On the latest episode of At the Letters, Sportsnet.ca’s Toronto Blue Jays podcast, Arden Zwelling and Ben Nicholson-Smith recap the club’s recent acquisition of Yangervis Solarte in a trade with the San Diego Padres.
“It’s a nice fit in that he can play against any type of pitcher, he can play at any infield position, he’s got a little bit of experience in the outfield,” Nicholson-Smith said. “This is, in a lot of ways, the kind of player we’ve been talking about for months.”
At The Letters
At The Letters – January 10
Originally aired January 10 2018
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Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has made it very clear that his club values versatility and has spent the off-season pursuing players who can play a vast array of positions while providing above-average offence. Considering he played four different positions in 2017 and has a career OPS+ of 105, it appears the Blue Jays have acquired one of those players in Solarte.
“This is a guy who’s got a really quick swing,” Zwelling said. “That lets him make really good contact. He’s had well above-average contact numbers throughout his career. He rarely misses a pitch in the strike zone. And that allows him to not strike out much. Just a 12 per cent K rate last year. I think he has an offensive profile that benefits the Blue Jays.”
Along with fellow off-season addition Aledymis Diaz, Solarte is expected to give the Blue Jays more depth up the middle and an offensive upgrade over Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins, who combined for more than 800 plate appearances for the Blue Jays in 2017.
“Solarte is not necessarily going to be a superstar player,” Nicholson-Smith said. “But he’s a useful piece. I think that the deal makes sense. With the caveat that they have to fill in the gaps around Solarte.”
How the Blue Jays fill in those gaps is the next big question in their off-season. The club could clearly use upgrades in its outfield and starting rotation, and could stand to bolster its bullpen and catching depth as well.
“To me, the off-season isn’t complete or successful until they’ve added an outfielder and a starting pitcher,” Nicholson-Smith said. “Because you can start the season with Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford at triple-A. … And I think on the starting pitching front, you don’t want to start the season with Joe Biagini as your number five.”
Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take fans inside the Blue Jays and around MLB with news, analysis and interviews.
Currently, the Blue Jays rotation is led by Marcus Stroman, JA Happ and Marco Estrada, with Aaron Sanchez and Biagini rounding it out. But there are health concerns with Sanchez, who missed the majority of the 2017 season due to blister issues, and performance concerns with Biagini, who was inconsistent as a starter in 2017.
It’s unclear if Toronto’s internal options — like Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley and Ryan Borucki — will be ready to fill any rotation gaps early in 2018 or will require more minor-league seasoning before they can take on a role with the big-league club.
“I do think starting pitching depth is an area that the Blue Jays need to address,” Zwelling said. “I’d want to bring in another guy I’d feel good about being in my rotation for a lot of innings.”
Another big topic of discussion for the Blue Jays heading into 2018 is Josh Donaldson’s future with the club. Entering his final year of team control before free agency, the club will have to make some significant decisions over the next several months when it comes to its star third baseman.
Donaldson and the Blue Jays will exchange arbitration figures on Jan. 12, and this off-season may be the last time the two sides can have substantial discussions about a potential extension.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see if the Blue Jays and Donaldson take advantage of this time period to discuss the possibility of a long-term deal,” Nicholson-Smith said. “To me, this is the logical time to have that discussion, if you’re ever going to have it.”
Donaldson is one of the best hitters in the game, and one would presume he’d do well on the open market as a free agent next winter. But the reluctance of teams to shell out big money for free agents in this year’s market may give Donaldson (who is entering his age-32 season) and his representation something to think about going forward.
“Maybe you have to wait to see what happens with JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer,” Zwelling said. “But how do you look at this market and how does that affect your thought process going into a 2018-19 market when you’re also going to have Bryce Harper out there, Manny Machado, and some other big fish.”