The Blue Jays will look for a second baseman, relief pitching and rotation help this offseason. They might consider some of the top free agents available.
- Jose Bautista, OF: $57MM through 2016
- Ricky Romero, SP: $29.1MM through 2015
- Adam Lind, 1B: 12.3MM through 2014
- Yunel Escobar, SS: $10MM through 2013 (plus two club options)
- Mark Teahen, UT: $5.5MM through 2012
- Rajai Davis, OF: $3.25MM through 2012
- Minor leaguer Adeiny Hechavarria also has a guaranteed contract.
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Jesse Carlson, RP: $700K (non-tender candidate)
- Colby Rasmus, OF: $2.8MM
- Brandon Morrow, SP: $4.1MM
- Jesse Litsch, RP: $1.3MM
- Carlos Villanueva, RP: $2MM
- Casey Janssen, RP: $1.5MM
- Dustin McGowan, RP: $700K
- Edwin Encarnacion, DH: $3.5MM club option with a $500K buyout (no Elias ranking)
- Jon Rauch, RP: $3.75MM club option with a $250K buyout (Type B ranking)
- Frank Francisco (Type B RP) Shawn Camp (Type B RP) Jose Molina (Type B C), Kelly Johnson (Type B 2B)
Trying to predict Alex Anthopoulos' next move is plain silly. A year ago this time, there seemed to be zero chance of trading Vernon Wells — and he's now an Angel. Before the 2011 season began, the Blue Jays' chances of acquiring Colby Rasmus seemed slim at best — yet he's Toronto's starting center fielder. There is no guessing what will happen next. A team that makes as many phone calls and weighs as many possibilities as the Blue Jays isn't going to be predictable.
We do know the Blue Jays need pitching and second base help. It's also fair to assume they'll consider a variety of trade possibilities throughout the offseason, given Anthopoulos' track record as a dealmaker.
It's conceivable that the Blue Jays will be tempted by big names this offseason. Elite free agents such as Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, C.C. Sabathia and C.J. Wilson would make the Blue Jays better, but it doesn't appear that Anthopoulos will offer any six or seven-year deals. Even if the Jays offer mega-contracts, top free agents may hesitate to join a team that hasn't reached the postseason since 1993.
It's no secret Anthopoulos has scouted Yu Darvish. The Blue Jays appear to have some interest in the 25-year-old right-hander and it won't be a surprise if Toronto emerges as a serious bidder. He and Ricky Romero would be terrific at the top of the rotation and signing Darvish wouldn't force the Blue Jays to surrender one of their prized draft picks.
Anthopoulos has acknowledged he'd like to improve the rotation, but he says the Jays won't be in the market for back-of-the-rotation pitchers. The Athletics, Braves and Rays could be willing to trade starting pitching in the right deal this winter, so expect the Blue Jays to keep tabs.
Though Blue Jays fans have long anticipated the arrivals of Fielder and Pujols on the open market, those two probably aren't signing in Toronto and president Paul Beeston knows it. First baseman Adam Lind's breakout 2009 season has become a distant memory after consecutive seasons with OBPs under .300. He has not produced enough, but he did reach the 20-homer plateau again (26) while dealing with back issues. Edwin Encarnacion remains an alternative to Lind at first base. I expect his strong finish will be enough for the Blue Jays to exercise the $3.5MM option they hold for 2012.
The Blue Jays also have an option for Jon Rauch, who missed most of the season's final month and is recovering from a right knee cartilage tear. His basic and peripheral stats dropped off in 2011, so, barring a handshake agreement with Rauch, I expect the Blue Jays to decline their $3.75MM option and let the 33-year-old go without offering arbitration, despite his Type B status.
Three of the Blue Jays' four other Type B free agents have a good chance of obtaining an arbitration offer. There's a case for extending offers to Frank Francisco, Kelly Johnson and Jose Molina. All three could help the Blue Jays in 2012 and none would cost a prohibitive amount on a one-year deal. Shawn Camp, another Type B, gets ground balls and has been durable. While there's no doubt the Jays like the idea of getting a draft pick for Camp, he strikes out less than one batter per two innings and might cost $3MM, which reduces his chances of getting an arbitration offer.
If the Blue Jays offer arbitration to all eligible players except non-tender candidate Jesse Carlson and pick up Encarnacion's option while declining Rauch's, they'll have committed about $52MM to next year's payroll, not including minimum salary players. They've spent at least $70MM every season since 2006 and have publicly hinted at payrolls twice that high, so it's not a stretch to expect the Jays to have $20MM-plus at their disposal this offseason. It's also worth noting that the Blue Jays enjoy a stronger Canadian dollar than in years past.
Anthopoulos said after the season that he expects the Blue Jays to go outside of the organization for bullpen help, either through trades or free agency. This makes sense, though the Jays have some internal options. B.J. Ryan's contract is off the books, but the memory of his contract lives on. I don't expect the Jays to bid aggressively on the top free agent closers, especially those who cost draft picks.
Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch both excelled out of the bullpen and will be back along with right-hander Carlos Villanueva. Dustin McGowan returned after a three-year absence and should contribute again next year — if healthy. Luis Perez and Brad Mills give the Jays left-handed options, but they're otherwise short on lefties after trading Marc Rzepczynski and will presumably want to add southpaws this offseason.
Second base will be another focal point for the Blue Jays. Kelly Johnson is one of the winter's most appealing free agent second basemen and Anthopoulos expects to discuss a possible deal with the 29-year-old. The free agent market offers few appealing alternatives, so Anthopoulos could turn to the trade market if Johnson declines arbitration and signs elsewhere. Many expect the Blue Jays will make a serious run at John McDonald, the popular defensive specialist Toronto traded to Arizona along with Aaron Hill.
There's also left field, where Travis Snider was the organization's most disappointing position player in 2011 after showing signs of breaking out in 2010. Expect Eric Thames to get a good shot at the starting job after hitting 12 homers and posting a .769 OPS in 2011. Meanwhile, Rajai Davis can be an extra outfielder, so the Blue Jays have sufficient left field depth.
The Jays also have Jose Bautista, arguably the best hitter in the game, so it's no surprise that they ranked fifth in the American League with 743 runs scored last year. They could score even more with a full season from Brett Lawrie, who hit .293/.373/.580 after being called up.
If they add relief pitching and at least one starter this offseason, the Blue Jays will have a more complete team. With the playoffs likely expanding by 2012 or 2013, talented prospects ascending through the system and the possibility of payroll rising, there's hope Toronto can soon contend for a playoff spot in baseball's least forgiving division.