As speculation and rumors about splashy acquisitions continued to swirl, the Blue Jays opted for bullpen improvements this offseason.
Major League Signings
- Kelly Johnson, 2B: one year, $6.375MM. Accepted arbitration.
- Darren Oliver, RP: one year, $4.5MM.
- Francisco Cordero, RP: one year, $4.5MM.
- Edwin Encarnacion, DH: one year, $3.5MM. Club option exercised.
- Rick VandenHurk, RP: one year.
- Total spend: $18.875MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Acquired OF Ben Francisco from the Phillies for RP Frank Gailey.
- Acquired RP Sergio Santos from the White Sox for SP Nestor Molina.
- Acquired C Jeff Mathis from the Angels for SP Brad Mills.
- Acquired Jason Frasor from the White Sox for RP Myles Jaye and RP Daniel Webb.
- Acquired IF Luis Valbuena from the Indians for cash.
- Acquired RP Trystan Magnuson from the Athletics for cash.
- Claimed RP Jim Hoey from the Twins.
- Claimed RP Andrew Carpenter from the Padres.
- Claimed RP Jesse Chavez from the Royals.
- Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Jose Molina, Mark Teahen, Shawn Camp, Gailey, Molina, Mills, Jaye, Webb.
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.