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Appealing non-tender candidates for Blue Jays

@KeeganMatheson
December 5, 2019

TORONTO -- With 56 players non-tendered across Major League Baseball earlier this week, the Blue Jays are looking at a new wave of options ahead of what is expected to be a busy stretch of their offseason. General manager Ross Atkins expects Toronto to explore more opportunities in free agency

TORONTO -- With 56 players non-tendered across Major League Baseball earlier this week, the Blue Jays are looking at a new wave of options ahead of what is expected to be a busy stretch of their offseason.

General manager Ross Atkins expects Toronto to explore more opportunities in free agency than the trade market at this point, given the team's payroll flexibility and desire to keep talent. Expect those opportunities to include some of these new names.

"There are definitely players that just made the market a little bit different," Atkins said Wednesday. "There is pitching that is available and there are position players that are available that are attractive to us, and many of them we've already engaged on."

Here are some recently non-tendered free agents who could appeal to the Blue Jays.

PITCHERS

RHP Kevin Gausman
The No. 4 overall pick from the 2012 Draft opened last season with the Braves, but he posted a 6.19 ERA over his first 16 starts and was eventually claimed on waivers by the Reds. Gausman pitched primarily out of the bullpen for Cincinnati, but the right-hander is well worth another shot in the rotation at just 28 years old. Gausman has lost some velocity from earlier in his career, now averaging 93.9 mph on his four-seam fastball, according to Statcast, but he remains one of the better bounce-back candidates on the non-tender market.

RHP Taijuan Walker
Back in 2017, Walker looked like a rising young star at just 24 with the D-backs. Then he underwent Tommy John surgery. Walker made just three starts in '18 before undergoing surgery, and he returned on Sept. 29 to pitch one inning. The medical reports will be important for Walker, but his situation is a sensible match with a rebuilding team willing to bet on his upside.

RHP Junior Guerra
Guerra, who will turn 35 in January, is coming off a strong season and a heavy workload for the Brewers, with a 3.55 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 72 appearances (83 2/3 innings). The right-hander's usage and value could be compared to Ryan Tepera when he was at his best in Toronto. Guerra is no longer the late-blooming rotation stud he looked like in 2016, but his move to the bullpen added 1.5 mph in average fastball velocity from 2018 to '19, now sitting at 94.6 mph. Add in his above-average spin rates, and it lines up with what the Blue Jays could be looking for.

RHP Yimi García
Garcia found his footing again in the big leagues in 2019, posting a 3.61 ERA with 66 strikeouts over 62 1/3 innings for the Dodgers. With Gacria's control of the strike zone, a heavy fastball, an elite fastball spin rate that ranked him in MLB's 98th percentile and a high-spin curveball, he fits the Blue Jays -- and their bullpen tendencies -- quite well.

RHPs Jason Adam, Derek Law
Even though they were both non-tendered by the Blue Jays, never close the door on a reunion, especially for two relievers who became valuable pieces of the 2019 bullpen.

POSITION PLAYERS

1B C.J. Cron
Cron still crushes the ball, with 55 home runs across his past two seasons. His career year came in 2018 with the Rays -- a Charlie Montoyo connection -- when he belted 30 homers and was valued at 2.2 WAR (FanGraphs). The Blue Jays have a clear opening at first base with the departure of Justin Smoak, whose defense Toronto will particularly miss, but Cron's bat could enjoy a return to the American League East.

3B Maikel Franco
Franco burst onto the scene back in 2015 and looked like a true power hitter, but that momentum really plateaued from '16-19, as he hit .247 with a .299 on-base percentage and a .725 OPS. If a club believes that Franco is just one adjustment away, or still has the potential to really pop in his late 20s, he'd be an interesting bat to take a chance on as a reserve third baseman or, potentially, a first baseman, where he's made just seven MLB starts.

3B Travis Shaw
Shaw will be a hot name on the non-tender free-agent market as teams eye not only those great 2017 and '18 seasons with the Brewers, but his positional versatility. Granted, last year was a very poor season for Shaw, with a .157 average and a .551 OPS over 86 games, but his versatility makes him an easy fit on plenty of rosters around the league.

SS Tim Beckham
Another player who Montoyo will be familiar with, the former first overall pick in the 2008 Draft has never touched that immense potential, aside from a '17 season where it looked like he was starting to put it all together. There still might be 20-plus homers in that bat, and while Toronto's infield is set for the foreseeable future, Beckham will appeal to clubs with his defensive versatility. That same versatility will also make Jose Peraza, still just 25, appealing to many clubs, too.

C John Ryan Murphy, Kevin Plawecki, Caleb Joseph, Kevan Smith, Luke Maile
The Blue Jays are set at catcher with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in the Majors, a young duo that most clubs would be envious of, but does Atkins believe they need to go out and sign a veteran for Triple-A Buffalo to act as insurance?

"Yes, we have to. Absolutely," Atkins said.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.