of .274/.349/.405/.754 (104 OPS+). LaStella served as a bench bat for the Chicago Cubs until he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels, where he shined as an everyday player, making his first All-Star Team before his season was ended by injury. LaStella improved on his All-Star season in the 2020 campaign, hitting .281/.370/.449/.819 (127 OPS+) for the Angels and Oakland Athletics. While he was known as a contact hitter as a bench player, he has adjusted his approach to hit for power out of the lineup to protect players like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Perhaps more significantly, he has championship experience as a member of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. LaStella would be a great acquisition for the Jays without spending top dollar, which would give them more flexibility to improve the pitching staff.
LeMahieu is a late bloomer. After a poor start to his career, he found his stroke in the hitter-friendly environment of Coors Field, where he made his first All-Star Team in 2015 as a member of the Colorado Rockies. After moving to the New York Yankees in 2019, he became one of MLB’s top hitters, winning a Silver Slugger Award and finishing 4th in MVP voting. LeMahieu posted career numbers in 2020, hitting .364/.421/.590/1.011 (177 OPS+). His .364 batting average was the best in MLB, and his OBP, OPS and OPS+ led the American League.
LeMahieu is a veteran who understands what it is like to struggle, which would be beneficial for the Jays clubhouse. However, he is very beloved by Yankees fans, and it seems likely he will be seeking a big long-term contract to remain in New York.
Hernández has been a fixture of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ perennial front-runners, rotating between second base and the outfield. His career slash line is average at .240/.313/.425/.738 (98 OPS+) thanks to a major downturn in 2016 after posting career-high numbers in 2015. Hernández made 462 plate appearances in 2018 and recorded a 117 OPS+ but posted an OPS+ under 100 the following two years.
While Hernández’s offense has been inconsistent and underwhelming at times, he has a history of coming through in big moments, hitting clutch home runs for the Dodgers in the postseason and during their 2020 World Series title run. He offers positional flexibility and postseason experience, which should be of major value to the Jays.
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While LeMahieu has been one of MLB’s top performers in recent years, I believe LaStella and Hernández would be more realistic options for the Blue Jays, given their past spending tendencies. Of these two, LaStella would be the better choice as an everyday player who can hit for power and serve as the glue for a potential All-Star lineup in Toronto.