There are a number of reasons why Alex Anthopoulos right now, once again, finds himself in an unenviable position as he heads into another high-pressure off-season. Chief among them is the difficulty of finding a way to add the top-end starting pitcher the club badly needs without blowing up its offence.
The free agent market is grim. Matt Garza heads the class- unless you really like Ervin Santana, though at least Garza doesn’t come at the cost of a draft pick)– but will turn 30 in November, will want a lengthy and expensive contract, and has struggled with health and home runs over the last two seasons. Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka may offer the Jays their best shot at landing a quality arm– especially if reported changes to the posting system don’t go through in time to effect him– but as we’ve discussed before, there are red flags in his not quite eye-popping strikeout rate and the fact that he has a tonne of innings on his young arm.
Even if the club has concluded that one of those guys, or Dan Haren, or Ricky Nolasco, or any of the other “big” names in the rather tepid free agent pool, are options worth seriously pursuing, it’s still somewhat difficult to imagine Alex Anthopoulos or Paul Beeston being comfortable with handing out the kind of contract it’s going to take to land them. It’s doubly difficult to imagine the front office being willing to go there and the player being willing to accept our money, frankly.
For that reason it’s presumed– and often stated by Alex– that the club will be looking to the trade route, but with that comes its own set of problems. As we’ve also discussed, while far too many folks are laughably clamouring hard for the club to deal Jose Bautista, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where dealing him makes sense– unless, perhaps, the Jays can line up a way to replace some of his offence first (or the offence of any of their core position player who might be dealt) through trade or free agency– meaning that one of the club’s centre fielders would be the most logical choice to be moved.
There are, however, other trade chips that the Jays have. One potential asset is money– according to Tom Maloney of the Globe and Mail, some believe that the Jays could take on $20- to $25-million in payroll above this year’s figure. Unfortunately, the club’s other chips are almost all pitchers themselves. If the Jays add a starter over the off-season, he would join a rotation already set to have R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow (if healthy) in it, with a fifth slot being fought over by J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Sean Nolin, and Marcus Stroman.
As we’ve learned around here over the last few years, you can never have too much pitching depth, but… um… that actually might be too much pitching depth.
Sure, some of those guys could be dealt to shore up one of the club’s other glaring positions of need– second base and catcher, in particular– but maybe there is a way for Anthopoulos to actually get creative and deal them for the kind of player he needs. It’s a little fantasy league-ish to think so, and such a deal wouldn’t be easy– in fact, it might be impossible– but what if you were a team that was thin on pitching depth, thin on payroll, yet with a very highly paid pitcher on your roster? Might you consider dealing such a pitcher away in order to fill multiple rotation spots, albeit with lesser arms and bigger question marks, on the cheap?
It would depend on who the pitcher, obviously. The Rays, should they choose to move David Price, will certainly be able to extract a metric fuck-tonne more value than that. But what about a pitcher whose contract is a little on the too-big side? We only have to think of last year’s deal with the Marlins to see an example– albeit not one we can realistically expect to repeat itself– where a team did almost exactly what I’m talking about, exchanging big ticket players for payroll flexibility, cheap young replacements with upside, and a sprinkling of prospects to even out the deal.
Could it happen again? Having combed through the league looking at potential fits, I think the possibility is there, if remote. But that doesn’t mean we can’t spitball a few ideas anyway!
Take, for example, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The $86-million they spent on payroll this year was the most by the club since 2002, and it stands to go up, with $79-million committed already for 2014, and arbitration raises to guys like Gerardo Parra and Brad Ziegler not included among that figure. In other words, it’s possible they’ll be pushing the limits of their internal budget. They don’t necessarily have depth issues in the rotation, with Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley waiting in the wings, but there isn’t a whole lot that’s terribly impressive behind them, and maybe they’re ready to make room in 2014 for at least one of those guys– or at least willing to do so if it means adding some financial flexibility. They could do that by dealing Brandon McCarthy or Trevor Cahill.
The Jays, if the payroll guessing is correct and Rogers doesn’t lose its mind and tighten the purse strings at this critical juncture, could fairly easily do what they need to do at other positions while accommodating the $10.25-million owed McCarthy in his final year before free agency, or the $7.9-million owed to Cahill, plus the rest of his deal, which goes to $12-million in 2015, then is followed by a pair of club option years.
Cahill, frankly, isn’t that great. And McCarthy has warts too, mostly in terms of health. But… the thing is, Cliff Lee isn’t walking through that door if all you’re willing to give up is a couple of back-end arms with upside (or whatever a deal like this would end up including– a reliever? a prospect? a Buffalo outfielder? Maicer Izturis, anyone?) and a little financial breathing room. McCarthy probably isn’t either, but maybe? Maybe??
Payroll is always an issue for Oakland, though they only have $23-million in guaranteed commitments for next season. Not included in that figure, however, are arbitration raises for guys like Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, John Jaso, and Seth Smith. There are also contract options on to decide on– Coco Crisp ($7.5-million), Brett Anderson ($8-million), Chris Young ($11-million), Kurt Suzuki ($8.5-million)– and pending free agents (Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour) to either re-sign or replace.
They’re not likely going to pick up all of those options. Crisp is a gimme, but Young has struggled and Suzuki is a platoon catcher. The intriguing one for us here, of course, is Anderson. Sort of. This year he’s struggled with health, as usual, and with command, walking 10.4% of batters faced, having come into the year never having had a rate higher than 6.1% in a single big league season. However, there are reasons to be optimistic.
For one, it was an ankle injury that kept him out for most of this season, not anything to do with his arm or shoulder, though he did miss most of the previous season recovering from Tommy John surgery, and has had some recurring back issues as well. Secondly, his troubles with bases on balls have maybe started to dissipate since his return from the DL– he walked 15 batters in 29 innings in April before getting hurt, but pitching out of the bullpen has walked just five in fourteen innings since. Of course, that sample is awfully small– had he lost one or two more batters in those fourteen innings it would look like nothing at all had changed.
Still, though, his velocity is up a little bit over previous years, and while it has presumably nudged in that direction by his move to the bullpen, that seems a good sign. And while his ERA is particularly fugly– currently sitting at 6.28– he’s been plagued by home runs, which, given the average HR/FB rates he’s produced through his career (both on the road and at home), would seem to be a blip more than anything.
Anderson may be a guy that Oakland is thinking of relying on to help replace the production of Colon, but one wonders if the A’s may figure that the $8-million earmarked for picking up his option (which has a $1.5-million buyout) could be better spent elsewhere, especially if a team was willing to move one of their own young pieces– one that is controlled more cheaply and for much longer– for the privilege of bringing in the pitcher who posted a 2.80 ERA over 19 starts in 2010, and a 2.57 ERA over six in 2012.
We could continue the exercise by perhaps looking at the Brewers, who may look at their division and decide that Yovanni Gallardo and the single year left on his deal may not be as good a fit for their plans as a younger player controlled longer and the cash saved by trading him away– though they’re by no means strapped– or we could get silly and start thinking about… I don’t know… the Angels adding rotation pieces and shedding salary (as if they care) by moving someone like C.J. Wilson, or the Phillies and Lee. But that’s getting pretty deeply divorced from reality. The prior examples, though, seem at least somewhat realistic, don’t they? Maybe not when you factor in the revenue increase that all teams will receive thanks to the kicking in of MLB’s new TV deals, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past baseball owners to simply have that money find its way into their own pockets.
So… yeah, maybe?
Thing is, again, if a deal like this is going to happen, you’re not talking about acquiring players without warts. Unfortunately, this day and age, you’re not talking about finding such players on the free agent market, either. But if Jays fans think that the lesson of 2013 is to always bet on sure things, then I’d submit that they haven’t really learned anything at all. Risks are part of the game, and fuck yeah I’d take a Brandon McCarthy or Brett Anderson for the right price. Shit, give me both!
All payroll figures per Cot’s.