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How rumoured Blue Jays free-agent targets have fared to start 2023

The Blue Jays were linked to a number of big names in the offseason. Here's how they've performed so far this year.

Masataka Yoshida played a huge role in Boston's sweep of the Blue Jays last week. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Masataka Yoshida played a huge role in Boston's sweep of the Blue Jays last week. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Following their heartbreaking exit from the 2022 playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays were once again very active in the offseason as they looked to overhaul their personnel and team identity.

In addition to big trades for Daulton Varsho and Erik Swanson, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins went shopping on the free-agent market, bringing in starting pitcher Chris Bassitt, outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and first baseman Brandon Belt, among others.

That trio of players has enjoyed mixed results early in their respective Blue Jays careers. Bassitt has been mostly solid but has been hit hard in a couple outings. Kiermaier has become an instant fan favourite thanks to his excellent defence and hustle-driven style of play. Belt bordered on unplayable for much of the first month but saw his bat come alive in Toronto's weekend sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But what about the players Toronto was linked to over the winter that didn't end up signing north of the border? Here's how 12 of the Blue Jays' rumoured free-agent targets have fared so far in 2023, starting with the position players.

Brandon Nimmo, Mets

2023 stats: GP: 34 | BA: .310 | OPS: .867 | HR: 3 | RBI: 14 | SB: 3

Nimmo was considered one of the top names available and made sense for the Blue Jays as a left-handed outfield bat. He ultimately decided to return to the Mets on an eight-year, $162-million deal and has looked even better than he did in 2022. New York has been a major disappointment thus far, but Nimmo has been doing his part.

Masataka Yoshida, Red Sox

2023 stats: GP: 29 | BA: .321 | OPS: .939 | HR: 6 | RBI: 24 | SB: 2

Toronto was one of a number of teams monitoring Yoshida's free agency following a stellar career in Nippon Professional Baseball. The 29-year-old landed a five-year, $90-million commitment from the Red Sox and they've been getting terrific early returns on their investment. Yoshida is riding a 16-game hitting streak and has been flashing good power, to boot.

Cody Bellinger, Cubs

2023 stats: GP: 31 | BA: .300 | OPS: .934 | HR: 7 | RBI: 19 | SB: 9

After being non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bellinger signed a one-year deal with the Cubs to try and rebuild his value. The 2019 NL MVP has done exactly that over the first month of the season, showing a dynamic combination of contact and power at the plate while contributing nine stolen bases.

Michael Brantley, Astros

2023 stats: N/A

The Blue Jays came extremely close to signing Brantley in 2021, with some reports even calling it a done deal at the time. The veteran again chose Houston in free agency last winter and is slated to make his season debut this week after a lengthy rehab from a shoulder injury.

Michael Conforto, Giants

2023 stats: GP: 29 | BA: .175 | OPS: .608 | HR: 4 | RBI: 10 | SB: 1

Another lefty-hitting outfielder, Conforto came with significant upside but plenty of risk given he missed the entire 2022 campaign with a shoulder issue. He's off to a slow start with the Giants after inking a two-year, $36-million contract.

Justin Verlander, Mets

2023 stats: GP: 1 | IP: 5 | K: 5 | ERA: 3.00 | WHIP: 0.67

The Blue Jays were reportedly in on Verlander until the final hours and were willing to offer a multi-year contract, but the future Hall of Famer ultimately picked the Mets. Verlander's Mets debut was delayed until May 4 due to an injury, but he was effective in his five innings of work. Now 40 years old, it will be interesting to see if the three-time Cy Young winner can maintain his elite form.

Ross Stripling, Giants

2023 stats: GP: 7 | IP: 25.2 | K: 22 | ERA: 6.66 | WHIP: 1.52

Stripling was an unsung hero for the Blue Jays in 2022. He said he was very open to a return to Toronto but the Giants offered him an opt-out clause after the first season of his two-year, $25-million agreement. Things are off to a rocky start for Stripling in his return to the National League as he's yo-yoed between the rotation and bullpen.

Giants pitcher Ross Stripling hasn't yet been able to replicate the results he had with the Blue Jays in 2022. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)
Giants pitcher Ross Stripling hasn't yet been able to replicate the results he had with the Blue Jays in 2022. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Andrew Heaney, Rangers

2023 stats: GP: 6 | IP: 29.1 | K: 31 | ERA: 5.52 | WHIP: 1.30

The Blue Jays reportedly made an offer for Heaney on the heels of his breakout 2022 campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year's performance is looking more and more like a flash in the pan as Heaney — who has been mostly mediocre throughout his career — has struggled mightily through his first six games with the Texas Rangers. The southpaw isn't striking out as many batters in 2023, seeing his K/9 rate drop from 13.6 to 9.5.

Kodai Senga, Mets

2023 stats: GP: 6 | IP: 32 | K: 36 | ERA: 3.38 | WHIP: 1.47

Atkins said in November the Blue Jays have a "strong relationship" with Senga's agent, and the Japanese right-hander would have slotted into the middle of Toronto's rotation. The Blue Jays gave that role to Bassitt as Senga chose to sign with the Mets on a five-year pact. Senga's results have been solid early in his MLB career, but it's worth noting his FIP (5.20) is significantly higher than his ERA (3.38) through six starts.

Kyle Gibson, Orioles

2023 stats: GP: 7 | IP: 41 | K: 27 | ERA: 4.61 | WHIP: 1.34

Toronto was reportedly "involved until the end" with Gibson before he joined the Orioles on a one-year, $10-million contract. As has been the case for most of his career, the 35-year-old has been solid but unspectacular so far this season, bringing some certainty to a young Baltimore rotation.

Kyle Gibson was Baltimore's Opening Day starter in 2023. (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)
Kyle Gibson was Baltimore's Opening Day starter in 2023. (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)

Johnny Cueto, Marlins

2023 stats: GP: 1 | IP: 1 | K: 0 | ERA: 36.00 | WHIP: 4.00

Cueto was another veteran right-hander Toronto expressed interest in this winter before he ended up with the Marlins. Cueto suffered a biceps injury in his first start of 2023 and left a rehab appearance last weekend after falling while trying to cover first base. It's unclear when he might be able to return to Miami's rotation.

Kenley Jansen, Red Sox

2023 stats: GP: 11 | IP: 10.2 | K: 16 | ERA: 0.84 | WHIP: 1.13

Atkins has been reluctant to dish out big contracts for relievers in the past, which made the report that the Jays were finalists for Jansen quite surprising. Jansen has been one of the game's best closers for the past decade, so it's unclear what that would have meant for Jordan Romano's role. Jansen has been terrific since joining the Red Sox and has helped stabilize a Boston bullpen that has been a weakness in recent years.