Offseason In Review: Toronto Blue Jays

As speculation and rumors about splashy acquisitions continued to swirl, the Blue Jays opted for bullpen improvements this offseason.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Tim Redding, Omar Vizquel, Kyle Phillips, Nelson Figueroa, Robert Coello, Brian Bocock, Aaron Laffey.

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

The Blue Jays will have a better bullpen in 2012 and their offense was strong to begin with, yet it’s unclear if the back of their rotation will be effective enough to vault the club into contention this year.

To the surprise and frustration of many Blue Jays fans, GM Alex Anthopoulos passed on Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson, Ryan Madson and the rest of the offseason’s top free agents. The Rangers won the bidding for Yu Darvish, but the Blue Jays appear to have placed a relatively competitive bid for the right-hander and at times it seemed that he would be headed to Toronto. The Blue Jays were also reportedly in on trade talks for starters Michael Pineda and Gio Gonzalez, but didn't appear to feel comfortable with the asking price for controllable, young pitchers.

Instead, the back of the Blue Jays’ projected rotation contains one pitcher who has appeared in five MLB games since 2008 and another pitcher who has appeared in ten big league games over the course of his entire career. Dustin McGowan has tremendous stuff and Henderson Alvarez impressed in his late-2011 cameo, but baseball’s best teams have more certainty at the back of their rotations. I still believe acquiring one more starter with the stuff to succeed in the AL East would have reduced risk without preventing the organization's best prospects from developing.

Highly-regarded Double-A starters Chad Jenkins, Deck McGuire and Drew Hutchison provide the team with promising internal alternatives that presumably affected the Blue Jays' willingness to bid aggressively on available pitching this winter. The prospects could be called on if a Blue Jays starter suffers an injury, but they probably need at least a couple more months of minor league development first. In the meantime, Aaron Laffey and Kyle Drabek provide rotation depth, but given Drabek's command issues last year (55 walks in 78 2/3 innings) additional Triple-A seasoning seems to be in order. 

The bullpen, an ongoing source of concern in 2011, received a makeover. Anthopoulos traded for Sergio Santos, re-acquired Jason Frasor and signed Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero. Though Oliver is now 41, the left-hander remains effective. And though Cordero showed signs of decline in 2011, the Blue Jays aren't asking him to close or paying him like a closer.

It mustn't have been easy to send minor league starter Nestor Molina and his 148K/16BB ratio to Chicago, but the Santos deal seems likely to pay off for Anthopoulos. Santos, a former shortstop prospect in Toronto's system, excelled as Chicago's closer in 2011 and is under team control through 2017. Similarly, parting with Myles Jaye and Daniel Webb to re-acquire Frasor makes sense for a prospect-rich team seeking late-game stability. Toronto's front office improved the bullpen considerably over the winter.

The Blue Jays extended their control over Brandon Morrow with a three-year, $21MM extension and locked Casey Janssen up for two years and $5.9MM. The Blue Jays believe Morrow can reach another level after showing promise in his first two seasons out of the rotation, so extending him and creating potential savings for two free agent seasons was a natural choice. Even if his performance remains constant, the Blue Jays should enjoy extended control at a reasonable rate.

After months of speculation, the Blue Jays didn't end up adding a big-name bat such as Fielder or David Ortiz. Yet they ranked sixth in MLB in scoring a year ago and should still be powerful in 2012. Two-time defending MLB home run leader Jose Bautista anchors a lineup that will also include Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus for a full season. The Blue Jays retained two powerful players by exercising Edwin Encarnacion's option and offering Johnson arbitration.

Anthopoulos chose to rely on Adam Lind at first base and either Eric Thames or Travis Snider in left field. Lind needs to get on base more and the Blue Jays need to find out what they have in Snider and Thames. Though there's some hope at first base and left field, the Blue Jays will have to move on at these positions in 2013 if Lind, Thames and Snider don't hit.

The Blue Jays lost a highly-regarded defensive catcher in Jose Molina and acquired another one in Jeff Mathis. There's every reason to expect unimpressive offensive numbers from Mathis, a lifetime .194/.257/.301 hitter. But someone has to spell J.P. Arencibia and top prospect Travis d'Arnaud needs to play every day to further refine his game. If d'Arnaud impresses at Triple-A he could earn a callup when rosters expand in September.

The AL East doesn't look any easier this year, but three of its teams could qualify for the playoffs under baseball's new postseason system. That gives the Blue Jays legitimate hope for 2012 and beyond. There's a sense that the Blue Jays are set to end their run of mediocre finishes and emerge as a contending team before long. If enough breaks right it could even happen this year.


49 Responses to Offseason In Review: Toronto Blue Jays Leave a Reply

  1. Runtime 3 years ago

    Mills a notable subtraction?
    Pfft. He was a AAAA starter at best…

    • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

      they also listed gailey, jaye and webb..

      pretty sure its just “losses” not notable 

  2. Coollet 3 years ago

    Go Jays! Remove all awful memories of the Leafs and get a playoff berth!

    • Infield Fly 3 years ago

      Ah, I see you’re getting the hang of this! :)

      Go Jays!

  3. stl_cards16 3 years ago

    If they’re talking about an offseason in Toronto, that means they didn’t really have one.  Haven’t you guys heard about how secretive they are?

    • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

      did you see how AA totally ninja’d darren oliver in to signing?

      total secret ninja move!

  4. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    This team will go where its left handed batters take it . Johnson, Rasmus, Lind & LF (thames/ Snider) all have the ability to be pretty good…but also repulsively bad.

    Thats 4 huge bats in your lineup, if they collectively post a low .300 wOBA, this could be a long year for the jays. You need at least 2 of them to have pretty good years, and the other two to not have brutal years.

    • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

       Going to go with Lind/Johnson for pretty good and LF/Rasmus not being brutal.

      • Coollet 3 years ago

        I love how we’re happy with “..not being brutal.”

        • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

           I don’t think anybody said anything about being happy.

          • Coollet 3 years ago

            Sorry, too strong, what about content?

          • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

            I’d be content if nobody in the lineup was brutal.

          • ellisburks 3 years ago

            As long as they don’t spike themselves.

          • Morley C 3 years ago

             What about “brutal against opposing pitchers”? Eh? Eh?

    • johnsmith4 3 years ago

      Great point on wOBA…BUT…I think the season will be bad if all four are around .330 wOBA.  .300 wOBA is very low for even JPA (.309).

      Need at least 2 (if not 3 if you include EE) to hit above .350 wOBA for Jays to challenge the contenders.

      • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

         I think he meant a low .300, as in the low 300’s, not 300.

    • Coollet 3 years ago

      There’s also EE and JPA as wild cards, and for the love of god i hope this doesn’t occur, Brett Lawrie could have a sophmore slump. The only sure bet on bats is Joey Bats.  BUT, if the stars align and the batters do as you say, they bat avg or higher, this is gonna be a great season!
      edit: forgot about Escobar, hope he just keeps being constant

      • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

        I don’t know how much of a wild card EE is, if he’s healthy he’s usually pretty good.

        JPA can be better for sure, but JPA being better wont have the same affect as Rasmus and Johnson re having 2010 years and Lind having a 2009 year.
         

  5. Bombastic_Dave 3 years ago

    I love that the article praises McGowan and Alvarez.  I’m going to daydream about them both being strong, reliable ALE starters…

    • Coollet 3 years ago

      I want Morrow to DOMINATE!!!! I’d love to see him perform be the next Verlander. Second on my wish list, Drabek being what we all hoped he be, the next Doc.

      • ellisburks 3 years ago

        In order for him to even get close to Verlander(I don’t think he ever will) he will have to throw less pitches. That means pitching more to contact, walking less and striking out less. If he is always over 100 pitches by the 6th inning then he will be maybe a 4-5 starter with an ace’s strikeout numbers.

        • Coollet 3 years ago

          My second wish is also far fetched but one can dream

          • ellisburks 3 years ago

            True. Go ahead and dream. Nobody can take that from you.

          • Coollet 3 years ago

            Too late, my wife already has :(

        • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

           Morrow is in the process of finding the balance between striking everybody out and laying up a bit and pitching to contact. A serviceable offspeed pitch will go miles in allowing him to go deeper in games and pitch more effective in general. From what I read he has acknowledged he needs a breaking ball to be better and has been working on it all spring, so here’s hoping. I don’t think his walks is all that atrocious, needs to come down, but, it’s of less concern to me then how many pitches it takes him to usually get to the 6th.

      • RevRollie 3 years ago

         ummm….Halladay ALWAYS had Ace potential, it just took a bit to work out some kinks. I like Drabek, but any scout will tell you he has almost no Ace potential. He projects to be a good #2 or very good #3 starter.

        • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

           Best draft ever? He was the 9th pitcher taken his draft. I can’t imagine a draft with 9 pitchers having ace potential written all over them.

    • HerbertAnchovy 3 years ago

      Took me a minute to realize you were saying AL East Starters. I thought you were refering to the two having a strong liking to beer.

      Just got done work… must need a break!

  6. Coollet 3 years ago

    What will be more important to the Jays’ success this year? The back end of the rotation or the left handed batters in the line up?

    • Encarnacion's Parrot 3 years ago

      Not blowing 25 save opportunities. Not sure how many of those turned into losses, but 25 is more than double of what you should have in a season regardless.

      • Coollet 3 years ago

        I thought that issue had been fix, but let’s assume that it is. What is the Jays weak point if it isn’t the bullpen?

        • Encarnacion's Parrot 3 years ago

          Well they still have to play the games to say it’s a fix–we said it was solved last off-season too.

          The Jays had 3 weak LH bats in their line-up half of last season in Johnson, Lind and Rasmus, and one semi-weak bat in Thames and Snider combined, and still finished 6th in runs.

          The Jays’ biggest weakness is the last 3 rotation spots, though it could easily become a strength. McGowan needs more time to get his command and control back, Alvarez needs more time to get his slider to the plus-potential it has, and Cecil is, well, Cecil.

          In fairness to these though, Cecil has appeared to have better control of the strike-zone, Alvarez’s slider has greatly improved since last year, and McGowan is slowly coming around.

          When you’re finishing 6th in runs scored, I personally don’t really care if they’re right-handed or inverted right-handed. 3/5 of the rotation is a question mark, and their defense will need to improve. In terms of defense, Lawrie > all else that played 3B, Rasmus > Davis, and Johnson = Hill.

          • Bombastic_Dave 3 years ago

            I remember hearing “stop-gap” used in the same sentences as Rauch, Francisco and a bunch of others, though I doubt anyone expected them all to play so poorly…

            All the Jays need to win is to score more runs and give up less runs.  Oh, and play good baseball.
            Super helpful.

        • shockey12 3 years ago

          IMO the reason the bullpen has been bad is the lack of innings from the starters. If your relievers are pitching 3-4 innings every day then they’re bound to be tired and put up bad numbers. Unless the starters go farther into games I doubt the bullpen will improve much, especially with older guys like Oliver, Cordero.

  7. diesel2410 3 years ago

    Ok although I like where the Jays are headed, I don’t think they will be making the playoffs anytime soon. The Yankees, Sox and Rays are all around better teams, and the Jays pitching staff would have to have a spectacular season just for them to make the Wild Card. I can possibly see it in 3-5 years, but not yet.

    When they do contend, I hope it starts another losing spell for the Sox. Sorry had to do that lol

  8. ellisburks 3 years ago

    The thing that makes me think that they won’t be making the playoffs this year and will be about 85 wins is that they have only one starter that is reliable in Romero. They don’t have one other starter that could go 200 innings. I am including Morrow in this as he is a 6 inning starter. Until he pitches a bit more to contact he will never go more than 180 innings. The rest of the staff will be young and on innings counts and with that you will have to have not just 5 starters but 7 or 8 of them to make up the innings. They just don’t have the major-league ready depth.
    They will be an exciting team to watch and they will be contending soon, just not 2012.

    • There’s no reason why Morrow, Cecil, and Alvarez can’t be 200 inning pitchers. Cecil has basically done it the last 2 years, Alvarez threw 160+ last year on a standard innings increase, and Morrow would have thrown 200 innings if the Jays didn’t force him onto the DL to open the season in a smart ploy to limit his innings for the season.

      • Pretty much this. Obviously the rotation is the biggest question mark on this team, but it’s a bit defeatist to say that none of these other guys are 200 inning starters.

        I don’t think that this is a contending team this year, but if they do contend it will either be due to some combination of break out years from one or two young pitchers and a really dynamic offense. This team has the potential to lead the league in runs scored if things break right. Even if they don’t then the offense should be good enough to prop up an above-average pitching staff if a couple of the starter due take steps forward.

        Overally, I’m saying between 84 and 88 wins with some helium. I think this club wins over 90 in 2013 without making any major, external additions.

        • Morley C 3 years ago

           I’d have to agree, and add that when you say things “break right” it could also help to have one or more of the Yankees, Sox or Rays take a bit of a tumble – the Rays young starters could be caught up to, the Sox could be derailed by injuries, half the Yankees lineup could have age catch up to them or their starting pitchers behind Sabathia could falter. Not that anything is likely, but there are no sure things.

      • vilifyingforce 3 years ago

         Cecil threw a third of those innings in AAA though. Morrow started the year out on the DL because of inflammation in his elbow and would have been shut down at the end of the season instead of the beginning due to an innings limit, but, it was no smart ploy and nothing was forced. A lot has to go right for Cecil reach 200IP because he throws as hard as Brad Mills now and Alvarez is still going to be on an innings limit(right around 190 this season). Morrow averaged 6IP per start last season, so he could hit 200IP if he starts 34 games or becomes more effective with his offspeed stuff (I think it’s a curve ball he’s been working on this spring).

  9. bluejaycountry 3 years ago

    Excellent summary. Thanks, Ben.

  10. Willie13 3 years ago

    I saw Drabek in 2007 as a member of the single A BlueClaws in Lakewood NJ he had some nice command of the ball really helped the team that year

  11. BrettLawrieBiggestFan 3 years ago

    Brett Lawrie. Nuff said 

  12. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    Oh great Master…I must disagree with you….Ben Francisco is the right-handed bat on the bench to protect the Left-Handed hitters (Lind, Thames, Snider, & Rasmus) from LOOGYs.  His many at bats will most likely result from Jays hitters chasing out the opposing starter.

    This will be much better than Adam Lind closing his eyes and relying on the force when batting against a LOOGY.

  13. Coollet 3 years ago

    “Pitcher A:
    A 23-year-old top prospect, having major struggles. In 67.2 Major League innings, he pitched to a 10.64 ERA, allowing 2.2 walks and/or hits per inning pitched (WHIP). He walked 42 batters, and only struck out 44. He was demoted to triple-A after his early season struggles, and over the course of the season, never managed to get it all together at that level either, posting a 5.50 ERA.

    Pitcher B:
    Also a 23-year-old top prospect. Over 78.2 Major League innings, he posted a 6.06 ERA. He too had a high WHIP of 1.8. He walked 55 batters and only struck out 51. Similarly, he too was sent to his team’s triple-A affiliate, where he also struggled. In fact, he got even worse, posting a 7.44 ERA.

    It’s probably not hard to imagine that these two players were traded for each other. What’s harder to imagine is that Pitcher A now has two Cy Young Awards, and eight All-Star appearances.

    For those of you who don’t already know, pitcher A is Roy Halladay. You may have also guessed that Pitcher B is Kyle Drabek.
    Now, I don’t want to imply that Kyle Drabek is certain to become the next Roy Halladay, but their careers follow similar progressions. Halladay was picked 17th overall, Drabek 18th. Both have been top-prospects, and now, both have had Major League struggles.”

  14. Mick_In_Ithaca 3 years ago

     Unfortunately, it’s pretty certain that Mel Queen died last May.

  15. Coollet 3 years ago

    Thats too bad, it could have been two epic pitcher rebuilds

  16. vilifyingforce 3 years ago

     With the exception that Francisco has played precious little time in centre and none at first.

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