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Gregor Chisholm: Five non-tendered free agents the Blue Jays might have interest in this winter

Gregor Chisholm: Five non-tendered free agents the Blue Jays might have interest in this winter
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Major League Baseball general managers are becoming increasingly obsessed with finding a good bargain, and many in-house assets are being tossed aside in search of someone more affordable.

There were 19 arbitration-eligible players who were non-tendered by their respective teams in 2017, and 27 last year. The number soared again Monday, this time to 40, with Toronto getting in on the action by severing ties with catcher Luke Maile and right-handers Derek Law and Jason Adam.

The reason for the recent trend is rather obvious. Teams have become more confident over the last several years that better value can be found via free agency. Not necessarily priority guys, but a greater selection of fringy players who often will be looking for employment well into the new year.

Toronto took advantage of this in recent years with late signings like Daniel Hudson, Seung-hwan Oh, Jaime Garcia and Tyler Clippard. It seems there’s always a bargain to be found, although there are more who end up becoming total flops. Here’s a look at five non-tenders from other teams who might pique the Blue Jays’ interest this off-season:

RHP Blake Treinen: There will be a lot of demand for Treinen, who was cut loose by the A’s. Treinen arguably was the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2018. He finished sixth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award after picking up 38 saves and posting a 0.78 ERA over 801/3 innings. This year was the total opposite as Treinen went through long stretches where he couldn’t seem to get anybody out. He finished 6-5 with a 4.91 ERA and a 5.14 FIP.

The fastball velocity remained strong at 97 mph but there were red flags. Treinen’s spin rate was down, his walk rate more than doubled and his walks/hits per innings pitched matched a career high at 1.619. There will be teams that think they can fix him, and the Jays might be one of them because they have the money to spend and lots of jobs available. Treinen is the perfect candidate for a short-term, incentive-laden deal. Previous GM Alex Anthopoulos refused to entertain bonuses, this front office is far less opposed.

1B/3B Travis Shaw: Shaw is another bounceback candidate. He hit 63 homers and had 187 RBIs in 2017 and 2018 while batting .258 with an .844 OPS for the Brewers. The performance cratered this year. Shaw was so bad over the first three months he had to be optioned to the minors where he remained for more than six weeks. He was limited to 230 big-league at-bats, with a .551 OPS that made him unplayable. Still, he’s an intriguing option for the Blue Jays with the positional versatility to play first, second, third and even a bit of outfield. Justin Smoak offers more certainty, but the 29-year-old Shaw possesses more long-term upside.

RHP Taijuan Walker: A recurring theme is that everyone on this list is coming off a down year in 2019. That’s the reason the players were cut loose before the arbitration process. It has been two years since Walker has been productive. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and has tossed just one inning since. Prior to the injury, Walker impressed with a 3.49 ERA over 1571/3 innings for Diamondbacks. He’s still just 27 and offers untapped potential.

OF Steven Souza Jr.: Blue Jays fans likely remember Souza from his days with the Rays. The 30-year-old spent parts of three seasons in Tampa Bay, where his career year came in 2017 with 30 homers, 78 RBIs and a 119 OPS+. Souza then missed a large chunk of 2018 with a pectoral strain and all of 2019 because of a left knee injury. Souza has power but he also strikes out a lot, and the Blue Jays have enough of that with their glut of corner outfielders. Not a great fit.

RHP Kevin Gausman: Another familiar name in the AL East. Gausman is a former first-round pick of the Orioles whose best year was 2016, when he posted an ERA+ of 119. He was pretty good in 2018 as well, with a combined record of 10-11 with a 3.92 ERA across 31 starts for the Orioles and Braves. Gausman’s performance dipped so low in 2019 that he was waived by Atlanta midway through the season after posting a 6.19 ERA. Gausman might bounce back but the Jays should be aiming a lot higher for their rotation needs.
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