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2017 MLB Offseason Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays (76-86), 4th in the AL East

Free Agents: Jose Bautista, Miguel Montero, Michael Saunders, Darwin Barney, Brett Anderson

After two straight trips to the ALCS, the Blue Jays had a rough 2017 campaign. Injuries to key players such as Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez plus inconsistent play throughout the year resulted in them finishing 17 games back of the Red Sox in the division and nine games back of the Twins for the second wild card.

As the Blue Jays head into the offseason, Toronto general manager Ross Atkins has already come out and said the club will face “a significant challenge” to try to contend in 2018.

Atkins and company want to help give the Blue Jays depth across the board. The only problem is that they have eight players under guaranteed contracts totaling $88.375 million and 11 more eligible for arbitration who are projected to combine for $54 million. This leaves them around $20-25 million to spend in free agency in order to fill the rest of their roster, or in their case at least a couple productive bats on offense and a quality starter or two to upgrade their pitching staff.

"We have very large lists (of targeted players) that include arms and position players at every single position," Atkins said to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. "Those players, we’ve worked through and have integrated the potential trades with our potential free-agent acquisitions, and preferenced those out at every position. …

"How that impacts run prevention and run creation could come in many different ways. It could come in the form of three players that impact us on the offensive side, or three players that impact us on the pitching side. It’s unlikely that we’ll acquire six major-league pieces without some level of subtraction. The most likely scenario is that there’s some type of combination of 3-6 players where we’re complementing the core that we have and making sure we’re providing as much depth as possible."

One of those impact free agents the Blue Jays are likely to pursue is Jay Bruce. The Blue Jays could use Bruce (36 home runs and 101 RBI with the Mets and Indians) in both their lineup and the outfield, which was regarded as one of the worst in baseball this season. Slugger Jose Bautista, the team’s star right fielder, is not being brought back for 2018 and they have a below-average platoon in left field in Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Pearce.

Other names they could target through free agency are Carlos Gonzalez, Jayson Werth, Melky Cabrera, Andre Ethier and Ichiro Suzuki. If they want to look for hitters via trade are, they could try to swing deals for Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Avisail Garcia and Khris Davis, according to Nick Ashbourne of Yahoo Canada Sports.

As far as pitchers, the Blue Jays are among many teams interested in Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, according to Jim Duquette of MLB.com. After all, he would be part of the international amateur free agent pool as constituted by the new CBA and he would be a cheap signing. However, they are waiting on the new agreement for transfering players from Japan to North America. They could also try to ink Lance Lynn to a deal.

As far as trade chips go, the Blue Jays’ biggest ones are Josh Donaldson and their surplus of top prospects, such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Nate Pearson, but they are not planning to ship them out if they want to contend in 2018 and beyond. That means the next best ones are either their relievers, according to Atkins. After all, they have “depth” in that spot and he said that position “could be an area that other teams have interest in” acquiring.