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Breaking Down Blue Jays Free Agent Targets, Part One

Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said it himself: “What we’d like to do is add another really good player, or two, or three.” After years of stagnation and cautious spending in the free agent market, last year the Jays shocked the world by inking the National League ERA Champion Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four year, $80 million deal.

Heading into 2021, the bluebirds are expected to again be a major player, as it seems they are one of few teams that are in a position to take on salary. Many top Free Agents have come up in rumours, and today I’m going to break down some of the top names and give my thoughts on whether the Jays should pursue them.

George Springer

Easily the top of this year’s Free Agent Class. The 31-yera old former World Series MVP put up a slash line of .265/.359/.540 last season, adding an OPS+ of 140 and 1.9 Wins Above Replacement. The guy hits. He doesn’t strike out, he hits the ball hard, and he can touch soft or hard stuff – a weakness of the Jays that was exploited in the Tampa Bay series. Add this to the fact that he’s an above-average baserunner as well as a plus defender in centre filed, and you have yourself a slam dunk signing.

George Springer checks all the boxes for things I love in a ballplayer. He puts the ball in play, plays good defense, is a great athlete and possesses high baseball IQ. A real Cavan Biggio type – if Biggio was faster and averaged 35 home runs per season.

The only real objection (other than cost, of course) to going after Springer is a moral one. Of course, Springer was a member of the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and won his World Series MVP thanks to knowing exactly what pitch was coming when. He was not one of the ringleaders, but he certainly didn’t do anything to stop it. Do we as Blue Jay fans really want that kind of person on our beloved ball club? Some won’t care, just as long as he performs. Which he has, since 2017. His career-high OPS+ came in 2019.

Should the Jays sign him? I really want to say no. But we’re not talking about Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran, Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman. As far as we know, Springer went about his business and wasn’t the guy pushing this idea.

The Blue Jays had the best outfield in baseball last season, and adding Springer to the mix would put fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. While Randal Grichuk performed admirably in centre last season, the Jays don’t have an everyday-caliber natural centre fielder. Springer would fill that hole. You could move Grichuk to right and use Teoscar Hernandez as a primary Designated Hitter, where his defense doesn’t hurt you.

I’m going to say yes. The Jays should go after Springer.

Trevor Bauer

I’m not going to get into the Trevor-Bauer-is-cheating-just-look-at-his-spin-rate controversy (you can read about it here.) because I have my own argument for staying far away from Trevor.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy. If it was a different time, different place I’d crawl over broken glass to get him to Toronto. But right now, the Jays have plenty of starting pitching.

They have an ace in Ryu, a four/five guy in Tanner Roark, and rising stars Nate Pearson, Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki (I still prefer Ryan in a starting role, but either way the Jays need to make up their minds). They already locked up Robbie Ray for another season. That’s six. So maybe there is room for Bauer.

Should the Jays sign him? No. I’d much prefer the Jays use the money they would spend on Bauer and use it to lock up Matt Shoemaker and Taijuan Walker. It sounds like both of them have at least some interest in returning, and both have proven themselves to be solid middle-of-the-rotation arms.

For these reasons, I’m not going to talk about any more starting pitchers.

DJ LeMahieu

Maybe it was my strict anti-Yankees bias, but I was surprised when I heard Jays fans were excited about potentially landing the three-time Gold Glove, two-time Batting Champ. But then I looked into him some more.

Everyone knows the pitch here. LeMahieu is a lifetime .305 hitter with a .357 OBP who plays great defense at second and third base. And that is what I really like about him. Just like George Springer, he fills a whole. Travis Shaw is a fine third basemen, but it’s hard to see him as a part of the team’s long-term plans when we never know what kind of season to expect from him. LeMahieu would give the team everything Shaw does, minus home runs, plus contact, plus defense.

Should the Jays sign him? Yes. I suppose it’s more a preference of style, but the Jays already have a lot of guys who can put the ball over the fence, and not a lot who can hit .300. If the Jays land DJ, expect those solo and two-run shots to turn into three-run home runs and grand slams.

Let’s Talk About the Alberta Sports Ban

This is a sports blog, so I will do my best to not bring politics into this.

We need to talk about three things: The Alberta Government’s decision to shut down* sports* for two weeks*, the general mindset towards coronavirus in this province, and this picture:

From @_Ruptown_ on Twitter

I’m not going to get into how we as a province should address the COVID-19 Pandemic. I’m not a policy analyst or infectious disease specialist. What I do know is that the decision from the Alberta government was at best inconsistent and at worst horribly misinformed.

Any sane member of the hockey community will agree that COVID-19 is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, and it has been. Teams and leagues are doing what they can to prevent the spread. Masks, social distancing, and contact tracing are examples of measures that have been put in place to save the hockey season. Other sports are doing the same. Hockey is a contact sport, but that doesn’t mean that figure skaters are immune from transmission. I counted at least one participant not wearing a mask. I’d imagine these skaters share a dressing room. What would happen if, God forbid, a skater took a spill – which is not an uncommon occurence – and collided with another skater? Is this not the same incident the Ontario government argued was the biggest risk of spread in hockey?

This double standard is the root of most people’s frustration. While hockey is shut down for two weeks, kids have to watch images like this one. Other athletes are allowed to train and compete. People can visit bars, casinos, and places of worship. If shutting down group activities is an effective defense against COVID-19 (which I believe it is), shouldn’t we be shutting down all group activities? How does drawing an arbitrary distinction between activities make any sense?

The decision handed down doesn’t even completely agree with itself. One of the asterisks above is that professional, junior and collegiate sports were exempt from the ban. Somehow this meant that the men’s Alberta Junior Hockey League could continue play, but the women’s Alberta Junior Female Hockey League was shut down. Bothe leagues represent the highest level of Junior hockey for their respective genders administered by Hockey Alberta.

None of this is to say that shutting down sports was the wrong decision. In fact, it is a good course of action to take. But just focusing on some sports while allowing others to continue, along with bars, restaurants, casinos, churches, temples, mosques, and house parties not only will not be effective (there has yet to be a major outbreak associated with minor sports), but it sends the wrong message. Kids that are playing the game they love are being punished while the people responsible for spreading the virus are allowed to continue living their lives.

I am more than happy to play my part in controlling this disease. If two weeks without sports (my primary method of employment) is what it takes to save lives, to stop people from dying, then I am willing to do so. But if we want to get this pandemic under control, it can’t just be us.

Ranking Every Jersey in Oilers History

This is not the first Oilers uniform ranking you have ever read, and it will certainly not be the last.

But with the Oilers teasing the design for their new “reverse retro” set, what better time than for a self-proclaimed jersey nerd to chip in with his humble opinion.

I’m going to count down, in order, all twelve designs that the Oilers have employed, starting with the duds and working down to the classics. If one design had nine variations, I’m only counting it once, choosing what I consider to be the best rendition. Oh, and no WHA jerseys.

Feel free to scream at me through your screen.

(Note: big thanks to Chris Creamer’s sportslogos.net for providing the images. By far the best sports uniform database on the internet.)

12. Reebok Edge Home

Pyjamas. They look like pyjamas.

By far the worst of the worst – and not just because the team sucked. The bright minds behind this monstrosity not only ditched the classic design elements that remained constant throughout the franchise’s history, but it appears they ran out of time when designing this thing. WHAT KIND OF JERSEY HAS STRIPING THAT DOESNT GO AROUND THE WHOLE SLEEVE?!

11. Reebok Edge Away

Same issues as its sister uniform, I just think the striping looks slightly better on a white background.

10. Adizero Home

The final of what I consider to be bad jerseys, but one simple fix would elevate it to one of the best Oilers uniforms. I really like the concept of combining the late ’90s/early 2000s navy blue with the classic orange. The problem is that they used the wrong shade of orange. This is much too light and not at all what was featured on the shoulders of Gretzky and Messier. Picture this sweater but with the orange we saw on the “Orange Crush” jerseys in the 2017 Playoffs. I’ll take six, please.

9. Smyth Era Away

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The blue and orange had served Edmonton well, but with the turn of the century (as well as a period of transition for the team) looming the Oilers’ look needed an update. Copper and navy were here to stay. If there was one thing that I’d say the Oilers need to bring back, it’s the rigger shoulder patch. It’s less of a logo and more of a testament to the blue collar mindset of people in Northern Alberta. So let’s get on that, please.

If there is one flaw of this design, is that there’s too much white. I like when my away jerseys have some kind of colour happening on the shoulders…

8. One-Season Wonder Away

…like this. Exact same jersey, more colour. Shame it only lasted the one season.

7. Smyth Era Home

These two jerseys scream nostalgia for me. When I first started watching hockey and following the Oilers, they were dressed in these uniforms. But they’re nice to look at, too. They keep the triple stripes from the team’s original uniforms but play with the colours to make the jersey appear more modern and, in my opinion, more oil-themed. While the original sweaters are pretty, I feel that the colours on these sets are a better fit for a team named the “Oilers.”

6. Adizero Friday Night Alternate

This is how you design a third jersey. Slightly adjust the colours and play around with the design. Make small tweaks until you have what seems to be a brand new jersey, while still seeming familiar. While the team’s new colours don’t really work on the primary home jersey, the combination is drastically improved just by flipping them. Plus, this jersey looks much better on the ice in hockey rink lighting then in any image on the internet.

5. Todd McFarlane Alternate

Controversial, I know. But this sweater has a few things going for it. First, trying something totally new in sports fashion usually explodes in a firey ball of crap, so kudos to Mr. McFarlane for designing something that objectively, on its own, doesnt completely suck. Second, the symbolism in this jersey is AWESOME. The logo is an oil drop (on the nose), but also a gear (more subtle representation of the oil & gas industry), and it has five bolts, one for each Stanley Cup the club has brought home.

Really the reason I love this jersey so much is because it was the first I owned, and I wore that thing everywhere.

4. Original Away

All I’ll say is that there is a reason the Oilers brought this design back from the dead. Not only did they win five Stanley Cups in these beauties, but the orange and blue sweaters were considered a classic set in the National Hockey League, up there with the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Kings. They were a part of hockey history.

3. Orange Crush Alternate

When a team breaks a decade-long playoff drought, fans are going to have fond memories. For me, this jersey is symbolic of a new chapter for the team. Breaking away not only from the Decade of Darkness, but even separating themselves from the dynasty years. For the first time since the eighties, the Oilers had two superstars in the same lineup, and they were in totally different jerseys. Jerseys that look impeccable, I might add.

The Oilers would have been fine if they stuck with this shade of orange, but instead they ruined a good thing and we’re stuck with the yellowish-orange disasters we have now.

2. Adizero Away

I don’t have a sentimental reason for putting this jersey ahead of the original whites, I just think the navy blue pops (in a good way). There’s so little orange that the shade really doesn’t affect the look of the sweater.

1. Original Home

Do you think I’m an idiot? Of course this jersey finishes first. When you think of Gretzky, Messier, Kuuri, Coffey, Fuhr, McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins, nine times out of ten you picture them in this jersey. The colours and striping are just so Oilers. This jersey is the franchise.

Since you stuck around this long, here’s a little tidbit of trivia as a reward. Due to Wayne Gretzky’s famous jersey tuck, the manufacturer’s logo on NHL jerseys was moved in 1981 from the back right corner to the back left corner so that it could be seen on the league’s brightest star. The tags were later moved back, but 99’s sweaters featured tags on both corners.

I know that you, dear reader, probably think I’m out of my mind for ranking the uniforms as I did, so let me know: what is your all-time favourite and least favourite Oilers sweater?

The Oilers are scary good.

Remember back in February, when the Taylor Hall rumours were flying? Reliable sources indicated that Hall may have wanted to play in a Canadian market. Because of the COVID-19 situation that brought along the flat salary cap for 2020-2021, many believed that he’d take a one-year deal from a Cup contender, and then get paid next offseason. Some folks in Edmonton thought that there was never a better time for Hallsy to make his return to Oil Country.

That obviously didn’t happen, as Hall inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. While there are many reasons I was relieved the Oilers weren’t in on him, the main one was that the Oilers could spent that $8 million much more wisely, and fill more than just one hole in the lineup.

Essentially, my argument was this: Who would you rather have on the Edmonton Oilers: Option A – Taylor Hall ($8 million cap hit) – or Option B – Kyle Turris, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyler Ennis, Dominik Kahun, and Tyson Barrie ($8.55 million cap hit). For an extra $550k, the Oilers nabbed themselves 26 more goals and 60 more assists than Hall put up last season, PLUS a fill-in for Klefbom as the team’s power-play quarterback, PLUS whatever Puljujarvi can contribute.

I’ll say that again. For less than the equivalent of league minimum salary, the Oilers got two and a half of Taylor Hall.

And for a team that finished second in the Pacific Division last season, on pace for 96 points, this is a scary team.

Top-Loaded

Let’s start with the fact that the Edmonton Oilers have on their roster two bona fide top five forwards in the league. They are the first team to have two Hart Trophy winners in the same lineup since the 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin). Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid finished first and second, respectively, last season in the Art Ross race. Connor was three points short of a hundred, which would have meant back-to-back seasons in which each player hit the century mark. These guys are studs.

The player that seems to get lost in this conversation is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Nuge quietly had himself quite the season, chipping in 22 goals and 61 points, while also being one of the team’s best defensive forwards and a lock on both the power play and penalty kill.

In Draisaitl, McDavid, and Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have one of the best group of top three forwards in the NHL.

Depth Scoring

If this was the NBA, the Oilers would be a lock for the championship. Unfortunately, three superstars are not enough to win a Stanley Cup. In prior years, “depth scoring” has been a repeated cry from Oilers fans. The idea is that McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins cannot be expected to carry the entire offensive load.

I’ve never really subscribed to this theory, because I believe that the players I mentioned are just so ridiculously good at hockey. Their bad nights are usually two assists. But for those readers who kept praying for the Oilers to add depth, your prayers have been answered.

Let’s start with Kyle Turris. 31 points last season made his $6 million contract look awful, and thus the Nashville Predators bought him out just two seasons after the deal was signed. But for $1.65 million, the Oilers signed a player who is two seasons removed from a 51-point campaign, and who averages 38 per full season. Look for him to bounce back.

Speaking of bounce back candidates, Jesse Puljujarvi is back in Edmonton. While he was away, he finished fourth in Liiga scoring with 53 points in 56 games. This season so far he has recorded five goals and two assists in eight games. Safe to say he has his confidence back, and numerous reports indicate a whole new attitude from the 22-year old. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he locked down a role in the Top 9 and put up a 30 point pace.

Tyson Barrie is in a very similar spot as Kyle Turris. A very good player who had a down year last season, and who the Oilers got for pennies on the dollar. Barrie is a guy who averaged 49 points per season in Colorado, and whose lack of production with the Toronto Maple Leafs might be summed up as a bad fit system-wise. It looked as though Barrie turned a corner when the Leafs replaced Mike Babcock with Sheldon Keefe. Thanks to the Oscar Klefbom injury, there is an opening for Tyson on the league’s best power play a season ago. 70 points from this guy is a possibility – I don’t expect anything less than 50.

The Defense

I consider Tyson Barrie to be more of an offensive upgrade, and thus the Oilers made no cupgrades to their back end. They are hindered by the fact that their number one defenseman, Oscar Klefbom, is going to miss significant time with a shoulder injury, and by the loss of Matt Benning, one of their most underrated defensive defensemen.

This absolutely does not mean that the Oilers will not improve defensively next season.

For starters, Adam Larsson is still Edmonton’s best shutdown defenseman. He is still going to play the big minutes against the opponent’s top forward lines and do just fine.

Plus, aside from Larsson and Kris Russell, the Oilers’ D-core is young. Darnell Nurse is 25, Caleb Jones is 23, Ethan Bear is 23. Evan Bouchard and Phillip Broberg are waiting in the wings to make their debuts as impact players in the NHL. I fully expect all of these guys to make improvements this year, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

We should also talk about the Oilers’ bottom six forwards. Now that the team has a solid scoring third line, their fourth line will not be expected to produce anything offensively and can really focus on shutting down the opponent. It’s too bad that the Oilers didn’t bring back Reily Sheahan, because he was a fourth line centre who played well enough offensively to earn a spot on the third line. This year’s iteration of a fourth line would have been a perfect fit.

I project the fourth line to be some combination of Jujhar Khaira (elite penalty killer), Gaetan Haas (team’s best defensive forward other than Nugent-Hopkins), Josh Archibald (great penalty killer, decent speed), and Zack Kassian (great wheels, more of an old-school-play-defense-by-bashing-the-other-guy’s-brains-in). I think Haas is going to take a step forward as he gets more comfortable in the NHL. I also think that the pressure is going to be off of Khaira and Archibald to contribute offensively so they can settle into that defensive role. I know a lot of people want to see Kassian on the top line with McDavid, but he doesn’t have the scoring touch of a James Neal or an Alex Chiasson.

Now seems like as good a time as ever to bring up the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s: options. Flexibility. If a guy in the top six falls into a slump, the Oilers have three different guys who can slot in.

I’ll wrap up with this neat stat: Thanks to JFresh, EvolvingHockey, and @AdnacOil on Twitter, according to the WAR stat, the Oilers are projected to finish with 101 points next season, an improvement of five points from this year’s pace, and good enough for eighth in the NHL this year.

This is far from a perfect team. The Oilers have plenty of weaknesses (Hello, Goaltending!). But if things go right, this is a team that has the potential to make some serious noise.