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Blue Jays mailbag: What are the chances Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien return?

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The Blue Jays can’t help but look at this year’s post-season and wonder what might have been.

After a 23-9 run down the stretch, the Jays were peaking at the right time and appeared to be one of the best teams in baseball by the end of September. Then their season ended on one swing of the bat by Boston’s Rafael Devers as they officially ran out of time to make up ground in the standings.

The Jays believed they were the superior team, but the Red Sox finished with the better record and in the end that’s the only thing that matters. Now, after Monday’s upset over the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series, those unpredictable Red Sox are four wins away from the World Series. Who saw that coming back in April?

The everyday lineup and quality of the rotation suggest the Jays had enough talent to make a similar run, they just didn’t start playing like it until it was to late. The onus will be on the front office to make sure the proper moves are made this off-season to avoid a repeat performance next year.

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It’s never too early for MLB’s off-season hot stove and there were a lot of questions this week from readers, so we decided to bring back the Blue Jays’ mailbag this week. As a friendly reminder, questions for future editions should be submitted to [email protected] or by reaching out to me on Twitter @GregorChisholm. Please make sure to include your first name and hometown.

The following questions have been edited for length and grammar:

Two-part question about Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray: 1) What do you think their free-agent contracts will look like? 2) What do you think the chances are of one, or both, returning? —Andrew, Pickering

The comparable for Ray that makes sense to me is Zack Wheeler, who received five years and $118 million (U.S.) from the Phillies prior to 2020. Ray, who is one year older than Wheeler was when he hit free agency, figures to be looking for similar term with a higher average annual salary. Whether that happens will depend on how many teams get involved this winter.

A couple months ago, I thought a fair comp for Semien was the six-year, $90 million (U.S.) deal D.J. LeMahieu got from the New York Yankees. That estimate now seems low, considering Semien is one year younger than LeMahieu was as a free agent and offers more versatility as a potential shortstop. Semien appears in line for the $100-plus million (U.S.) payday he was originally headed for a year before free agency.

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In my opinion, the chances of both players returning are extremely low. There is lots of money available to pay them next year, the bigger concern is having too many long-term contracts on the books for 2023 and beyond. There should be enough flexibility to make a strong offer to José Berrios, while also signing a free agent to a long-term deal. Getting both Ray and Semien to return seems like a stretch, and if I were a betting man, I’d likely pick neither one signs.

Who would be better for the Blue Jays to go after for third base? Kyle Seager or Jose Ramirez? @LWOSAvrp1986

All things being equal, it’s Ramirez by a landslide. He’s a perennial candidate for the MVP, could fill a hole at second or third, and two years of control would give the Jays some time to make it all work. However, there are question marks about whether Cleveland will trade him this off-season, and even if it did, the asking price will be astronomical.

Ramirez should be the top target, but if the cost is deemed too high, Seager is a solid backup plan. With a one-year team option valued at $15 million, he wouldn’t block emerging prospects Jordan Groshans and Orelvis Martinez, he’d give the Jays a much-needed left-handed bat and wouldn’t cost nearly as much as Ramirez to acquire.

Could the Jays be in on Kris Bryant? —Chris, Lakefield

The Jays will be in on pretty much everyone, but no I don’t expect them to be among the finalists for Bryant. They’ll monitor his market and potentially swoop in if there’s a bargain, but considering Bryant figures to get a long-term deal, there are other options to pursue first. In addition to the Ramirez and Seager, Arizona’s Ketel Marte, Oakland’s Matt Chapman and Philadelphia’s Jean Segura could be among those on the trade block. I’d be surprised if the Jays end up becoming one of Bryant’s top suitors.

If Semien leaves, what would be the plan internally at second base? —John, Melrose, MN.

That depends on which type of third baseman the Jays acquire. If a big investment is made on someone like Ramirez or Seager, second base likely becomes the spot where the Jays try to save cash by using some combination of Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal. If they acquire a lower-priced third baseman, additional resources could be used to upgrade second as well.

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I’m still higher on Biggio than most people seem to be. I wouldn’t put him back at third where he struggled defensively, but Biggio was good enough to get the job done at second and there is a ton of value in the .364 and .375 on-base percentages he put up over his first two years. Martinez remains the long-term priority as the prized prospect, but he figures to be another year away, which could give Biggio another shot at securing regular playing time.

Considering the Jays needs to pay Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and are already paying George Springer, are they looking to extend Téoscar Hernandez, or he is someone they are looking to move? —Carlos, PA

I touched on this in one of last week’s columns. The Jays are open to working out a long-term deal with Hernandez, but it’s unlikely to happen because there are other guys they will try to take care of first. The priority is working something out with Berrios and the Jays also figure to sign at least one free agent to a long-term deal this winter.

For a team looking to maintain flexibility in the future, that doesn’t bode well for Hernandez getting a new deal any time soon. But that doesn’t mean Hernandez will be on the move either, far from it. The glut of corner outfielders available every off-season just means the Jays will feel more comfortable keeping him through to free agency, knowing they will have alternatives if he finds a better deal elsewhere. With two years of control remaining, Hernandez will be staying put barring an unexpected blockbuster deal.

Nate Pearson: Is he close to being called a bust? He’s not “young” anymore, and he hasn’t shown he can a) perform in MLB and b) stay healthy enough to perform. Tim, Edmonton

I’m not prepared to call Pearson a bust, but I know a lot of other people are and it’s easy to see why. Pearson hasn’t thrown more than 101 2/3 innings in a season as a professional and he lost each of the last two years to injury. He’ll be 24 later this year, and at this point, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll ever be able to get stretched out enough to start a full season.

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That said, the tools are there. He still has the overpowering fastball and the slider has shown enough promise to become a plus pitch. There’s a lot to like even as expectations for 2022 will have to be kept in check. Pearson’s not going to be able to start all year and he’ll likely have to settle into some type of hybrid role as a part-time reliever. He can have success there, but it won’t be the same upside he was expected to have as a frontline starter. That’s at least another year away.

Was this season an anomaly for Robbie Ray? And should the Jays have chips at the table for signing him? We know he’s going to be getting big money and a multi-year contract — thoughts? —Timothy, Cranbrook, B.C.

I plan on doing a deeper dive into this topic soon, but there are some red flags here. A year ago, Ray walked 7.8 batters per nine innings, this season he was down to 2.4. Even if that’s sustainable, it seems unlikely that a guy who experienced control problems for so long will continue painting the corners like he did through much of the first two-thirds of the season. His performance a third time through the lineup is also a concern with an opponents’ on-base plus slugging of .930.

Ray is a very good starter coming off an incredible season, so of course the Jays should be trying to bring him back. The unknown is whether a guy with two pitches will live up the ace-like contract he is almost guaranteed to get this winter. The Jays remain interested but there are limits to how far they will go. We’ll look at both sides of this debate later this month.

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