Blue Jays non-tender deadline preview: Who is on the 40-man roster bubble?

The offseason roster churn continues with yet another deadline approaching. This Friday, by 8 p.m. ET, MLB teams have to decide whether or not to tender contracts to eligible players.

As of Thursday, the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster is at 39. The Blue Jays have said they want to add between one to four position players this offseason. To do so, the club will have to clear some roster space. Non-tendering players can do that.

Below, let’s take a look at the team’s non-tender candidates and who may lose their 40-man roster spot this offseason.

Arbitration-eligible players with estimated 2024 salaries (via MLB Trade Rumors)

Adam Cimber: $3.2 million
Trevor Richards: $2.4 million
Danny Jansen: $5.2 million
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: $20.4 million
Tim Mayza: $3.3 million
Cavan Biggio: $3.7 million
Erik Swanson: $2.7 million
Jordan Romano: $7.7 million
Genesis Cabrera: $1.4 million
Santiago Espinal: $2.5 million
Daulton Varsho: $5.5 million
Alejandro Kirk: $2.6 million
Nate Pearson: $800K

The Blue Jays will be tendering contracts to most of the names listed above — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Jordan Romano form the core of their team (along with a few others). But there are a couple of names from that list that will require more scrutiny and ultimately, the Blue Jays may choose to move on.

Adam Cimber missed most of the 2023 season dealing with a shoulder injury. In limited innings — 20 2/3 — he didn’t have good results, pitching to a 7.40 ERA and allowing six home runs in 22 appearances. For context, Cimber allowed six home runs total last season in an MLB-leading 77 appearances. This season, Cimber wasn’t healthy when pitching and had a noticeable dip in velocity, which likely factored into his poor results. The right-hander had fully recovered by the end of the season, completing a rehab stint in September with Triple-A Buffalo where he allowed two earned runs in three innings with three strikeouts.

The Blue Jays will need to decide whether they saw enough in Cimber’s near return to determine whether he could have a place in the bullpen next season or whether his performance in 2023, albeit limited, was a sign of his decline. If it’s the latter, the Blue Jays may not want to spend $3.2 million on a reliever who has fallen to the bottom of the depth chart when they could use that $3.2 million elsewhere.

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Santiago Espinal’s fWAR dropped to 0.1 in 2023. He registered 2.3 fWAR in 2022. (Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

Santiago Espinal is another player worth discussing. In 2023, the 29-year-old utility player couldn’t match his All-Star campaign in 2022, slashing .248/.310/.335 in 93 games with only two home runs. (He’s not a power hitter by any means, but he hit seven homers last year.) His typically reliable defence also took a step back and was worth minus-2 Defensive Runs Saved compared to 5 DRS a year ago.

Where Espinal may have an edge is his versatility and ability to play shortstop at the major-league level. Should Bo Bichette need a day off, Espinal can slot in. The only other player who has proven he can do the same is Ernie Clement, but he has only 364 big-league plate appearances. It’s worth noting, however, that Clement is out of options next year, while Espinal has two remaining, meaning Espinal offers roster flexibility.

His salary is projected to increase to $2.5 million and if he can be somewhere closer to the player he was in 2022, that’s a reasonable price to pay. And the Blue Jays may be hopeful for a bounce back, especially since Espinal at least ended the 2023 season on a strong note with a .836 OPS in September. With Cavan Biggio and Davis Schneider, the Blue Jays have utility man options, but Espinal still has some use on their roster. Another option, of course, is tendering Espinal a contract and then looking to trade him.

Pre-arbitration non-tender candidates

RHP Wes Parsons, RHP Zach Pop, C Tyler Heineman, UTIL Ernie Clement, UTIL Otto Lopez, OF Nathan Lukes

The Blue Jays could further trim roster spots by non-tendering some of the above players. Since they’re pre-arbitration, moving on from any of these players would be more a matter of clearing roster space than monetary reasons. The Blue Jays also have the option of re-signing a non-tendered player to a minor-league deal, thus clearing a precious 40-man spot but keeping them in the organization as a non-roster invitee to spring training.

A few of these players could also be trade candidates — such as Lopez, a young, versatile utility man who is ready for a long look in the majors after enough time in Triple A. The Blue Jays likely don’t have the at-bats to give him, but another team might.

Parsons finished the season with the Blue Jays, allowing nine runs in four innings of a meaningless Game 162. He understood the assignment but his hold on a 40-man spot is tenuous at best. Meanwhile, Pop never really found his footing again after an early season hamstring injury, but the 27-year-old righty showed promise in the first few weeks of the season. He also has one option year remaining so he has roster flexibility.

The Blue Jays have brought Heineman into the organization more than once and he’s well-suited as the organization’s third catcher because of his familiarity with the pitchers. If he doesn’t hold onto a 40-man spot all winter, he’s a person the Blue Jays could bring back on a minor-league deal. The same could be said for Lukes and Clement, who impressed with their offensive performance both in the majors and minors last year and stand to be key depth for the organization moving ahead.

(Top photo of Adam Cimber: Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

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