Thanksgiving has come and gone, which means we’re about to enter baseball’s silly season — a time when rumors come fast and furious around seemingly every player on every team, as executives exhaust all their options and reporters are desperate for a scoop. So, to help you stay sane over the next few weeks, we’re busting out the Hot Stove BS Meter: Our way of taking the hottest gossip of the moment and asking whether it really passes the smell test or whether it’s typical offseason bluster.
First up: the trade rumors that have started swirling around Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. Bichette is coming off another excellent season, but with Toronto looking to retool after another disappointing postseason exit, could they look to blow up their current core? Let’s break it down.
Why Blue Jays would consider trading Bo Bichette
An awful infield market
On second though, “awful” might not even be strong enough. The best available middle infielder this winter is ... former White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who should probably be playing second base at this point in his career and is coming off a season in which he failed to crack .300 in batting average, OBP or slugging percentage (.245/.286/.296). And again: That’s the best the free-agent market has to offer; after that, you get down to options like Gio Urshela (coming off a season-ending hip injury) and Amed Rosario.
The trade market looks a bit rosier, with Brewers shortstop Willy Adames and any number of Orioles infielders potentially available. Still, Bichette is in a class by himself, and that could convince some team to make Toronto an outrageous offer.
Free agency looms
In baseball, the end is always closer than it appears. It seems like just yesterday that Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. were the game’s next big things, but now both players find themselves two years away from free agency. Toronto hasn’t been able to lock up either of them with a long-term deal, and the closer they get to hitting the market, the less likely it becomes. Just ask team president Mark Shapiro: “The closer they get to free agency, the more that changes their equation of risk,” Shapiro told MLB.com last winter. “It makes them probably less willing to give up the risk of what it means to be out there. The timing, it impacts the sharing of the risk and that sweet spot equation.”
Maybe the Jays will be able to find that sweet spot with Bichette and keep him around for the long haul. Toronto is among the richer teams in the sport, and they could certainly afford to pay the shortstop what he’s worth. But this franchise doesn’t have a track record of spending that kind of money: Even Dansby Swanson’s seven-year, $177 million deal from last winter would shatter George Springer’s record for the largest contract in Blue Jays history, and Bichette figures to demand significantly more than that on the open market. With Bichette’s free agency looming, Toronto has to decide whether they want to pay up — or deal him now rather than lose him for nothing.
Toronto needs a shake-up
Despite lots of young talent, the Jays just haven’t been able to get over the hump in the Bichette/Guerrero Jr. era. They’ve finished third or fourth in six of the last seven seasons, and they haven’t won a single playoff game since 2016, going 0-6 record in three postseason appearances over that span. Faces have come and gone: Toronto has signed George Springer, retained Kevin Gausman and traded for Matt Chapman in recent years, and they’ve even changed managers. But none of it seems to have changed this team’s ceiling, and after years of butting their heads against the wall, Shapiro or ownership could decide that the problem lies with its foundational stars — or at least that a reset is needed rather than paying big money to keep them around.
And yet, despite all that, I’m still not buying that Bichette might really get moved this winter. Sure, the fact that player and team have yet to reach an agreement on a long-term extension points to an inevitable breakup down the road, and maybe we’ll be having this conversation in more earnest if Toronto disappoints again in 2024. But we just established that Bichette is a very, very good player at a crucial position where very good players are hard to come by, and he has two years of team control remaining.
This Blue Jays braintrust seems desperate for a winner, and it’s awfully hard to imagine them contending in 2024 or 2025 without Bichette — barring some sort of Godfather offer in which considerable MLB talent comes back to Toronto. Of course, the possibility of that Godfather offer is why the Jays — and every other team in the league — are willing to listening to calls on their best player, and why these rumors get started in the first place. Other teams understand the various forces at play here and will shoot their shot. But Toronto is still a 90-win team as constructed, and it’s hard to see them taking a significant step back in the near term; on the contrary, Shapiro and Co. seem more inclined to make a big addition, even being linked as a dark horse for Shohei Ohtani. The smart thing is for the Jays to plug the holes in their lineup and run this back again next season. Fall short in October again, though, and the Bichette Watch will truly begin in earnest.