Offseason Outlook: Toronto Blue Jays

After a very disappointing 2013 season, the Blue Jays will try to fix the remaining holes in their roster and finally get back into contention.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Blue Jays were the talk of the 2012-13 offseason after two major trades with the Marlins and Mets added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole to the fold.  These trades (and the free agent signings of Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis) left the Jays and their fans expecting to challenge for the World Series, let alone an end to the club's 20-year playoff drought.

Instead, almost everything went wrong.  Aside from Buehrle, all of Toronto's major acquisitions ended up badly regressing from their 2012 performance or were limited by injuries (or both).  On top of this, some core players already on the roster also failed to live up to expectations or took steps backwards in their development.  A season that looked so promising in Spring Training ended with a 74-88 record and a last-place finish in the AL East.

The Jays have over $110MM committed to 13 players for 2014, not counting contract options or arbitration salaries that could push the payroll to around $134MM.  While general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said that the team won't be cutting spending, another big payroll boost seems unlikely, though one more notable salary could be added.  Trading will be more difficult since the farm system was thinned by the Marlins/Mets deals.

In short, don't expect any major overhaul of the roster — the Jays believe they already have the nucleus of a winning team.  It may sound odd to say that a last-place club is just looking to fine-tune the roster, but the Blue Jays may not be as far away from contention as they seem if they get some good health luck (after two injury-ravaged seasons in a row) and if the underachievers return to form.

MLBTR's Matt Swartz projects Toronto will spend $11.2MM on their four arbitration-eligible players, presuming all are tendered contracts.  J.P. Arencibia's stock plummeted after he hit .194/.227/.365 with 148 strikeouts over 497 PA and struggled defensively, to boot.  A non-tender wouldn't be surprising, yet I'd guess the Jays will keep Arencibia either on a short leash as a platoon player, send him to Triple-A to revamp his batting approach or perhaps trade him to another team interested in trying to fix him.

There isn't much suspense with contract options, as Anthopoulos has already hinted that Adam Lind, Casey Janssen and Mark DeRosa are all likely to have their 2014 options exercised.  Lind enjoyed his first healthy and productive season since 2009, getting his career back on track by hitting .288/.357/.497 with 23 homers in 523 PA, though he still can't hit left-handed pitching.  Janssen's option is a no-brainer after he posted a 2.56 ERA and recorded 34 saves in his first full year as Toronto's closer.  The Jays like DeRosa's veteran clubhouse presence and versatility off the bench, so they'll leave the door open for him to return if he wishes to keep playing.  That leaves fan favorite Munenori Kawasaki, who could be back as minor league depth.

The Jays are set (with some reservations) at most positions around the diamond, except for catcher and second base.  While Arencibia may not be non-tendered, his days as a starter are assuredly over.  Brian McCann is easily the top catcher available in free agency and one of the top free agents overall this offseason, so he could command a deal that is too rich for the Jays to match, as much as he would check a lot of boxes for the team.  If not McCann, expect Toronto to explore several free agent catchers and all possible trade options (such as Wilson Ramos) to improve behind the plate.

Late-season callup Ryan Goins wowed the Jays with his glove at second base, and since improvement on defense is one of Anthopoulos' stated goals, Goins may have worked himself into the Jays' plans despite his .609 OPS in 121 PA.  The Blue Jays could focus on upgrading their other weak areas and get away with a Goins/Izturis platoon at second next season, given the thin second base free agent market.  Robinson Cano isn't signing with Toronto, and even a second-tier option like Omar Infante would be in line to receive a contract in the neighborhood of three years/$25MM.  While the Jays will at least check in on Infante or Kelly Johnson, I'd guess the club will look to trade for second base help.

Beyond second base and catcher, the Jays will look to add some outfield depth.  Cabrera recently had a benign tumor removed from his spinal cord, a condition that explains the leg and back injuries that ruined his season and left him barely able to run.  Even though Cabrera is expected to be fit, it wouldn't hurt the Jays to have a backup option ready given that Cabrera and Jose Bautista are both coming off injury-shortened years. 

Rajai Davis provided strong base-stealing ability and a quality bat against southpaws over the last three seasons, but he'll sign elsewhere in search of an everyday job.  Anthony Gose can replace Davis' speed and is a better fielder, though he has only a .655 OPS in 342 career PA.  The Blue Jays may want Gose to get more seasoning at Triple-A rather than spend most of his time on a Major League bench.  Toronto could look to replace Davis with another right-handed hitting outfielder that can also spell Lind at DH against lefty starters.

Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista and Reyes are all over 30 years old, the Jays are feeling some urgency to contend before any of their cornerstone hitters start declining.  Encarnacion has posted two elite slugging seasons in a row and the three-year, $29MM extension signed midway through his breakout 2012 campaign is looking like one of Anthopoulos' cannier moves.  The Jays have to be concerned that Bautista hasn't played a September game since 2011, having been shut down with wrist and hip injuries, respectively, in each of the last two seasons.  Bautista was still a force when healthy, hitting 28 homers with an .856 OPS in 528 PA.

Colby Rasmus was limited to 118 games due to injury himself but it was still a big year for the 27-year-old.  Rasmus hit .276/.338/.501 with 22 homers in 458 PA (while boosted by a .356 BABIP) and was one of the sport's better defensive center fielders, posting a +15.2 UZR/150.  A repeat of that performance will make Rasmus arguably the top free agent outfielder on the market next offseason, though it's a good bet that the Jays will discuss a long-term extension with Rasmus this winter.

The bullpen was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2013 and it'll require little-to-no tinkering.  Toronto has more than enough bullpen depth to make up for the loss of Darren Oliver, who is retiring after 20 years in the Show.

Toronto's rotation posted the second-worst starters' ERA (4.81) in baseball last season, so it's no surprise that starting pitching is by far the Jays' biggest offseason need.  Dickey and Buehrle return as the projected top two starters having delivered fairly similar numbers in 2013, though Dickey was perceived as having the more disappointing campaign given the dropoff from his 2012 Cy Young Award-winning stats.  The Jays need Brandon Morrow to rebound from a negative WAR season that saw him post a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts and spend most of his time on the DL due to a nerve injury in his right forearm.

The last two spots in the rotation are completely up in the air.  Josh Johnson could've set himself up for a nine-figure contract in free agency with a strong 2013 season, but instead the right-hander posted a 6.20 ERA over 16 starts and now might not even receive as much as a qualifying offer from the Jays. While Anthopoulos says the club hasn't made up its mind about Johnson's future, agent Matt Sosnick recently told MLBTR that his client enjoyed his time with the Jays and would like to return.  Johnson was yet another player affected by injuries last year, so if the Jays can re-sign him to a cheap, one-year deal, he could go from bust to bargain in a hurry if the Josh Johnson from 2008-12 shows up.

Internal rotation candidates include J.A. Happ, swingmen Rogers, Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins, prospects Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman, plus Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison will both be back after undergoing Tommy John surgeries in 2012.  There's also Ricky Romero, but he isn't even 40-man roster material for the Jays at this point, and the team isn't counting on their former ace for anything in 2014.

As Anthopoulos has said, however, those arms are only seen as the depth options.  The Jays will look to acquire at least one front-of-the-rotation pitcher, whether that's pursuing a trade or such top free agents as Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco or Tim Lincecum.  Toronto has scouted Masahiro Tanaka and will likely bid on the Japanese righty, though the Jays are but one of many teams interested in Tanaka.

The Jays may have to overpay to attract a free agent pitcher to the AL East, so a trade is probably the preferable option.  With the minor league system light on premium talent, Toronto could use pieces from their Major League roster as bait.  Janssen or other relievers could be moved as part of a package for a quality starter, as the Blue Jays could dip into their deep bullpen and promote Brett Cecil, Sergio Santos or Steve Delabar to the closer's job.  Lind has regained enough trade value to be shipped to a team in need of first base or DH help.

Even Rasmus could be shopped in a sell-high move, especially if the Jays can't work out a contract extension.  The Jays aren't going to move Encarnacion or Bautista unless they receive a knockout of an offer, so Rasmus could be the best and most realistic trade chip they have amongst the position players.

It's easy to write off the 2013 Blue Jays as victims of injuries and bad luck, but 2014 is a pivotal year for this era of the franchise.  Another disappointing season could cost Anthopoulos his job and spur yet another rebuilding phase in Toronto.  The Jays are hoping that their big moves from the 2012-13 offseason will start paying dividends and that they are indeed just a second baseman, catcher and couple of arms away from finally getting back to the postseason.

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