Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to take a tour around the Big Leagues and take a few snap shots of each division and highlight some off season work that needs to be done by each team. Being our hometown (home country) team I wanted to specifically take an even closer look at our Toronto Blue Jays and look at some of the changes to their roster that have already happened, are assumed to happen and that perhaps management wishes would happen. This will be a two part series on the Blue Jays.
Let’s start with what we know for sure: Two regulars to the Blue Jays lineup of 2014 are already gone. Anthony Gose the speedy CF who never really developed into the major league player he was projected to be a few years ago was shipped to the Detroit Tigers for highly touted 2B prospect Devon Travis. This trade is fine, as speed is a great asset (see: Royals, Kansas City) but it’s useless if you can’t get on base and that was Gose’s downfall. His speed was great in the outfield and he was an above average defender, but CF is a position you need offense from as well. Travis is a fine pick up, but the likely hood of him playing any significant time with the big club in 2015 is minimal.
The Jays also shipped (after picking up his $7.5million option) Adam Lind out of town. The DH/1B was a right handed pitcher hitting stud. Best average in baseball against right handers. However, he was extremely limited in terms of his versatility. Big Double E has 1B locked down, and in 2015, John Gibson has plans of giving more at bats to ageing shortstop Jose Reyes at DH. At the end of the day, Lind was an excellent teammate and long tenured Blue Jay, but the bang for the buck he offered wasn’t there and he was moved. In return the Blue Jays received pitcher Marco Estrada who got hammered last season and holds the dubious title of the man who gave up the most homeruns in the majors in 2014. Ick. The upside is that after being moved to the bullpen he finished out the season strong for the Milwaukee Brewers and offers versatility to Jays management in that he can start if needed, and can fill multiple roles in the bull pen.
Other notable player news we know for sure: Pitchers Dustin McGowan, Brandon Morrow and Casey Janssen are free agents. All three are likely to not return, but Janssen was recently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown and did indicate that he’s loved his 10 years in the organization, is marrying a local girl, and would come back if a deal made sense for both him and the Jays. He’s had 3 straight years of 20+ saves and while he’s not a traditional hard throwing closer, there is significant value in reliability. Personally I’d love to see Morrow back BUT not at the $10 million option the Jays declined, and NOT as a starter. He throws major smoke and fits the model of the current era reliever – throw as hard as you can every single pitch for 3 outs then go sit down. Don’t expect any of those three to return, but one or two is certainly possible. The last two real notable players that are free agents is CF Colby Rasmus and LF Melky Cabrera. Rasmus will not be back and that can be written in stone. This is a guy with all the tools and skills and potential but has never turned into the All Star he was projected to be. Rasmus is average to slightly above average as a defender, has some decent power, but can not get on the bases as his average has always been horrible and lost the faith of his manager. Cabrera was one of the Blue Jays top 3 players this year. Lead the team in hitting with a .301 average, played solid defense, added some power, and as a switch hitting two hole hitter, he was a perfect table setter for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Top Priorities: Starting with the bull pen, the Jays need to reformat a staff that in 2013 was one of the best bull pens in baseball and in 2014 was one of the worst. How did this happen? There is no explanation when it comes to bullpens. They’re so hard to predict. The Blue Jays are rumoured to be talking to free agent Andrew Miller who spent most of the past two seasons with the Boston Red Sox and went through the playoff push and run with the Baltimore Orioles. Miller is an imposing lefty and could be used as either a set up man, or closer. It’s hard to predict the dollars that he’ll demand, but clearly he’d be an excellent pick up. The aforementioned Estrada will likely be key member in the 2015 bull pen. I’d like to see Morrow back at about a $3.5 million price tag with the chance to audition for the closer role.
Moving to the infield, the Blue Jays have had a massive hole at second base. The kid, Ryan Goins is a defensive whiz, but is better suited as a shortstop and has a LONG way to go at the plate. Fan favourite Munenori Kawasaki is a ‘nice guy’ but really at best is a spot call up guy from AAA. So who is out there? There is not much available – Rickie Weekes, Asdrubal Cabrera, being the likely top 2 candidates. What the Jays do have working for them is the flexibility in defensive stud Brett Lawrie over on the hot corner who has the ability to move to second base in case finding a 3B is easier for the Jays. There are more options available for 3B than 2B. The clear favourite option is playoff hero Pablo Sandoval is available and is rumoured to have met with Jays. Don’t get your hopes up fans, as he’s meeting with a number of teams, and he’s going to demand term on the open market that will break the Jays team rule of max 5 year contracts. I’ll save a rant for that another day. Chase Headley is available, is serviceable and would certainly be affordable, but he’s nowhere near the impact type of player the Blue Jays want and need. The trade route will most likely make the most sense for the Jays to address infield needs whether that’s a 2B or 3B. Word is they’re keen on Howie Kendrick of the Angels, but so are the Yankees. He’d be an excellent fit for the infield and the clubhouse as he’s been on strong teams for a number of years and has some the ‘knows how to win’ factor working for him.
Finally in the outfield, the Blue Jays clear top priority in the off season would be to resign Melky. Near the end of the season many experts were expecting Cabrera to demand a contract in the range of 6 to 7 years and 65 to 75 million overall – or more. The Jays are not shy to pay on an annual basis, so a $12 or $15 million annual salary would be both fair, and the team would be willing to do it. The issue will be the term here. If they can somehow get him to ink a 5 year deal, they have a shot. In the last couple of days, Alex Anthopoulos has come out and said that he now feels it’s “unlikely” Cabrera resigns. AA has done these type of misdirection tactics in the past before, so don’t read too much into it. IF they do lose him though, there are a few options, but nothing that will give you the stat line Cabrera did. Nelson Cruz offers a different stat line that Cabrera but don’t count on him landing. If they lose out on Cabrera, and go the free agent route, they’ll need to resort to a player like Norichika Aori or Franklin Gutierrez although what is much more likely is the trade route, or promote from within and hope and pray Kevin Pillar and Dalton Pompey and fill the void. If that’s the case, I’m sorry Jays fans, expect a step backward and not a step forward.
Photo Credit: twitter.com