The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t strangers to making offseason blockbuster trades, and as they attempt to improve their roster, another seismic move could potentially be on the horizon.
Last winter, the team filled its massive void at third base by striking a five-player trade with the Oakland Athletics, bringing defensive specialist Matt Chapman north of the border.
This time around, starting pitching is the Blue Jays' main area of need, but unlike previous offseasons, they likely won’t be able to address that concern solely through free agency. Instead, an alternative strategy could be required.
Amid Toronto’s looming payroll crunch, the trade market may be a valuable resource over the next several months. But for a significant move to occur, the franchise will probably have to deal from one of its biggest strengths: the catcher position.
Everyone who follows this team has wondered whether the front office would ever utilize one of its most intriguing trade chips, and thus far, it hasn't. Management opted not to disrupt that group last offseason — aside from swapping Reese McGuire for Zack Collins — and followed suit at last August’s trade deadline.
This winter will be different for Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins, as he’ll need to be more frugal with his spending. So if the right trade package comes along, he’ll almost certainly be more willing to pounce on it than in years past.
But which catcher is the likeliest to be traded? And to what franchise? More importantly, what type of return can Toronto expect to receive?
There probably isn't an easy answer to any of these questions but let's attempt to find a solution anyway.
Starting with one of the longest-tenured players on the roster, Jansen is easily the most experienced backstop in the group, compiling five big-league seasons since debuting in 2018.
Pitchers rave about Jansen’s pitch sequencing and effectiveness while managing games behind the plate. They are two of his most appealing traits and are often difficult to harness with young catchers.
Staying on the field hasn’t been his strong suit, however, as the 6-foot-2 catcher hasn’t played more than 100 games since 2019 — his second MLB campaign. In 2022, he was limited to just 248 plate appearances across 72 contests due to an oblique injury and a fractured hand.
The 27-year-old’s lack of availability has relegated him to a part-time role over the last few seasons, capping his value. That would limit how much he would bring in return through trade, but he’d still likely garner plenty of interest based on his offensive skills.
Jansen has been a valuable contributor when healthy, which remained true this past season, resulting in the top offensive performance of his career. Though it transpired within a small sample size, the right-hander made the most of every opportunity.
Overall, the 16th-round selection from 2013 slashed .260/.339/.516 while positing career-bests in home runs (15), RBIs (44), ISO (.256), wOBA (.363), wRC+ (140) and offensive WAR (12.0). As a result, he was worth a career-high 2.6 fWAR.
Can Jansen replicate these results in 2023? It’s possible, especially considering he also recorded career-highs involving his hard-hit (46.6 percent) and barrel rates (13.1 percent).
Jansen features only two more seasons of team control as he’s eligible for free agency after 2024. He is also set to earn a sizeable raise from his 2022 salary ($1.95 million), with MLB Trade Rumors projecting him to command $3.7 million in arbitration.
With the franchise looking to shed costs while also emerging as a legitimate championship contender, trading Jansen could be a necessary move. It likely wouldn’t net an impact starting pitcher, though.
Kirk’s remarkable development was one of the most electrifying stories from this past season, and chances are the rest of the majors also took notice.
The 23-year-old catcher enjoyed a phenomenal first-half performance, hitting .315/.395/.487 with 11 home runs and a 155 wRC+, earning his first career All-Star Game selection. He slowed down the rest of the way, slashing .246/.340/.320 with a 95 wRC+ over his final 235 plate appearances, but his campaign was still exceptional on the whole.
After a hip injury sidelined him for most of 2021, he shattered his previous career-highs in both plate appearances (541) and games played (139) this past season.
Defensively, the 5-foot-8 catcher was a difference-maker in multiple areas, including his pitch framing and blocking. He led the team in called strikes above average, framing runs and blocking runs, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Kirk also ranked third in fielding runs above average and catcher defensive adjustment among all qualified big-league catchers. He was the only catcher under the age of 25 among the top five in both categories.
The 2022 Silver Slugger finalist is likely the most valuable catcher in the organization, mainly because of his stellar offensive and defensive abilities. It also helps that he’s under team control through 2026 and won’t become arbitration-eligible until after next season.
Trading Kirk would undoubtedly weaken the Blue Jays’ catcher depth, though it could dramatically improve their pitching staff. The St. Louis Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks or Cleveland Guardians — who all feature expendable arms and would benefit from upgrading their respective catcher position — could be potential matches.
But with how valuable Kirk has been since arriving to the majors in 2020, forming a seemingly unbreakable bond with Alek Manoah, it’s worth wondering if moving him would be the correct decision. While it would resolve one area of the roster, it could cause damage elsewhere.
As the Milwaukee Brewers learned with the Josh Hader trade earlier this season, sometimes it is best not to mess with a club’s chemistry because it could backfire horribly.
While Kirk might be the most talented Blue Jays backstop, many still view Moreno as the franchise’s catcher of the future, but that could change this offseason.
The 22-year-old has yet to establish himself as a full-time player in the majors, although he did showcase his talents as a rookie in 2022. He only played 25 games but slashed an impressive .319/.356/.377 with a 113 wRC+ across 73 plate appearances.
Moreno didn’t waste any time registering his first big-league hit, achieving that milestone in his debut versus the Detroit Tigers on June 11. It also came against one of the sport’s premier closers, Gregory Soto.
The kid can hit 🔥
There's Gabriel Moreno's FIRST as a Major Leaguer 👏 pic.twitter.com/jAt1Fx798P
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) June 11, 2022
In that same contest, the 5-foot-11 catcher displayed his incredible arm strength, throwing out Victor Reyes on a stolen base attempt with an 81.3 m.p.h. heater to second base.
Some pretty impressive metrics on Gabriel Moreno's first attempt to throw out a base-stealer at MLB level
Pop time: 1.83 seconds (98th percentile)
Velocity: 81.3 mph (94th percentile) pic.twitter.com/WC3ujFBOSz
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) June 11, 2022
Toronto has to be extremely encouraged by Moreno’s progress but he isn’t a finished product yet. And that’s OK. The youngster still has plenty of time to reach his ceiling as an impact big-league performer.
With the Blue Jays in win-now mode, though, management will likely explore his trade value this winter. Since he’s still a pre-arbitration player with one minor-league option remaining, there could be an endless list of potential suitors.
Pittsburgh and Miami may serve as the most appealing, as each could offer a substantial return, with Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds and Marlins pitcher Pablo López likely at the forefront of those trade conversations.
So unless the offers for Moreno aren’t up to snuff, he currently stands as the likeliest trade chip for the Blue Jays.
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