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Offseason In Review: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays shored up their batting order with two of the winter’s biggest transactions, and they’re counting on a mix of veterans and rookies throughout the roster to help them grab that elusive playoff berth.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades And Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Going into the offseason, the Jays were expected to address a long-standing hole at second base either by acquiring a full-time player for the keystone or by acquiring a third baseman and then shifting Brett Lawrie to second.  Instead, Toronto used Lawrie to obtain that third baseman, bringing Josh Donaldson to the Rogers Centre for a package of Lawrie, shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto and young pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman.

While Oakland received some promise back in that blockbuster trade, the Jays did well to hang onto their top-tier prospects while landing four years of control over one of the game’s best third basemen.  The relationship between Donaldson and the Jays got off to a less-than-ideal start as the two sides went to an arbitration hearing, yet there were apparently no hard feelings, and winning the hearing helps the Jays establish a lower baseline for Donaldson’s salaries through his three remaining arb years.  (Though as MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently explained, there might not be enough common ground between Donaldson and the Jays to work out an extension.)MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays added another significant right-handed bat to their lineup by inking Russell Martin to the most expensive free agent signing in franchise history.  While Martin did hit .290/.402/.430 for the Pirates last season, he posted only a .702 OPS in his five previous seasons, and the Jays have spoken less about Martin’s bat than what he’s expected to contribute as a clubhouse leader and with his outstanding defense.

Melky Cabrera‘s departure created a hole in left field that was filled with the acquisition of Michael Saunders from the Mariners.  Unfortunately for Saunders, however, he suffered a torn meniscus after a fluke accident in Spring Training camp, and he had the meniscus removed entirely in order to cut his time on the DL from midseason to only mid-April.  While this quick recovery is great for Saunders and the Blue Jays in the short term, it remains to be seen how his knee will hold up over the season, particularly playing on an artificial surface.

The Jays did make a move to address second base by trading Anthony Gose to the Tigers in exchange for prospect Devon Travis, who will start at the keystone on Opening Day.  While Travis was a Baseball America top-100 prospect headed into 2014 and he had an impressive year at Double-A last season, he wasn’t expected to be a factor in the bigs quite so soon given that he hasn’t even played a game at the Triple-A level.  Injuries to Maicer Izturis and Ramon Santiago, however, created an opportunity for Travis and he seized his chance with a big Spring Training performance.

Adam Lind was traded to the Brewers in exchange for righty Marco Estrada, a move that will free up more DH time for Edwin EncarnacionDanny Valencia and the newly-acquired Justin Smoak are expected to see most of the action at first when Encarnacion is DH’ing, and Smoak could be another ex-Mariner who could benefit away from Safeco Field.  Estrada is currently ticketed for a bullpen role though his starting experience makes him a decent depth option as a swingman.

Questions Remaining

While Donaldson and Martin are undoubtedly big upgrades over Lawrie and Dioner Navarro, the Blue Jays spent a lot of money and trade capital on two positions that weren’t really big problems in 2014.  The bullpen and second base were areas of need as the offseason began and they’re still question marks now, barring several young players stepping up as reliable contributors.  If Travis isn’t yet ready for the big leagues, that will leave the Jays with the same combination of Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson, and Munenori Kawasaki that underwhelmed last season.  Izturis will be in the mix once he recovers from his groin injury, though he had so many issues staying healthy and then performing when healthy that he is almost a wild card option at this point.

Aside from Estrada, the team did little of note to address a bullpen that underachieved in 2014 and lost key personnel to free agency in the form of long-time Blue Jays Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan.  GM Alex Anthopoulos certainly explored his options, as the team checked in on the likes of Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Phil Coke, while also discussing a trade with the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon.  The closer himself has expressed interest in becoming a Blue Jay, and Anthopoulos personally watched Papelbon throw during a recent Spring Training outing.  Papelbon is owed $13MM this season and has a $13MM vesting option for 2016, however, so that might be too high a price for Toronto to pay.

Barring a further move, Brett Cecil will be the Blue Jays’ closer.  While he has posted very good numbers over the last two seasons, Cecil has only six career saves to his name and has been bothered by shoulder problems this spring.  The most intriguing story coming out of the Jays’ camp has been the emergence of 20-year-old right-handers Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna, both of whom are expected to be in the bullpen on Opening Day.  While both have looked dominant in spring action, neither young hurler has pitched above the high-A level before, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how they’ll adjust to the Majors.

The Blue Jays felt they had amassed enough starting pitching depth that they could afford to trade Happ, Nolin and Graveman, and also allow Brandon Morrow to leave for free agency.  This decision instantly became second-guessed when Marcus Stroman tore his ACL during a Spring Training drill, leaving the Jays without a pitcher many felt would be the ace of the staff in 2015.

With Stroman out, the Jays went from planning to use Aaron Sanchez as a set-up man to inserting the young righty into the rotation alongside fellow rookie Daniel Norris.  While Norris and Sanchez are the club’s top prospects, it still leaves Toronto with a decided lack of Major League experience at the back of their rotation.  If either of those two falter (or if something happens to Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey or Drew Hutchison), the Blue Jays have a thin cupboard of replacements.  Estrada or Todd Redmond could be stretched out, or the team could turn to veteran minor league acquisitions like Felix Doubront, Jeff Francis, Liam Hendriks or even Johan Santana if the former Cy Young Award winner is healthy.

The injuries to both Stroman and Saunders (before his recovery time was shortened) underscored an overall lack of depth on Toronto’s roster.  While any team would obviously suffer in losing an everyday player or a front-of-the-rotation starter, the Jays already face enough uncertainty at so many positions that stalwarts like Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Encarnacion, Buehrle, Dickey and now Martin and Donaldson are being heavily relied upon to carry the team.  If one or more of those players were to miss time, the Jays could see another season scuttled due to injuries, as has been the case in each of the last three years.

Bautista and the rest of the veteran core become even more important given that six rookies are being counted on to play major roles — Sanchez, Norris, Castro, Osuna, Travis and center fielder Dalton Pompey.  While there’s certainly a lot to like about the pedigree of this young talent (Norris, Sanchez and Pompey are all ranked as top-30 prospects by Baseball America), there’s a lot of risk in trying to contend with multiple rookies in key positions, as the 2014 Red Sox could attest.

Deal Of Note

Saunders’ torn meniscus wasn’t a good sign coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season for the outfielder, yet if his borderline miraculous recovery holds up, he could be a quality addition for the Jays.  Despite Saunders’ health issues in recent years, he still posted a 111 OPS+ over the last three seasons for Seattle, including a .273/.341/.450 slash line over 263 plate appearances last year.  A move from Safeco Field to the much more hitter-friendly Rogers Centre should make his bat even more potent.


It’s not exactly a make-or-break season for the Blue Jays given all these young talents just starting their careers and the number of notable veterans all under contract (or team options) for 2016 and beyond.  Falling short of the postseason again could spell the end of manager John Gibbons, however, and possibly even Anthopoulos as well given how Jays ownership is already searching for a new club president.  You would imagine that a new president would prefer to have his own baseball operations personnel in place, especially if that president is himself a former general manager like Dan Duquette or Kenny Williams.  That said, the Jays’ search has been so public and so unusually handled thus far that it’s hard to predict how it will play out, so it’s probably a story best explored after the season.

Anthopoulos may not quite be done with his offseason maneuvering, as the GM has hinted that the team could still make bullpen additions at the end of Spring Training or even past Opening Day.  The Jays could also upgrade their depth elsewhere around the diamond by moving Navarro, who has been a subject of trade speculation all winter long and has even voiced a desire to start for another club.  (I examined his Trade Candidate status in February.)  The Tigers and Diamondbacks are among the teams who have reportedly shown interest in Navarro, though D’Backs GM Dave Stewart has denied his team will be making a move for the catcher.

If this collection of Jays ends up being the Opening Day squad, however, it’s still a team to be reckoned with, especially since the other AL East clubs are also dealing with their own share of question marks.  Reyes, Martin, Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson is as good a start to a batting order as any in the league, and the lineup could be even more daunting if Saunders blossoms in Toronto or if Pompey and/or Travis break out.  Hutchison could be ready to take a step forward after making an adjustment to his slider late last season, while Norris and Sanchez are so highly regarded that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either emulate Stroman’s immediate success.

It could be that this injection of fresh blood is just what the Blue Jays need to finally get back to the playoffs.  Stroman’s torn ACL was a huge blow right off the bat, yet if the Jays can avoid any similarly devastating injuries, they should be in the AL East hunt through September.

Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images

AL East Notes: Red Sox, Tillman, Bautista

As expected, the Red Sox optioned Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley to Triple-A today, though both manager John Farrell and GM Ben Cherington stressed to reporters (including ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes) that neither decision was easy.  Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino will comprise Boston’s starting outfield with Allen Craig and Daniel Nava as bench depth.  The Red Sox outfield surplus has been a topic of speculation all offseason and it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a trade to address the situation early in the season.  Victorino’s health could be the major factor in such a decision, as if he isn’t recovered from an injury-plagued 2014 season, the Sox will want to hang onto their depth.

Some more from around the AL East…

  • The Orioles and Chris Tillman are “not close yet on [an] extension,” CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  The two sides continue to talk, however, in an effort to get a deal done by Opening Day as Tillman has said that he doesn’t want negotiations to continue into the season.
  • Jose Bautista will gain 10-and-5 rights seven days into the season,’s Shi Davidi reports.  This will give Bautista automatic no-trade protection, though it’s a moot point at the moment since the Blue Jays obviously aren’t looking to deal the slugger.  If the Jays struggle this season or Paul Beeston’s replacement as team president wants to take the roster in a new direction, however, Davidi observes that Bautista could become a major trade chip.
  • Bautista is entering his last guaranteed year under contract with Toronto but he believes the team will exercise its $14MM club option on his services for 2016.  No extension talks have taken place yet, though Bautista is only focused on the coming season.  “When the time comes, I’m sure that situation will be addressed by both parties, and I’€™m not in any kind of hurry. I’m doing just fine,” the right fielder said.  Davidi believes the Jays will wait until the new team president is hired before “any serious talk of an extension” takes place.
  • In other AL East news from earlier today, the Blue Jays signed Felix Doubront to a minor league deal and the Rangers claimed Rule 5 Draft pickup Logan Verrett off waivers from the Orioles.

Blue Jays Sign Felix Doubront

The Blue Jays have signed lefty Felix Doubront to a minor league deal, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Doubront spent all of camp with the Cubs before he was released on Saturday.

Doubront agreed to a $1.925MM salary to avoid arbitration, but Chicago will pay him around $473K by cutting him loose before the season. He had a rough spring and lacked options, making it hard for Chicago to keep him.

For a Jays club that has been in need of pitching depth, Doubront represents a welcome and risk-free investment. The 27-year-old has certainly had his struggles at times, but has shown the ability to miss bats at the big league level even in a starting capacity. Presumably, he could ultimately see time in the rotation or pen for Toronto if he can prove his worth at Triple-A.

Blue Jays Notes: Travis, Pompey, Bullpen, Santiago

The Blue Jays set the majority of their 25-man roster today, and there were plenty of interesting decisions to break down. A look at some of the outcomes…

  • Two key spots on the lineup will be manned by promising young prospects, as Dalton Pompey was named the center fielder (as was widely expected) and Devon Travis was named the starting second baseman. As’s Gregor Chisholm writes, the two prospects have been friends since 2013 — before Travis was even acquired from the Tigers in exchange for Anthony Gose this offseason. One of the first calls Travis received upon being traded to Toronto was from Pompey, with whom he had maintained contact after meeting at the 2013 MidWest All-Star Game. Travis emotionally called today the “best day of [his] life,” adding that it was “incredible” to know he’d be a part of a Major League roster.
  • Pompey and Travis will be just two of six rookies on the roster, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported today that 20-year-olds Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna have made the team and will pitch out of the bullpen. Both hard-throwing righties impressed scouts this spring, as they combined for 20 innings (10 each) of one-run ball with 18 strikeouts against just three walks (all from Osuna). Rookies Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez will be in the rotation with Marcus Stroman out for the season.
  • The Blue Jays released veteran infielder Ramon Santiago earlier today, as the 35-year-old had broken his collarbone earlier in the spring. However, Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes tweets (in Spanish) that the Jays may yet re-sign him to a new Minor League deal. Doing so would allow the Jays to keep Santiago and allow him to rehab in the organization while avoiding having to pay the former Article XX(B) free agent a $100K retention bonus.

Article XX(B) Free Agent Updates: Tuesday

Per the latest iteration of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, players with six years of service time who finished the 2014 season on a 40-man roster or on the 60-day DL but signed Minor League deals over the offseason are entitled to a $100K retention bonus if their new team wishes to assign them to the Minor Leagues. Otherwise, they must be added to the MLB roster or Major League disabled list. Players who do receive the retention bonus are also given June 1 opt-out dates in their Minor League pacts.

MLBTR’s Jeff Todd ran down a list of this year’s Article XX(B) free agents earlier in the month, and we’re now arriving at the juncture of Spring Training where decisions must be made on these players — the deadline will come at 11am CT tomorrow. Many such players have already been released or granted their release today (some will re-sign with the teams that released them, as Chris Perez did in Milwaukee), but here are updates on players who were paid this bonus or learned that they’ve made their respective teams…

  • Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweets that utility man Kelly Johnson has made the Braves‘ 25-man roster. Johnson inked a Minor League pact that included a yet-unreported base salary. His versatility, the organization’s familiarity with him and the fact that the 32-year-old slashed a hefty .273/.396/.523 with a pair of homers in 54 plate appearances this spring likely all factored into the decision.
  • The Nationals will pay left-hander Rich Hill the $100K retention bonus, tweets James Wagner of the Washington Post. The 35-year-old yielded a pair of runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring and will give the Nats some left-handed relief depth. Of course, the Nats also just traded away some lefty relief by dealing out-of-options southpaw Jerry Blevins and his $2.4MM salary to the Mets.

Earlier Updates

  • Padres catcher Wil Nieves has received a $100K retention bonus, tweets Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Nieves is still in the running for the team’s backup catching slot, Lin adds. Tim Federowicz was slated to be the team’s backup, but knee surgery has sidelined him for the next several months. The team must make a final call by this Sunday.
  • The D-Backs and catcher Gerald Laird and agreed to a five-day extension that will allow him to remain in big league camp, reports Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona (on Twitter). Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic adds some clarity, noting that Laird still received the $100K retention bonus but will have the opportunity to fight for a roster spot (Twitter link). The five days will give the Snakes a bit more time to determine whether or not they want to take the veteran Laird north with them to open the season.
  • The Blue Jays have paid the $100K retention bonus to both Johan Santana and Munenori Kawasaki, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Both players were on Minor League deals, but Santana didn’t get into a game with the big league club as he continued to rehab from injury. Kawasaki hit .333/.481/.571 in 27 plate appearances but didn’t make the big league roster. He’ll head to Triple-A and wait for a call to the Majors in an organization with which he is quite familiar and where he is quite popular among the coaches and his teammates.
  • Right-handers Brad Penny and Jesse Crain both received retention bonuses from the White Sox, Passan also reports (on Twitter). The duo will remain in the Minors in the hopes of a spot opening with the big league club. Penny struggled to a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings this spring, though little can be gleaned from such a small sample, and he did issue only four walks along the way. Crain, like his former Twins teammate Santana in Toronto, didn’t pitch in a big league game as he continued to rehab from injuries that cost him the entire 2014 season in Houston.
  • Both Geovany Soto and Matt Albers, on the other hand, have made the White Sox‘ roster and will be added to the 40-man, Passan reports in the aforementioned tweet. Presumably, Soto will be in the mix for everyday at-bats behind the plate following a strong spring performance. Albers will slot into the bullpen and bring an experienced arm to serve as a right-handed setup option. Soto’s base salary is an unknown, wheres Albers stands to reportedly receive a $1.5MM base for making the club.

Blue Jays To Release Dayan Viciedo

After failing to make the Blue Jays roster, outfielder Dayan Viciedo has requested and will be granted his release, GM Alex Anthopoulos tells reporters including Shi Davidi of (Twitter link).

Viciedo, a late entrant onto the free agent market when the White Sox released him, struggled at the plate this spring. The 26-year-old has seen plenty of action over the last three big league campaigns, averaging over 500 plate appearances per year. He has also hit an average of twenty long balls in each of those campaigns, though his on-base percentage is sub-.300 and he is not well-regarded defensively.

It remains to be seen whether any team will have a major league opportunity for Viciedo to start the year. Several clubs have less-than-clear corner outfield situations, but those organizations already had one opportunity to grab Viciedo. Of course, things have changed in some situations; the Phillies, for example, will start Domonic Brown on the DL and have watched Grady Sizemore scuffle this spring, so could be newly motivated to take a shot on Viciedo.

Blue Jays Release Ramon Santiago

The Blue Jays have released infielder Ramon Santiago, manager John Gibbons told reporters, including Sportsnet’s Barry Davis (Twitter link). Daric Barton was also reassigned to Minor League camp.

The 35-year-old Santiago got off to a scorching start this spring with five hits in 12 at-bats, but he unfortunately broke his collarbone about two weeks ago — an injury that was said at the time to sideline him for 10 weeks. Santiago hit .246/.343/.324 with the Reds last season and has significant experience at second base, shortstop and third base.

Barton’s reassignment to Minor League camp would seem to bode well for Justin Smoak‘s case to make the team. Most have expected Smoak to receive a look as a platoon option at first base (hitting from the left side), and with Barton’s hope of making the team now dashed, Smoak should be in line to indeed fill that role.

AL Notes: Wright, Vazquez, Russell, Pelfrey

Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News writes Spring Training is broken. Grant suggests reversing the current reporting schedule of players with minor leaguers and non-roster invitees reporting at the beginning of camp and the 40-man roster showing up ten days later. Grant also proposes expanding the roster to 28 for the month of April with 25 designated as active for games. This would allow teams, Grant reasons, to carry more pitching in April, as the hurlers continue to build their durability.

In today’s news and notes from the American League:

  • In a separate article, Grant reports the Rangers have informed Jamey Wright he will not make the team, but the right-hander has decided to remain in camp. “If they change their minds, I’m still here,” said Wright, who is an Article XX(B) free agent. “But, if not, I’m showcasing for all the other teams.” As an Article XX(B) free agent, the Rangers must pay Wright a $100K retention bonus, if they decide to keep him in their organization.
  • Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez has an appointment with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday increasing speculation his recent MRI results could lead to Tommy John surgery and the end to his season before it begins, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal.
  • Despite the uncertain status of Vazquez, the Red Sox have not engaged the Blue Jays about Dioner Navarro, tweets’s Jon Heyman. With Vazquez’s injury, Heyman notes the Red Sox will give prized catching propsect Blake Swihart an extended look during the final week of Spring Training.
  • James Schmehl of tweets he wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers take a flyer on James Russell, even though the left-hander has had a terrible spring. The 29-year-old was released by the Braves Sunday morning.
  • The Tigers will only go as far as their veteran stars take them, but there is some important young talent on the roster and their performance could prove pivotal as the franchise bids for its fifth straight AL Central title, opines’s Anthony Castrovince.
  • Twins GM Terry Ryan did not address whether Mike Pelfrey has requested a trade in the wake of the right-hander’s comments yesterday after losing the battle for a rotation spot, tweets Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pelfrey threw one inning of perfect relief against the Orioles today needing just eight pitches in lowering his spring ERA to 1.23.
  • Ryan Madson, in camp with the Royals on a minor league contract, calls his comeback from elbow injuries “a challenge” and knows he can pitch again at the MLB level, writes’s Barry Bloom. “If it doesn’t happen here, I will see if there’s any other interest and will go from there,” said Madson, who has a May 1st opt-out. “I mean, I came in not knowing whether I could pitch on consecutive days or three times a week, and now I’m past that. I know what I can do and I want to pitch again in the Major Leagues.

Blue Jays Claim Andy Wilkins

The Blue Jays have announced they have claimed first baseman Andy Wilkins off waivers from the White Sox. Toronto immediately optioned the 26-year-old to Triple-A Buffalo where he will serve as organizational depth at first base.

Wilkins made his MLB debut last year with the White Sox appearing in 17 games slashing .140/.178/.186 in 45 plate appearances. Wilkins spent the majority of 2014 at Triple-A, his first full season at that level, and batted .293/.338/.558 with 30 home runs in 529 trips to the plate.

Cafardo On Porcello, Chacin, Kimbrel

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checked in with Max Scherzer, who is missing former teammate Rick Porcello.  Scherzer, of course, left the Tigers in free agency to sign with the Nationals in January.  Porcello, meanwhile, was shipped from the Tigers to the Red Sox in December.  Scherzer still texts a lot with Porcello, and they have had conversations about free agency.

He understands the business of the game really well and what teams are trying to accomplish,” said Scherzer. “As most players, he’s motivated by winning as well. What works is going out there and having one motivation and that’s winning. And those things will take care of themselves.”

Cafardo has talked with a few baseball executives who believe Porcello will walk from the Red Sox and do exactly what Scherzer did – go to the highest bidder.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • The Rockies tried to trade Jhoulys Chacin but couldn’t find a buyer, so they released him last week.  The 27-year-old was a victim of Coors Field, where his ERA was 4.21 as opposed to a much more palatable 3.24 on the road.  Cafardo writes that the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays, and Blue Jays have been looking for a veteran starter and may be considering him.
  • Braves people insist that they will not entertain a deal for closer Craig Kimbrel, but a few executives expect that Atlanta will be thinking differently if they are out of contention at the trade deadline.  The Braves are eyeing 2017 as their relaunch, so Cafardo doesn’t see the need for them to hang on to a top closer like Kimbrel in the interim.
  • Dan Uggla has an April 1st opt-out on his minor league deal with the Nationals and his play this spring is giving GM Mike Rizzo something to think about, but roster space is an issue.  If Uggla doesn’t make the cut in Washington, Cafardo suggests that the Angels, Braves, Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Padres, and Rays could all justify bringing him aboard.