For Blue Jays, Aoki still worth monitoring as non-tender candidate

The Blue Jays could see an expanded range of outfield and bullpen options following the December 2nd non-tender deadline

Toronto’s search for outfielders continues in the off-season, but with one of the Blue Jays’ rumoured targets, Josh Reddick, signing elsewhere, another sensible fit could be reintroduced to the free agent pool in a related move.

Nori Aoki was selected off waivers by the Houston Astros earlier this month, but Jake Caplan of the Houston Chronicle recently raised the possibility of Aoki being non-tendered now that his $6.8 million arbitration projection (MLBTR) is a problematic fit for someone who could primarily serve as a fourth outfielder.

The non-tender deadline for all MLB teams is December 2nd, and the Blue Jays could have a decision of their own to make with Aaron Loup who is projected at $1.2 million (though his handedness should save him).

Aoki checks off enough boxes for the Blue Jays, including being a left-handed bat with a nice on-base percentage. While he won’t bring star-level impact to Toronto’s outfield by any means, Aoki does represent an ideal lower-level signing as a one-year placeholder.

With Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey, and Harold Ramirez all conceivable options for MLB jobs in 2018, Aoki’s steady nature for one season is comforting. Toronto’s moves under Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins — primarily the Smoak extension and Morales signing — suggest that the Blue Jays value MLB-level depth and certainty in their investments.

Consistency is the name of the game with Aoki. Take a look at his stats over five seasons from 2012 to 2016:

Batting Average:  .288  –  .286  –  .285  –  .287  –  .283
On-base %:             .355  –  .356  –  ..349  –  .353  –  .349

It’s almost eerie. On a one-year deal, teams are getting a very small sample size of a player. Having this level of confidence that the player will perform to expectations over those ~120-140 games is critical.

Aoki has averaged 1.7 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs) over his first five seasons and hasn’t dipped below 1.2, his mark from last season that he should be able to replicate if given a regular role in someone’s lineup this year.

He’ll be 35 by opening day and his defence is not an asset, but as a complete package, there’s modest value. If the Astros can stomach the contract he could make for an nice trade chip in-season when other teams are hit with injuries, but if he’s non-tendered, Aoki will have suitors. Toronto would likely be among them.

Another non-tender candidate is Washington Nationals’ outfielder Ben Revere, who was traded by the Blue Jays for Drew Storen prior to the 2016 season in a deal that benefited neither side.

Revere had his poorest season by most measurements, hitting just .217 with a .260 on-base percentage and .560 OPS. This landed Revere with a -1.2 WAR, and with MLBTR projecting his arbitration number at $6.3 million, he does make a strong case for non-tendering.

In 2015, split between the Phillies and Blue Jays, Revere hit .306 with a .342 OBP and 31 stolen bases. His defence remains questionable, however, as his athleticism is hindered by poor routes to fly balls and a weak throwing arm. Still just 28, Revere will find work somewhere if non-tendered with hopes that 2016 was an outlier.

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