A lot has happened in the two weeks since I wrote the ‘Part 1’ article in this series. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The Toronto Blue Jays have been completed revamped. When I left off in Part 1, I talked about Alex Anthopoulos’ priorities and wish list moving into the off-season. Melky Cabrera/left field, the bull pen and second base, among other areas were mentioned. Let’s take a look how he’s done so far in those areas, and a couple of areas we didn’t see anything coming!
Starting with what was the second largest contract signed in club history, the Jays landed all-star veteran, Canadian born catcher Russell Martin with a 5-year/$82 million contract. Aside from the all star nods, Martin also has Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in his trophy closet along, with seven trips to the post season in the 31-year-old’s career.
Is a five year contract a little long for a player at the age of 31 playing the most physically demanding position in the sport?
Perhaps. But, that’s the price of doing business in the Major League free agency market. Besides, Martin is above average physically and in the AL he can DH to rest and perhaps, play some third base at times to get out from behind the plate. While incumbent Dioner Navarro had a very solid season batting .274, with .712 OPS, along with 12 HRs, and 69 RBIs, Martin is a clear up grade offensively, and is also a major upgrade behind the plate. Martin will be expected to be a big influence to a very young crop of blue chip prospect pitchers in the Jays system, as well in the clubhouse – an area that has needed help for a few years.
The sports community in Toronto and around the big leagues didn’t have much time to settle down from the Martin buzz before the trigger was pulled on shipping a Canadian player out of town. Brett Lawrie was the Canuck moved south along with three prospects from the Jays system to the Oakland Athletics for all star third baseman Josh Donaldson. Two of three players involved – LHP Sean Nolin and RHP Kendall Graveman have a chance of cracking the A’s starting rotation next season. It’s a little sad to see Lawrie go as he had an infectious personality, would do anything for a fan and was fun to watch. He was a top tier defender and had a boatload of talent and potential at the plate, which had yet to fully materialize in his brief career thus far. It’s a business based on performing ‘now’ and if ever there was a sign that AA thought ‘now’ was the time for the Blue Jays bringing in a MVP-type candidate in Josh Donaldson is it. This is a great move for the Jays for a number of reasons. Donaldson is one of only a few third baseman that are in the same conversation as Lawrie defensively, and offensively he’s a monster. 158 games played in back to back years have produced consistent power figures north of 23 homers each season, 30 plus doubles two years in a row, hit totals of more than 150 two years in a row and in 2013 he should he can also hit for average with a .301 line. The best part of Donaldson could be that he’s 28, in his prime, and still under club control for 4 more years. That aspect in today’s day and age of huge contracts is amazing. He’s a competitive guy, a playoff player used to attention, and he’ll add more in the same way Martin will – in the clubhouse.
Blue Jay writers had no rest because five days later Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on another trade and brought in Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders from the Seattle Mariners for LHP J.A. Happ. Moving Happ wasn’t surprising as there was a lot of buzz around his name and his $6.7 million pay day in 2015. Happ was a very serviceable pitcher, but at the end of the day was a location based left-hander with a .500 record and was 32. He’d no doubt have been a safe, conservative fourth or fifth start for the Blue Jays in 2015, but moving him frees up a rotation spot for Aaron Sanchez who if is half as good as a starter as he showed he could be as a reliever last year, will do just fine. Michael Saunders will fit into the Blue Jays starting line up in left field and yes, this officially means, Melky Cabrera will not be back. Saunders will be 28 in 2015, made $2.3 million last year and is arbitration eligible for this coming year, so safe to say, will be less than a third the cost of Cabrera and can put up competent numbers. He has had a little trouble staying healthy as he’s only played 100 or more games in half of his six seasons and he is prone to strike out about twice as many times as he walks. With that said though, he can put up a few HRs, and has good gap power and should hit 28 – 32 doubles. Combine that with his solid defensive play, and he’ll fit in just fine in the number six or seven spot in the lineup.
This has been a very interesting off season for the Blue Jays thus far and the Winter Meetings, which are always action packed- kick off this week running until December 11th. While it’s clear that losing Cabrera is a blow, if it’s a matter of totaling the additions and subtractions to the Jays line up, on paper this is a far superior lineup with Martin, Donaldson and Saunders in versus Navarro, Lawrie and Cabrera out.
Alex Anthopoulos is not done working though as he could still possibly upgrade at second base and add outfield depth to insulate youngster Dalton Pompey. The most important area that AA needs to work though is the bull pen. He’s said to ‘be in love’ with free agent reliever David Robertson who has been with the Yankees, but he’s looking for term and an annual average salary worth at least $11 million. I don’t think there’s any way that he lands in Toronto. A bull pen is hard to build through free agency as there is so much risk. Relievers are often like yo-yos, up and down from one season to the next, so you’re simply rolling the dice that a free agent coming off an ‘up season’can break the mold. Otherwise, you’re buying low on available arms coming off ‘down seasons’ and hope they rebound. If the 2014 playoffs taught us anything, a team’s bull pen, if deep can carry a team to the World Series.
Be on your toes, as Alex is likely to move fast!
Photo Credit: jaysjournal.com