Daniel Vogelbach Deal Continues Toronto’s Tepid Offseason

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays signed a lefty-swinging first baseman/designated hitter whose name begins with a V and an O, but it wasn’t Joey Votto. As position players report to camps, the longtime Red and all-time leader in games played by a Canadian-born major leaguer remains a free agent. Instead, the Blue Jays added Daniel Vogelbach on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. At his best, the well-traveled 31-year-old can help the Blue Jays, but in context, his limitations provide yet another reminder of the team’s underwhelming offseason.

Vogelbach’s deal calls for him to make $2 million if he’s in the majors, according to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman. This is actually his second go-round with the Blue Jays, but you’re forgiven if you need your memory jogged. He spent 10 days with the team during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, between being purchased from the Mariners and lost on waivers to the Brewers; within that span, he played two games, going 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts. After spending all of 2021 with the Brewers, he split ’22 between the Pirates and Mets, with an effective stretch-run stint for the latter, and then spent last year in Queens as well.

Despite a productive opening month to his 2023 season, Vogelbach hit just .213/.326/.348 (92 wRC+) through the end of June, a span that included an eight-day benching for the purposes of a mental break. He was much better from July onward, batting .258/.355/.475 (131 wRC+) with eight homers in 138 plate appearances, but even so, he was an afterthought in September. He made just five starts that month, none in the Mets’ final 16 games, with just three of his 24 plate appearances for September coming in that span. Unsurprisingly, he was nontendered in November.

Even in a down season, Vogelbach again showed an excellent batting eye, chasing just 24.1% of pitches outside the strike zone and walking 13.2% of the time; that said, his strikeout rate crept to 25.4%, his highest since 2019. He didn’t get enough playing time to qualify for Statcast’s percentile cutoffs, but his 91.7 mph average exit velo and 50% hard-hit rate would have landed at the 86th and 93rd percentiles, respectively.

Vogelbach is a player with obvious limitations. He didn’t play a single game in the field during his Mets tenure, had just five for the Pirates before being dealt in July 2022, and owns DH-caliber metrics at first base for his seven-year career (1,059.2 innings, -8 RAA, -15 DRS). He went 0-for-15 with a walk and eight strikeouts against lefties in 2023, and has been utterly helpless against them for his career (.129/.248/.215, 35 wRC+ in 323 PA). He’s never even attempted a stolen base in the majors, a wise choice given his 2nd-percentile sprint speed. That’s not the easiest player to fit onto a roster, and if Vogelbach does stick with the Blue Jays, he’s not likely to get a ton of playing time unless things go wrong elsewhere. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the incumbent first baseman, and Toronto signed the righty-swinging Justin Turner to a one-year, $13 million deal to serve as its primary DH while spotting all around the infield, as he did last year with the Red Sox. Turner hit for just a 105 wRC+ against righties (.273/.335/.430 in 462 PA) in 2023, but that may have been an aberration given his 132 wRC+ against them over the previous three seasons. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.

Given the size of the role in question, it’s not tremendously hard to understand why the Blue Jays signed Vogelbach instead of the 40-year-old Votto, who became a free agent after 17 seasons with the Reds and who scuffled in 2023. Coming off of August 2022 surgery to repair tears in his left rotator cuff and biceps, Votto didn’t make his season debut until June 19, and while he homered off Austin Gomber in his second plate appearance, he hit just .202/.314/.433 (98 wRC+) with 14 homers in 208 PA. Save for his slugging percentage and barrel rate, neither that slash line nor his underlying Statcast numbers were as good as those of Vogelbach.

Joey Votto vs. Daniel Vogelbach, 2023
Player Events EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
Joey Votto 146 89.3 11.0% 39.7% .202 .190 .433 .376 .326 .304
Daniel Vogelbach 194 91.7 9.3% 49.5% .233 .225 .404 .397 .327 .323

The Blue Jays showed interest in Votto early in the offseason, with general manager Ross Atkins saying, “Incredible reputation, really dynamic personality, really bright (person) that I know our team would embrace… But I think that’s the case for probably 15 teams.” Based on Votto’s background, he added a potential for “massive impact in the community if he were to be a Toronto Blue Jay.”

Despite the obvious appeal, nothing ever materialized, and in the wake of the Turner signing, we can infer that the Blue Jays may not have been willing to offer Votto — whose 2022 production was underwhelming amid his shoulder woes — enough playing time. To date, it doesn’t appear that any team has offered the right mix of opportunity and money. On January 11, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported that three teams were interested in Votto, and in his Sunday notebook a few days later mentioned the Blue Jays and Brewers as potential fits. The last report of a team’s interest in him came on January 24, when Heyman connected Votto to the Angels. That same day, Reds GM Nick Krall told season ticket holders he had no plans to bring back the franchise icon. Since those flickers of interest, the Blue Jays added Turner and the Brewers signed Rhys Hoskins. Meanwhile, the future Hall of Fame first baseman has popped up at the NHL All-Star Game in the company of Gritty and other mascots and quoted Dylan Thomas on Instagram, but otherwise, he’s been quiet on social media.

The Blue Jays/Votto connection has always been more speculative than substantial, but, like the Vogelbach signing, it’s at least interesting enough to underscore just how unremarkable Toronto’s offseason has been. Coming off an 89-win season in which it claimed the third AL Wild Card spot but made a quick two-and-through exit, the team hasn’t made anything that could be characterized as an impact move, even after showing signs of grand ambitions.

For a brief time, it appeared that the Blue Jays had won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, but alas that rumor proved untrue. With the possible exception of signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto, with whom they met before he chose the Dodgers as well, nothing else they could have done would have been as impactful. But they at least seemed to be thinking big by showing enough interest in Cody Bellinger to be considered co-favorites (along with the Cubs) to sign him as Christmas approached, and he remains a free agent as of this writing. Instead, in late December, the Blue Jays re-signed Kevin Kiermaier — a spectacular fielder but a league-average hitter who turns 34 in April — to a one-year, $10.5 million deal, presumably to be their regular center fielder between Daulton Varsho in left and George Springer in right.

And then there’s Toronto’s approach to its third base situation. Matt Chapman hit free agency after an uneven season that included a .255/.346/.449 (121 wRC+) line through August 12, when he sprained his right middle finger in a weight room mishap, and a .163/.250/.302 (54 wRC+) line the rest of the way; he initially missed three games after suffering the injury, then 15 more after trying to play through it. The Blue Jays, who reportedly offered Chapman an extension north of $100 million over four or five years before he reached free agency, extended him a $20.325 million qualifying offer, which he declined. Like Bellinger, he remains a free agent while the Blue Jays have moved on. Just after inking Kiermaier, they signed light-hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year, $15 million deal, then added Turner. Though he makes more sense fitting into the utility slot vacated by Whit Merrifield, who recently signed with the Phillies, Kiner-Falefa is currently projected to receive the most plate appearances of any Toronto player at third base (231), with Turner, Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio, and Eduardo Escobar also in the mix. The 35-year-old Escobar, who began last season as Vogelbach’s teammate on the Mets before being traded to the Angels, signed a minor league deal with a nonroster invitation last week; he’s looking to rebound from a dismal .226/.269/.344 (66 wRC+) performance in 309 PA.

Between Kiermaier, Kiner-Falefa, and Turner, that’s a not-so-grand total of $38.5 million committed to free agent position players this winter, short of enough money to cover the present-day value of one season of Ohtani. Their other major league deal was for Cuban righthander Yariel Rodriguez — who spent 2020–22 with NPB’s Chunichi Dragons, mainly as a reliever — whom they signed to a five-year, $32 million contract. After pitching for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic last year, Rodriguez sat out the regular season while establishing residency in the Dominican Republic so he could become a major league free agent. The Blue Jays intend to build him up as a starter, but he might wind up in Triple-A or in a multi-inning bullpen role as he begins his major league career. Meanwhile, the team will roll with a starting five of Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, and Alek Manoah, the last of those coming off a dreadful season after a top-three finish in the AL Cy Young voting in 2022. Lefty Ricky Tiedemann, no. 28 on our new Top 100 Prospects List, could help later in the year, but has just 36 innings above A-ball to his name, while righty Bowden Francis is being stretched out to provide more immediate depth. While they’ve been “quietly monitoring” the ongoing Blake Snell market, per Nightengale, the Blue Jays have never appeared likely to spend big on starting pitching this winter; instead, they have focused on improving their lineup.

Last week, Atkins said, “At this point, additions that would be of significance would mean some level of subtraction,” which didn’t sound like he was leaving the light on for either Bellinger or Chapman. If this is more or less the Blue Jays’ roster, according to Roster Resource, their payroll sits at $235.7 million in terms of actual salaries, up from $214.5 million last year, and $248.7 million for Competitive Balance Tax purposes, a hair ahead of last year’s $246.1 million and somewhere between the first and second tax thresholds ($237 million and $257 million, respectively). That’s the game’s sixth- or seventh-highest payroll, depending on which figure you’re using to rank them, so it’s not as though the Blue Jays are going cheap.

Nor do they project to be bad. We have them forecast for 83.5 wins, fourth in the AL East but part of a tight group with the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles; only 4.6 projected wins separates Toronto from New York, the projected first-place finisher. The thing is, the Blue Jays are right at the point where adding extra wins could increase their odds above their 14.2% chance at winning the division title and 47.7% chance to make the playoffs. While their AL East competition has added marquee players like Juan Soto and Corbin Burnes, the end result of the Blue Jays’ grand offseason just feels like a series of half measures.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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SucramRenrutmember
3 months ago

I did not need this disheartening recap today. Although it seems unlikely, it would be nice if they brought back Chapman and relegated IKF to the Whit role.