When the Blue Jays targeted free agents last offseason, they wanted to complement their young pitching. Not necessarily with veteran starters, but with established catchers and proven defenders. Halfway through the 2010 season, the Blue Jays’ free agent signings appear to have helped with the development of starters like Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. But free agent additions John Buck and Alex Gonzalez have contributed on offense, too.
Buck and Gonzalez have paired up for 30 home runs – 14 more than they combined to hit all of last season. It isn't exactly what the Blue Jays expected, but GM Alex Anthopoulos won't complain about a player who leads all MLB shortstops in home runs (17) at a bargain salary ($2.75MM).
“[Gonzalez has] been great, he’s certainly been more than we could have hoped for,” Anthopoulos told MLBTR Saturday. “We certainly wouldn’t have expected to have this number of home runs so early.”
And Anthopoulos, who spent about $11MM on major league free agents in his first offseason as the team’s GM, was expecting moderate power from Buck. So far, the backstop has exceeded the team’s expectations.
“I don’t know that we saw the All-Star game coming,” Anthopoulos conceded.
Buck has 13 home runs this season, second only to Mike Napoli among MLB catchers. But Buck didn’t join the Jays to hit home runs. He wanted to work with the Blue Jays’ pitchers.
“I can let them know that they can learn from each outing even if it’s a terrible outing, which I think they’re doing,” Buck said.
The Blue Jays appealed to catcher Jose Molina for two reasons. First of all, he wanted a big league job. And like Buck, Molina wanted to guide the Jays’ pitchers through the ups and downs of a major league season.
“We try to help the staff to become better and I think that’s what we’ve been doing,” Molina said. “I mean sometimes it’s going to work, sometimes it doesn’t, but I think the main thing is that [the pitchers] keep their focus every day.”
Molina (.751 OPS, $0.8MM salary) and Buck (.813 OPS, $2MM salary) have been pleasant surprises at the plate, but Anthopoulos says he signed the pair because of what they can do behind the plate. Though Gonzalez had flashed power with the Marlins (23 homers in ’04) and Reds (16 homers in ’07), his defense appealed to the Blue Jays front office, too.
“In this division you can’t give away outs,” Anthopoulos said. “We’re going to run young starters out, which was really going to be the core of this team, so having a plus glove at [shortstop] was important.”
Anthopoulos signed one more major free agent in his rookie offseason. The Blue Jays front office determined that Kevin Gregg’s second half slow-downs (3.84 first half ERA, 4.41 second half ERA) could have been related to knee issues that no longer appeared serious. They signed Gregg for $2.75MM and he has generally been effective, saving 20 games and posting a 3.71 ERA with 9.8 K.9 and 4.8 BB/9.
Gregg is a trade candidate, since the 44-44 Blue Jays trail the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox. Lots of Blue Jays, including Anthopoulos’ recent additions, could appeal to other clubs, but Gregg is one player who isn’t thinking about the rumors.
“I could care less,” Gregg said. “I like it here, I like all the guys, I like everything that we’ve got going here. I wish our record was a little bit better, but I still think we’ve got the potential to win a lot of games.”