As of the weekend before last, the 2014 season is now finally, mercifully, officially over. At least it is for the Toronto Blue Jays. And while there certainly was a whole lot of positive to be taken from it — the emergence of Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison, the minor league development of Dan Norris and Dalton Pompey, the ability to actually throw strikes being consistently exhibited by Aaron Sanchez — and while the club ultimately did better than a whole lot of people expected (no mass firings or mid-season fire sales!), to this frustrating tease of a wet fart of a campaign I say good riddance.
So now we look to the future.
For many that means aching for change among a group of players — even though it hasn’t really been the same group — that hasn’t been good enough each of the last two years. As we learned late in the season, Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t appear to be one of those people. He reportedly has said that there are no plans to move any of the club’s core players this winter.
It seems a little premature to say so — and, as I noted when originally writing about Bruce Arthur’s report, the word “planning” gives the GM something of an escape hatch in case an offer he can’t refuse comes along — but I can be OK with taking Buehrle, Reyes, Dickey, Bautista, and Encarnacion off the table, just as long as Anthopoulos is able to find other ways pull the various tricks he needs to in order to put a better team on the field in 2015.
To do that there are going to have to be some changes — a fact Anthopoulos admits himself. “There’s a good chance there’s going to be some turnover,” he’s quoted as telling Arthur in his Toronto Star piece, “and it could make for a really interesting off-season.”
So… OK. What kind of turnover should we expect? Who did we see in a Blue Jays uniform for the last time two weekends ago?
Let’s think about it, starting with the easy ones…
Locks To Be Gone
These ones are the easiest because they’re entirely about contract status and performance. We all know that Colby Rasmus has played himself out of town and out of a whole lot of money after the season he’s had. Casey Janssen won’t be back, which is a shame — and the end was a particular indignity given what he’s been for the club over the years — but he seems certain to get more money somewhere else than what they Jays will be willing to pay — and sadly, that’s probably a savvy move on their part. Brandon Morrow won’t be back either — his club option is for $10-million and the Jays won’t be picking that up, nor will they be giving him the opportunity to start that he desires, so it seems all but certain he’ll be gone.
Lastly, let’s be honest, as much as it was an interesting piece of asset management — to put it politely — to hang on to post-pumpkin Juan Francisco, and as terrific he was for this club out of the gate, there’s simply no way he can be in the club’s big league plans next season, and at $1.35-million this year, with his being out of options and a raise likely in his second year of arbitration, he’s a non-tender candidate if Anthopoulos can’t find anything to flip him for before that. Ugh.
Locks To Stay?
Obviously there is no such thing as a “lock” when we’re talking about this stuff, or anything ever, really — death and taxes and whatnot — but the thing about an exercise like this is that you’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes. Just maybe not that much of a limb.
There are some easy ones that fall into this category. I’m very comfortable saying that Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be on the Opening Day roster for the Blue Jays in 2015. Same goes for Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman based on the same principle: losing either one of them would seem to create as big a hole as they’d possibly be filling. Despite Zaun-ish rumblings about clubhouse nonsense, Brett Lawrie won’t likely go because they’d be selling much too low on him. That’s maybe not the reason why Jose Reyes will be here in April, too, but he almost certainly will — his deal is immovable and replacing the value he brings will be a whole lot more costly than a lot of people would like to believe. Adam Lind might be one-dimensional, but it’s a hell of a fucking dimension and picking up his option is a no-brainer, even if for some reason they were doing it just to trade him (though I’d guess they won’t — and they certainly shouldn’t). Dioner Navarro had a decent year, despite his inability to frame pitches, and Brett Cecil will surely be a solid play at what he’ll make on his second trip through arbitration.
Aaron Sanchez and Dalton Pompey may or may not be on the Opening Day roster, but I can’t envision any of them going anywhere either.
Free Agents With Some Chance Of Returning (Mostly)
We all know the story with Melky Cabrera. It would be terrific for the Jays to do something about that, and it’s not untrue that the club wowed us with big spending two winters ago. But they also wowed us last off-season with the tightness of the vice grip Rogers was using to keep shut the vault door. I don’t know what-the-fuck to think this time around, but with the Canadian dollar where it’s going, attendance slightly down, and the company pissing away money left and right on hockey (even though they already own the rights and could be as cheap and cynical as they wanted — kinda like how they typically run the Jays), I’m gonna err on the side of not expecting anything here. Ugh.
Following that pessimism means that one believes even a small deal, like the $4-million club option the team has on Dustin McGowan (with a $500K buyout, meaning it’s only a net $3.5-million add to payroll), is probably in play, too. He was quite a bit better as a reliever this year (3.35 ERA, 4.13 xFIP, 4.99 FIP, 1.16 WHIP) than he was as a starter (5.08 ERA, 5.42 xFIP, 5.06 FIP, 1.62 WHIP), but still… is that money better spent elsewhere? Aren’t there better, cheaper bullpen pieces you can find? Maybe not. But I don’t think it’s a slam dunk they pick that option up, either. And Alex Anthopoulos has rarely paid as much for a bullpen guy.
Dan Johnson has already been granted free agency, as has Munenori Kawasaki, but the same reasons the Jays brought them in last year — a lack of quality depth from within the organization at those positions — still apply, so I wouldn’t necessarily rule out that these guys end up back in Buffalo. Scoff if you must about Johnson coming back, given how he barely saw the light of day during his September call-up, but don’t think that he didn’t probably appreciate drawing a big league paycheque for as long as he did, either.
I wrote about how those two were granted free agency late last week, and at the same time I spoke of the backup catcher situation, which could theoretically produce some turnover. If R.A. Dickey does get dealt, for example, Josh Thole will likely go with him. But as I said at the time, it would be nice if George Kottaras, who once was Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher, could get a shot to be Dickey’s catcher regardless, given that he’d provide a little more offence from the position than Thole will. Kottaras, unfortunately, was granted free agency anyway, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance he could come back on a minor league deal — for a backup or Triple-A guy who can catch a knuckleball, the Jays’ thin pool of catching depth isn’t the worst spot in the world to land.
More Likely To Return Than Not
There are varying degrees of likelihood that any player will be moved, of course, but I’m having an increasingly hard time believing that Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey are going to go anywhere. If the talk about turnover and the clubhouse atmosphere is true, one wonders — probably unfairly — if it’s the “different” Dickey who could find himself elsewhere, rather than the expensive Buehrle, but Dickey’s contract is just so favourable that they’re probably not going to be too desperate to part with it.
Dan Norris is practically a lock to be back (especially now that he’s had minor elbow surgery), and I would have put him alongside Sanchez and Pompey above, but we’ve got to have some fun with this exercise, and as much as Alex Anthopoulos needs to horde his young, cheap pitching, he also needs to improve this club in the immediate. With Norris currently the seventh arm on the rotation depth chart, as much as it might hurt to part with him, you’ve got to give up something to get something. I wonder if Anthopoulos will actually see the value in that kind of bold move, though. I somehow doubt it.
Forgotten though he may be, Maicer Izturis is a switch-hitting utility infielder who is owed $3-million for next season and spent all but a couple weeks of this year hurt, so he probably isn’t going anywhere. John Mayberry Jr. is heading into his second arbitration year, making about $1.6-million, and a decent enough candidate to spell Adam Lind at DH against left-handers as the best of the club’s lefty-mashers. He’s a guy Alex Anthopoulos has said he had tried to acquire in the past, and that makes me think he’s really in the plans — at least, as long as Lind is.
Relievers Aaron Loup and Todd Redmond have been decent pieces the last two seasons, so unless they’re lubrication for a bigger deal, I’d expect them to be back. Chad Jenkins has options and finished the year hurt, so chances are he’s in Dunedin next spring too, even if another year spent mostly on the QEW is likely in the cards for him. And Steve Delabar will hit arbitration for the first time after having a rough season, but I suspect will still be cheap enough to bring back, and probably worth hoping on.
I sort of don’t love saying it, but part of me thinks that there’s a decent chance that Kevin Pillar is back, too — either as the uninspiring internal replacement for Melky Cabrera, as a straight-up fourth outfielder (with John Mayberry moving more to a 1B/DH spot), or in an ill-advised platoon in centre with Anthony Gose, waiting for Pompey to force the issue. And as much as I might want to list Ryan Goins among the guys more likely to be moved, too, he still has options, and sadly, where is their infield depth without him?
Who’s Left To Move?
It’s entirely possible that the Jays have much, much bigger plans up their sleeve than I’m accounting for here, but the names I’ve yet to highlight from September’s active roster represent — to me, at least — the ones most likely to be a part of the “turnover” Alex Anthopoulos has been talking about since the season began to wind down.
This exercise hasn’t left us with a lot to hypothetically work with on the trade market, so it’s very possible that someone listed in one of the above sections will have to get moved for the greater good. Nobody is going to confuse the remaining names for sexy ones — for the most part they’re guys that are far down the depth chart, redundant, stagnating, or too one-dimensional — but they still have some kind of value. And if Anthopoulos is looking to bolster his club with smaller deals — deals of the Brad Lincoln for Erik Kratz, or Kratz and Liam Hendriks for Danny Valencia variety — they are the guys he’s going to look to move first.
J.A. Happ could be the most interesting of the smaller chips Anthopoulos has got. He’s coming off a very strong season — in particular, a strong second half — with his velocity rising, and his ability to throw for strikes looking better and better. At $6.7-million for 2015 he’s cheap — which is why the Jays may look to keep him and deal one of their more expensive hurlers, or one of their younger ones — but that will make him attractive to other clubs who might have a redundancy where the Jays are looking to add.
Anthony Gose was optioned in 2012, but it was for less than 20 days, meaning that he still has one more option year left. If the Jays see Dalton Pompey as the future — and they should — this winter is probably the time for them to go and get something for Gose. How much they can get for him that will actually help, I have no idea, but he’s coming off a season with a decent on-base (especially against right-handers), his tools are still loud, and it maybe doesn’t hurt that offence is down league wide and teams may be more willing to try to hide a bat like his. Someone out there probably thinks they could fix a guy like Gose. At the very least he could provide depth for some club that doesn’t already have Pompey, Pillar, Mayberry, Bautista, and either Melky or whoever will replace him.
If you have to swallow hard and move Kevin Pillar instead of Gose, I’m entirely fine with that. In fact, Pillar may have been nearly moved this summer, as part of the package San Diego asked for in exchange for Chase Headley — a deal that made no sense for the Jays in the first place and was naturally declined. Juan Francisco was also asked for by the Padres, as well as Sean Nolin, who might just be another interesting piece for the Jays to dangle. That is, if they’re inclined to shop pitching depth in order to fill other needs — which they almost have to be, no matter how badly Anthopoulos wants to think otherwise. Problem is, Nolin didn’t have a great season. He made just 20 starts, about three weeks from mid-May through early-June, and another month between mid-June and mid-July. His ERA (3.50) and FIP (3.86) were alright, and his walks were down from his previous stint in Buffalo, but only to 3.61 per nine innings. And his strikeout rate was again down from the 10 per nine or better that he produced in Double-A.
Maybe the way the Jays were using Nolin in September suggests they’ve soured on him — or maybe that’s just what they’d like you to think! He did sit nearly four ticks higher in his one inning of relief work this September than in his lone big league start back in 2013 (though bullpen and days-of-rest caveats apply). Maybe the club likes what it sees still, and so is doing its best to talk up Kendall Graveman — another possibility to be moved this winter, provided anyone actual thinks he’s a real candidate for a big league rotation, which… actually probably not, eh?
That leaves the club’s two right-hitting infielders, Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia. Neither of these guys has a tonne of value — though we’d do well to remember that the Jays themselves gave up a depth starter and a backup catcher for one of them, so I don’t think a bullpen piece of some order is entirely outlandish here. Valencia made about the league minimum in 2014 and will be going through arbitration for the first time, while Tolleson doesn’t even have that much service time. Both are out of options, meaning you’re probably going to get back someone of the same status, and with the Jays inexplicably running Valencia out against right-handed pitching down the stretch, and needing some sort of cover for Brett Lawrie, maybe I’m selling short his value to the club. But boy… even though neither of these two were particularly bad or didn’t do everything that was asked of them — their main failing being not being very good and getting exposed when pressed into duty too much — this is certainly an area where you’d like to think the Jays could see some turnover, and where you might see someone moved.
Yes, I’ve been very, very conservative when it comes to identifying the players I think the Jays are going to shop. Perhaps I’m making the mistake of remembering too much of the 2014 version of Alex Anthopoulos (the one in practice, at least, not the one that had a deal for Ervin Santana agreed to and a trade for Ian Kinsler nixed by the player’s no-trade clause), and not the one from two winters ago. But whether he’s willing to be much more bold than this or not, he’s got his work cut out for him when it comes to trying to make all the pieces fit.
Tomorrow, we’ll bring you Part II of this two-part series, taking a look at the money, the roster spots, and trying to answer the question of whether Anthopoulos can get away without doing something dramatic to change the nature of his ballclub…