Hot Stove League… Toronto Blue Jays

 

spotlight jays

Toronto Blue Jays

2013 Results: 74-88, fifth in AL East

The Blue Jays went all-in last offseason, and it blew up in their faces. It is unlikely they go back for an extreme makeover but the team will explore both free agency and the trade market to shore up their deficiencies and then effectively cross their fingers.

Fingers will be crossed because in 2014, not one player from the Jays starting nine on offense appeared in at least 150 games. In fact, no Jay even played in as many as 145 games, with only Adam Lind and Encarnacion cracking the 140 game played mark with 143 and 142 games respectively. And, Lind only started a total of 121 games with 76 games being as a field player, first base, while the other starts were as a DH; while, Encarnacion led all starters with 142 games but only with 87 games were in the field, either as a third baseman or a first baseman, and the rest were as a DH.

After Lind and Encarnacion, catcher J.P. Arencibia appeared in 138 games but only started 118 and 7 of those starts were as a DH. And, he was followed by outfielders Colby Rasmus (118), Jose Bautista (118) and Melky Cabrera (88), and, infielders Brett Lawrie (107), Emilio Bonifacio (94) and Jose Reyes (93).

Clearly injuries, and other unforeseen factors, strongly worked against the Jays with ever having a cohesive and effective team on the field for any continued and productive length of time. For the Jays to be effective in 2014 that has to be addressed and changed or they will certainly be doomed to finish last, or, near last in the AL East once again. That may mean players need to be added, dropped or traded but the team needs a starting nine to be on the field for more than an average of about 115 games out of the season if the team want sot be competitive.

Of course, it would also help if the Blue Jays’ pitchers performed a tad better but the bottom line is they still need a team, in every sense of the word, to be on the field day in and day out to be effective.

Alex Anthopoulos
Alex Anthopoulos

General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has said he is authorize to spend more than he did in 2013 and that starting pitching is a priority. He also says he would like to shore up his catching and the middle infield. Having said that, here is the outlook for the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays…

Pending Free Agents: C Henry Blanco, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Josh Johnson, IF Munenori Kawasaki, RHP Ramon Ortiz 

Johnson was not given a qualifying offer. The prime reasons being due to his 6.20 ERA in just 16 starts and if his late season surgery to remove bone spurs eventually resolves his arm problems he still has had only one healthy year out of the last three. Therefore, it was a done deal that the team would choose not to make him such as offer. Or, in other words, a $14.4 million offer to just get a draft pick IF he would sign elsewhere would be a dumb ass move. Especially, because if Johnson had any brains, he would immediately accept the offer since no other team would even consider giving him that much.

Providing the proof to that thinking: On November 20, the Sana Diego Padres (76-86) finalized an $8 million one-year contract with Johnson.

Rajai Davis was not afforded a qualifying offer by the Jays. Davis has excellent speed and is an accomplished base stealer. He was caught just six times in 51 opportunities this year and has now has four seasons in the past five years in which he has surpassed the 40 stolen base plateau. He also can play centerfield as well as the corner outfield positions.  He hits left-handers very well and likes leading off. But, his walk/strikeout ratio can prevent him from seeing regular at-bats and thriving as a leadoff man.

However, he has almost no power and simply doesn’t hit righties as well as he does lefties. During his time with the Jays, since coming over from Oakland, he has also battled injuries and has never advanced being much more than a being a speedy fourth outfielder and base-stealer.

Davis made $2.5 million in 2013 and he is looking for more money and more playing time and that is not going to happen in Toronto. With Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus signed through next season, and, Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose waiting in the wings, Davis will never get anywhere near the playing time he desires. Point blank: The Jays alternatives in Mosaies Sierra and Anthony Gose for their backup outfielders are decidedly cheaper.

Munenori Kawasaki – INF – $1M option – Munenori Kawasaki’s team option was declined thereby making him a free agent.  In 2013, he put up a slash line of just .229/.326/.308 and he may be on his way back to Japan.

Ramon Ortiz’ team option was declined thereby making him a free agent. He probably will not be a Blue Jay in 2014.

Other Team contract options:

Mark DeRosa’s team option was exercised; however, DeRosa has since retired from MLB which frees up his $750,000 salary for 2014.

Casey Janssen’s team option was exercised and counts $4 million against the Jays 2014 payroll.

Adam Lind’s team option was exercised and counts $7 million against the Jays’ 2014 payroll.

Tender/Non-Tendered players:

As of December 2, 2013, Toronto had to offer to tender or not tender contracts to its arbitration-eligible players: Outfielder Colby Rasmus, left-hander Brett Cecil and right-hander Esmil Rogers received tenders, but former first-round Draft pick, J. P. Arencibia, is now a free agent, and the Blue Jays will not receive any compensation when/if he signs elsewhere.

 Finances:

TOR_2013_year_overview

Player                           Position         2013 $                Status             2014$*                      Comments

Jose Bautista                 RF             $14 million           Signed          $14million

Josh Johnson                SP           $13.75 million         Gone                 None                Signed by San Diego

Mark Buehrle                 SP            $12 million             Signed           $18 million

Jose Reyes                    SS             $10 million            Signed           $16 million

Melky Cabrera               LF               $8 million             Signed            $8 million

Edwin Encarnacion      1B           $8 million                 Signed            $9 million

Brandon Morrow           SP           $8 million                Signed            $8 million

Ricky Romero                SP          $7.75 million            Signed           $7.5 million          Signed (team option) (Sent outright to Triple-A by Toronto 10/4/13.)

R.A. Dickey                     SP           $5.25 million           Signed            $12 million

Adam Lind                      1B           $5.15 million           Signed             $7 million            Signed (team option)

Colby Rasmus                CF          $4.75 million         Arbitration             None                 Tendered

Casey Janssen              RP          $3.9 million             Signed             $4 million

J.A. Happ                         SP           $3.75 million          Signed             $5.2 million

Maicer Izturis                 2B            $3 million               Signed             $3 million

Darren Oliver                  RP           $3 million               Free agent            None

Sergio Santos                RP        $2.75 million             Signed             $3.75 million

Emilio Bonifacio            2B         $2.6 million               Arbitration             None      

Rajai Davis                      LF         $2.5 million               Free agent           None      

Dustin McGowan           RP        $1.5 million               Signed               $1.5 million

Josh Thole                      C           $1.25 million            Signed               $1.25 million

Henry Blanco                  C           $.75 million              Free agent            None     

Mark DeRosa                2B          $.75 million                 Retired                 None

Brett Cecil                      RP          $.51 million               Arbitration             None                     Tendered

Esmil Rogers                SP         $.509 million               Arbitration             None                     Tendered

J.P. Arencibia                C           $.51 million                Free agent          $.51 million            Non-tendered

Brett Lawrie                  3B          $.5 million                    Signed               $.5 million

Luis Perez                     RP          $.5 million                    Signed                $.5 million

Kyle Drabek                   RP          $.499 million               Signed                $.499 million

Steve Delabar               RP          $.499 million                Signed               $.499 million

Michael Schwimer      DNP        $.497 million               Signed               $.497 million

Jeremy Jeffress          RP         $.495 million                Signed                  $.495 million

Aaron Loup                    RP        $.494 million                 Signed                  $.494 million

Drew Hutchison          DNP        $.493 million                Signed                $.493 million

*italics means TBA

At this point, without adding in or subtracting any dollars from the Jays 2014 committed salary totals, the team has about $136.95 million committed to payroll. However, it is already know that Josh Johnson is not going to be on the team since he signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Padres, so, that immediately reduces the team 2014 payroll down to about $123.2 million.

Entering into the 2013 Hot Stove league the team also had four potential arbitration cases, Colby Rasmus, J. P. Arencibia, Esmil Rogers and Brett Cecil. Due to very recent events (which will be elaborated on in the Jays’ catcher needs) it is known that the Jays have tendered offers to Rasmus, Rogers and Cecil but not Arencibia. So, Arencibia (short of a mini-miracle) will not be with the Jays in 2014. (On December 9, Arencibia signed with Texas.)

MLB Trade Rumors (MLBTR) website has a model that predicts arbitration salaries (developed by Matt Swartz) that was within 10% of the actual agreed upon/arbitrated salary for 55% of players who ultimately signed one-year deals, and, was within $1 million for all but 4 of the 156 arbitration-eligible players.  The numbers quoted here are based on that model.

Rasmus: estimated $6.5 million, Rogers: estimated $1 million and Cecil: estimated $900K, so, make it another $1 million.  That now projects the Jays 2014 payroll commitment to about $131.7.

The Jays also have an extensive list of pre-arbitration players. Essentially, a pre-arb player is player who a team can renew his contract at what the team thinks is “fair value”. If, the player is very good, or, IF a team believes he is about to “explode” upon the scene then the team might want to negotiate an extension (or, at least try to negotiate an extension), and, avoid going to arbitration when he becomes eligible and have him locked with team on contract terms that are, theoretically, advantageous to both the player and the team.

Going into the Hot Stove season the Blue Jays pre-arb list players were: Brett Lawrie, Steve Dalbar, Aaron Loup, Ryan Goins, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra, Drew Hutchinson, Luis Perez, Kyle Drabek, Jeremy Jeffries, Chad Jenkins, Brad Lincoln, Kevin Pillar and Todd Redmond.

If each of these players were to make the Jays roster out of spring training they could all be paid about $500,000. Some obviously would be more and some would be less depending on how the Jays viewed the player’s potential and attached worth. However, again because of vey recent events we know that

John Gibbons
John Gibbons

Lawrie is, according to the Jays Manager, John Gibbon, the team’s third baseman going into 2014. So unless there is big trade or someone appears in spring training that takes the job, Lawrie is at the hot corner for the Jays. So far Lawrie has been a lot of hype but with little results thus far, but, he is still only 23. I think he gets a raise to maybe around $750,000.

Delabar is controllable by the Toronto Blue Jays until 2018, i.e., the earliest he could be a free agent. He’s shown to be an elite bullpen arm at times, e.g., opponents batted only .199/.309/.265 against him in the first half, and, at times not so good, e.g., after returning from an injury, second half batters improved to .308/.361/.569 against him and he posted a 7.02 ERA. Now part of that regression may have been due to the injury but at this point it is unknown territory which player is the real version that the Jays have. Indications are that he is a keeper as evidenced with his last 2013 appearance where he put up three goose egg innings with a fastball topping out at 94. Guess here is he is renewed at $500,000.

Loup has shown, at the minor league level he can close out games and is very effective against lefties but at other times he has been very hittable. That being said, he has a chance to make the team out of spring training as a situational lefty. If he does it will be at the league minimum, for arguments sake make it $500,000.

Goins’ offensive numbers at the major league level in 2013 were not exactly eye opening (.252/.264/.345 in 34 games) but the Jays love his defense at second base, and, with no set starter at that position he will be in the conversation in spring training for the job. He will be renewed at about $500,000.

Gose’s numbers in 2013, including his minor league time at Triple A Buffalo, were somewhat disappointing. He strangely hit better in the majors than the minors but not by a whole lot, .259 with Toronto and .239 with Buffalo. And, for a guy with stolen base potential he got caught way too many times: 13 times in 35 tries in Buffalo, and, 3 times in7 tries in Toronto. And, while his walk/strikeout ratio was not too shabby early on by season’s end his walks were minimal while he began to swing and miss a lot more often.  But, the one area where he did show improvement was in the power department: In September, Gose hit 4 doubles, 4 triples and 2 home runs for a .482 slugging percentage. Despite his problems at the plate, and on the base paths, the general Jays’ hierarchy believes Gose has MLB potential. If Gose can continue working with his coaches, they believe he can improve his OBP plus hit for some power, at least gap power, and once he gets on base can transform his excellent speed into an asset. He has a shot to win the fourth outfielder job coming out of spring training. However, the guess here is if he does it will be at the league minimum, for arguments sake, make it $500,000.

Sierra, in 2013, in 100 games with Triple-A Las Vegas, hit .289/.360/.472 with 17 HRs, 16 doubles, scored 62 runs and stole 7 bases. In addition as an outfielder he had only 4 errors and 10 assists. After the Jays brought him up for his “coffee and…” (35 games) look-see late in the 2013 season, and his slash line, .290/.369/.458, was almost identical to his Triple A numbers.  Scouting reports indicate his plate discipline is on an upward swing and that he is a major league prospect.

However, while his arm is above average, scouting reports say he is only an average defensive player and is on a liability on the base paths and that the Blue Jays’ front office do not see him as a core player or future star. This probably means that Sierra is either a fourth outfielder/DH or trade bait.

He probably has his contract renewed at $500,000.

Hutchinson had Tommy John Surgery about 14 months ago and is on the rehab trail. On November 5, Hutchinson was named the Arizona Fall League (AFL) week four pitcher of the week.  His final AFL numbers: 21.2 IP, 3.32 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.

He should be in line to compete for a spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation in spring training.  The Jays will renew him for $500,000.

Perez was another Tommy John patient who returned from injury and made rehab appearances in Dunedin and Buffalo before being promoted to the Blue Jays. Perez has experience as a starting pitcher as well as coming out of the bullpen. In 2013, he made six appearances in the minors, with two of them being starts. In limited action, 9.2 IP, he had a 1.86 ERA with no decisions.

Perez will be resigned for the major league minimum, so for argument’s sake, call it $500,000.

Drabek, yet another pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery, for the last 3 years has been up and down with the Jays and has logged in 34 games on the major league level.  In 2013 he appeared in 3 games with Toronto and he was 0-2 with an 7.71 ERA, 2.51 WHIP of 2.51 and 1.5 to 1 K/BB rate. His 2013 MiLB sates were: 14 games, 1-4 W/L, 3.14 ERA, 43.0 IP, 6 BB, 35 SO.

Jays will resign him for the $500,000 for bullpen help.

Jeffress was promoted from the minors during the September call-ups and in 10 games with the Blue Jays his record was 10.1 IP, 0.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and 5 walks. Jeffress lights up radar guns with plus 100 radar gun numbers on a consistent basis but can be erratic with his control. He needs to develop stronger secondary pitches.

He had a 50-game suspension for substance abuse (marijuana) which shouldn’t be a hindrance to his MLB career.

He will have a chance to make the Jays out of spring training as bullpen help. He will be resigned for $500,000.

Jenkins has a MLB career spanning 2 seasons in which he has 63.1 IP, 3.58 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. He doesn’t strikeout a lot of batters and relies on changing speeds and minimizing walks. He features a two-seam fastball (or sinker) that is around 90 mph around plus a slider and a changeup that both hit around 83 mph. He can throw a 77 mph curveball but rarely does.  A pitcher is often compared to is teammate Mark Buehrle who has made a career without having an overpowering fastball.

Jenkins probably begins the 2014 season in the Jays’ bullpen.  Jenkins will be resigned for $500,000.

Lincoln: On December 3 was traded to the Phillies in exchange for Erik Kratz (C) and Rob Rasmussen (LHP).  Lincoln was out of minor league options and the Blue Jays are loaded with relievers. In 2013 he registered a 3.98 ERA/1.58 WHIP/31.2 IP for Toronto.

Kratz will battle Josh Thole for the backup job behind new Blue Jays starting catcher Dioner Navarro. Rasmussen is a 24-year-old left-hander with a rough 6.46 ERA in 54 1/3 career innings at the Triple-A level.

It remains to be seen whether either of the players Toronto acquired will add anything to the Jays’ salary commitment for 2014.

Pillar never seems to get rave scouting reports but his minor league 2013 numbers show a .328/.378/.439 slash line with 59 stolen bases. He is another player with a chance at making the Jays as a fourth outfielder or will be insurance down in the minors as an in-season injury fill-in. He will be resigned for $500,000.

Redmond was better than many scouts predicted he would be as a starter for the Jays in 2013 as he put up a 4-3 W/L record with a 3.80 ERA, and struck out 71 over 68.2 IP.

He will be resigned for $500,000 and have a shot at making the Jays rotation in spring training.

At this point the Toronto Blue Jays 2014 payroll is between $138 million and $139 million

Toronto_BlueJays_puzzle

Needs: Catcher, second base, third base, left field, starting pitching, relief pitching

 Catcher:  This position need has probably already been resolved.

On December 2, the Jays signed veteran free-agent catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year contract worth $8 million.  Navarro will make $3 million in 2014 and $5 million in 2015.

Navarro, as a Chicago Cub, had 13 HRs and 34 RBIs in 240 ABs. His slash line was .300/.365/ .492.

On December 3 the Jays traded Brad Lincoln to the Phillies for catcher Erik Kratz and left-hander Rob Rasmussen.  Kratz is a catcher with a strong arm and capable of solid game-calling skills.  He’s big at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds and has some power. Baseballreference.com projects that over a season in which Kratz would have about 525 plate appearances he could hit 20 double and 20 HRs but that he would strikeout about 115 times why only walking about 40 times. His career slash line is .220/.281/.407.

Kratz is nothing more than backup material.

Josh Thole, who came over with J. R. Dickey from the Mets, had an underwhelming year as the backup catcher in 2013 with a .175/.256/.242 slash line. He will have a chance to compete for the backup catching job in spring training but is considered the third choice for a position the Jays will probably only carry two players.

Therefore, with Arencibia being non-tendered and now a free agent (who has signed with Texas as of 12/6) it appears that Navarro will be the Jays starting catcher heading into 2104 with Kratz and Thole sparring in spring training for the backup job.

Add $3 million to the Jays’ payroll for 2014.

EncarnacionFirst base: Edwin Encarnacion silenced all of his remaining critics by following up a breakout 2012 season with yet another impressive campaign. He was arguably the club’s best hitter for the second consecutive year and almost became the third player in franchise history to hit 40 homers in back-to-back seasons until a left wrist injury cost him the final few weeks of the season. The 30-year-old has another two guaranteed seasons on his contract and will be relied up to maintain his middle-of-the-order production.

Adam Lind had a bounce-back season in 2013 with a .288/.357/.497 slash line, 23 HRs and 67 RBI’s. His option for 2014 was picked up but he could be flipped in a trade for pitching or another need. If, not, then, he and Encarnacion would form a formidable combination that could be switched between first and DHing.

Moises Sierra has spent his in the outfield, but he has been working with coaches to see if he can adapt his abilities to playing first base. Sierra is out of options on his contract and if he can play some first base, he could find a job with team as an option at first. This could be significant if the mix at second involves Brett Lawrie. Although, that is not likely.

I don’t see the Jays doing anything here, unless Lind is a part of some trade that strengthens one of the team’s other needs. And, then I think they just go fulltime with Encarnacion at first.

Second base: In a small market for second basemen, off the board are Robinson Cano and Kelly Johnson.

The Jays signed Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio in an attempt to solidify their defense up the middle and provide some standard offense and consistency at the plate. Neither provided what the Jays wanted or needed.

Izturis, 365 ABs, .236/.288/.310 slash line, had the worst year at the plate since his rookie year when he only appeared in 32 games with 107 Abs and a .203/.286/.318 slash line. Izturis has two years left on his contract.

Bonifacio, while with the Jays in 2013 was headed towards his worst year at the plate in his career with a slash line of .218/.258/.321.  On August 14, the Kansas City Royals purchases his contract from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Back up Munenori Kawasaki (Shortstop/Second Baseman) did little to provide any offense either and on November 1 had his option declined and was granted free agency.

The triumvirate of Bonifacio/Izturis/Kawasaki was, however, a microcosmic example of a major problem with Jays’ season. This was that players were moved around the diamond to plug into various positions to hold down the fort while key starters were recovering from injury.

At the beginning of the 2013 season, Bonifacio was Toronto’s second baseman. However, Bonifacio proved incapable of handling ground balls on the fast AstroTurf at Rogers Centre and was finding more playing time in the outfield than at second.

Izturis was the opening day third baseman due to an injured Brett Lawrie, but through April, Izturis had more starts at second base than Bonifacio.

In mid –April every day shortstop Jose Reyes was injured, and, his first replacement, Kawasaki, struggled, so, Izturis got more time at shortstop. This gave Bonifacio the bulk of the starts at second base in May and June, with recently retired Mark DeRosa also seeing some time at second.

Encarcarcion and Jose Bautista were spending time at third during this entire infield malaise.

By July, Bonifacio was used more off the bench after slumping to a .203 start with 51 strikeouts through the first 3 months of the season. He eventually, saw some spot time in the outfield in August, when Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera both suffered injuries of their own and were DLed.

On August 14, 2013, Bonifacio was traded to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for cash/player to be named later.

Enter Ryan Goins. Goins provided some much-needed stability at the position, but there are still plenty of question

Ryan Goins
Ryan Goins

marks about whether he will be able to consistently hit at the big league level.

Goins is working with coaches to address his improving his slash line of .252/.264/.345.

With Emilio Bonifacio traded, Mark DeRosa retired and Kawasaki’s option declined, second base is open.

Maicer Izturis is not a legitimate starting MLB second baseman. GM Anthopoulos said the Jays could go with a platoon at second of Izturis and Goins. If Goins can hit anywhere near decent Goins will see the majority of time at second based on his solid audition for the job in September when he wowed the team with his defense at the position.

However, Omar Infante is still available and he would fit in at second very nicely if the Jays could sign him.  Infante who played for Detroit in 2013 had a slash line of .318/.345/.450; doesn’t strike out much, is a very good fielder, has experience not only at second but is a decent third basemen, or shortstop, and, has played all three outfield positions. The Blue Jays are still in the market for a second baseman, but if something doesn’t materialize, they seem content with the options already in place.

Brain Roberts is also an option. But, the likely ex-Oriole is a 36-year-old second baseman with major injury history whose slash line was a pedestrian .249/.312/.392 in 2013. He would be inexpensive to sign but comes with risks. I don’t see Roberts as a likely possibility/.

Anthopoulos is known for working the trade market though, so, he could go after Angels’ Howie Kendrick, slash lined .297/.335/.439 with 13 homers in 2013. He has $18.5 million remaining on his deal through 2015.

And, the White Sox’ Gordon Beckham, who slash lined .267/.322/.372 with five homers in 408 PA, could also be a possibility. He missed eight weeks due to a broken hamate that required surgery; but still posted his best numbers since his rookie year. He is only 27 and still has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He can also play third if needed.

But, at this time, the party line at Toronto’s HQ is that the team is content to go into 2014 with a platoon of Izturis and Goins, with Goins getting the bulk of the play at second.

Shortstop: If Jose Reyes can stay health he is a very good shortstop who can hit. He has a career slash line

Jose Reyes
Jose Reyes

of .292/.342/.439; can steal between 40 to 50 bases and keeps his strikeouts under 100, usually around 80, when he can get a full season under his belt. Reyes missed more than two months of the season due to a severe ankle sprain, but when he returned to the Jays’ lineup he gave the Blue Jays the prototypical leadoff hitter they needed.

The Jays’ will pencil Reyes in at short and cross their fingers. The team could go get a bench player who could slot in at short just in case Reyes pulls up lame at any point in 2014 but nothing more.

Third base: Heading into 2014, according to Manager John Gibbon, Brett Lawrie is the Jays’ third basemen.

2013 started out all wrong for the Lawrie when as member of Canada’s 2013 World Baseball Classic team he strained his right oblique muscle in a pre-tournament game. Then as the Jays’ spring training camp was coming to an end he was rushed back to fill the team’s need at third base and reinjured the oblique. Lawrie began the season on the disabled list, and, didn’t play with the team until his season debut on April 16.

On May 27, he turned an ankle sliding into a base, and, on May 29, Lawrie was determined to have a severe sprain, and, once again he was placed on the disabled list.

Battling his injuries and their aftermath, it wasn’t until after the All-Star break that Lawrie was able to play to his full potential.

At this point it seems Lawrie is part of the Blue Jays’ starting nine and if he manages to avoid injury can be a long term solution at third. .

If Lawrie should get injured Encarnacion is probably the Jays’ man at third.

Left field: Melky Cabrera’s first season in Toronto was in effect as close to a disaster as was possible. For much

Melky Cabrera
Melky Cabrera

of the time he was in the field it appeared he had essentially lost his legs and struggled to competently field his position.  He was put through a regimen of tests by the team’s medical staff and the end result was that the Blue Jays’ doctors found a tumor in his spine.

The tumor applied a lot of pressure on Cabrera’s back, and the pain extended to his legs causing his fielding problems. Cabrera’s tumor was removed, found to be benign, and he is expected to be ready to attend spring training and be the Jay’s everyday left fielder.

Center field: Colby Rasmus arguably took the biggest step forward of any of the Blue Jays’ hitters in 2013. He surpassed the 20-homer plateau for the second consecutive year with a slash line of .276/.338/.501 which was arguably his best years in the majors since his sophomore year (2010) when he was with St. Louis. Rasmus’ season ended when he was hit in the face by a ball thrown by a teammate during between inning during a game on September 20 and the next day he was placed on the DL.

Rasmus is a very good centerfielder, and, on November 7, he was named announced as the Blue Jays’ Wilson Sporting Goods Company Defensive Player of the Year.  (Founded in 2012, the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award winners are determined by using a formula that balances scouting information, sabermetric analysis and basic fielding statistics. Each MLB team has a player who is picked for an award.)

The biggest question surrounding Rasmus is just how long the Blue Jays plan to keep him in the fold.

In 2014, Rasmus is set to enter his final year of arbitration and could be in line for a lucrative multiyear contract extension. However, GM Anthopoulos is prone not giving out long term secure contracts unless a player reciprocates by giving back a hometown discount. And, since Rasmus numbers are, at best, decent unless he agrees to such a deal, Anthopoulos will probably wait and force Rasmus to prove himself for another year before the club guarantees him anything. The possibility is also out there that Rasmus could become a trade chip as Anthopoulos is looking to shore up the Jays’ middle infield or starting pitching.

Jose Bautista
Jose Bautista

Right field: Jose Bautista is presently ensconced as the Jays right fielder. In 2014, he will be four years removed from his 50 HR year, and, in all likelihood will never hit 50 HRs again in his career. In addition, for two years running, he has had his season curtailed by injury, a wrist inflammation problem in 2012 that ultimately required surgery to resolve, and, a left hip bone bruise that ended his 2103 season in early September.

Bautista is a legitimate, and relatively cost effective, bat in the middle of the Jay’s lineup. Bautista is guaranteed $28 million over the next two seasons which by today’s standards is relatively cheap for a player who can be projected to put up a yearly slash line of about .255/.360/.490 with close to 30 doubles and 30 homers.

While it is unlikely that Bautista will be traded by the Jays, it can be assumed that at 33-years-old Bautista’s best years may be behind and if the right package of players came along that Anthopoulos would pull the trigger and make a deal. As pointed out Bautista being traded is very unlikely.

Outfield Free agents: I don’t see Anthopoulos jumping into the free agent pool, or at least what is left in the pool but worth mentioning and considering are Shin Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz.

Shin Soo Choo
Shin Soo Choo

Choo is a strong leadoff man but is able to hit anywhere in the batting order. He is an all-star level outfielder, who is a five-tool player but is probably best suited to a corner spot. H will hit a consistent 20-plus HRs and steal 20-plus bases guy that hits for a high average. He draws walks but does strikeout a fair amount considering that he has been used as a leadoff hitter. But, another guy by the name of Ricky Henderson did that, too. With his ability to consistently get on base and hit between .285 and the low .300s, his strikeouts are not seen as a liability.  Considering his slash line was an excellent .285/.423/.462 with 21 HRs, 34 doubles and 100 plus RBIs, runs scored and walks it is a bit surprising he is still available on the open market.

Choo made $7.375 million in 2013. I think Choo should eventually get a deal in the 3 to 4 year range worth about $48 to $52 million.

Choo is probably out of the range of the Jays budget but he would be an excellent addition to the team and would probably slot down to third or fourth in the batting order.

Cruz is a power hitter and middle of the lineup bat. In the 109 games played in 2013, Cruz hit .266 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI The reason he only played in 109 games is he was handed down a 50 game suspension for his connection to PEDs through Biogenesis.

Cruz has a very strong throwing arm and can throw out runners from deep in the outfield. His range isn’t the best but nothing that would prevent him from playing either comer outfield position.

Cruz made $10.25 million in 2013 and despite his Biogenesis connection will probably still garner an offer of about $45 million and 3 years.

That is probably more than the Jays want to spend but if his drug connection is a onetime deal Cruz could be bargain at that price.

Look for the Jays to at least talk to Cruz if he is still available in late December.

Designated hitter: Adam Lind is essentially the team’s DH/1B against right-handed pitchers. Lind is probably more of a DH then a first base option. Other players, including Encarnacion, will see spot duty at DH throughout the Jays’ 2014 season. I don’t see getting another bat that can be used primarily as a DH in the Jays’ lineup as a need.

Players who are free agents that would most likely fir the DH bill for the Jays are: Mark Reynolds (1B/3B/DH), Kevin Youklis (1B/3B/DH), Delmon Young (OF/DH) and Michael Young (SS/3B/2B/DH).

Mark Reynolds is a strikeout machine but can go on unbelievable HR tears. He is a definite liability at third but not too bad at first. He would probably sign a one year deal for no more than a couple of million or less. I don’t see him fitting in with the Jays.

Kevin Youklis is in the twilight of his career and may be ready to retire. However, Like Reynolds, he would probably sign a one year deal for about $2 million or less. Unlike Reynolds he is not a strikeout machine and can take a walk but it isn’t likely that he will. He swings the bat. His 2013 season was essentially nonexistent so to get a decent idea what he might bring to the Jays it is better to use his 2011/2012 years when he put up a slash line of about .240/.345/.400. He can play the field but will never be confused with a gold glove infielder. I don’t see him fitting in with the Jays.

Delmon Young has some HR power (maybe 15 over a full season) with gap ability (maybe 30-35 over a full season). Delmon Young is only a DH and a team would only use him in the outfield if they absolutely had to. He would probably sign a one year deal for $750,000or less. I do not see him fitting in with the Jays.

Michael Young (5th round Toronto draft pick in 1997) is a very good hitter (.300 lifetime) who has a productive bat. He consistently puts up a slash line of about .280-.300/.345/.440. He hits line drives with decent gap power (maybe 35 doubles in a full season) with some HR power (capable of 15 HRs in a full season). He doesn’t strike out a lot but if he took more walks he could be an even more dangerous hitter.

He is an incredibly versatile, but only passable, fielder, and, will make errors regardless of where he plays.

He is bit injury-prone but the Jays would essentially use him as a DH and a spot infielder. He made $16 million in 2013 with the Dodgers paying $6 million and the Rangers paying $10 million.  He could probably be had for a lot less… maybe $5 million with incentives? I don’t see the Jays signing him but I believe he would be a good fit for the team. He would provide some middle infield and third base security.

Starting rotation: The starting rotation was supposed to be a strength going into the 2013 season but it was near the bottom in virtually every major pitching category.

R. A. Dickey
R. A. Dickey

Of the three big additions of Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle, Johnson is now with the San Diego Padres, leaving only Dickey and Buehrle. The reality is that the Jays have a bunch of starters under contract heading into 2014, but, exactly who will be their starting five is another discussion.  The first three spots in the rotation will probably be R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and probably Brandon Morrow.

The last two spots are entirely up in the air and the competition in spring training is going to be wide open. It is expected that Anthopoulos won’t push for any of the prime free agent pitchers available but will do his due diligence and could make a move after the dust clears from whatever signings are initially made over the course of December.

Of the potential pitchers for the four and five spots in the rotation the Jays have:

J. A. Happ is owed $5.2 million in 2014, with a $6.7 million option for ’15, which includes a $200,000 buyout. Happ numbers don’t over whelm and is essentially a fit as the number five man in the rotation. Happ could become part of a trade for middle infield help.

Kyle Drabek is signed for 2014 and arbitration eligible for 2015. In 2012 he had Tommy John surgery and by July 2013 Drabek was pitching in the minors on his comeback trail to regain a roster spot with Jays. On September 3, he was called up to the Jays.  He appeared in 3 games with 2.1 IP.

Drabek throws a fastball clocked between 90–96 mph, a decent curve in the 79–83 mph range, he can also use a cut fastball in the 89–95 mph range as well as a change-up in the 83–86 mph range. Drabek’s stuff is not a problem, rather, the main reason, why in four years he has never been able to crack the Jays rotation, is that he can exhibit extremely poor control which leads to high pitch counts as well as his elevated walk totals.

Todd Redmond was on the DL for the first 41 days of the 2013 season. After he rehabbed, he bounced back and forth between the minors and the majors. Redmond is essentially a career minor leaguer who will have a chance to make the Jays in spring training as a fifth starter or bullpen depth. Redmond is primarily a fastball-slider guy who throws strikes and pitches to contact, i.e., he lets his defense, hopefully, do their job.

Drew Hutchison is called a “deceptive right-hander” with good FB command and a quality three pitch mix. His fastball sits in the low 90s but has plenty of movement, and he adds a solid-average slider and a plus changeup. He doesn’t project to blow hitters away but scouts think he will have a fair amount of strikeouts and could approach 200 innings pitched a year. He is seen as a future 3 or 4 guy in the rotation. He will have every chance to crack the Jays’ rotation in the spring.

Esmil Rogers, 27, is starting his eighth year in pro ball, all but part of that time spent with the Colorado Rockies organization. In his four years on the major league level with the Rockies he had a 6.77 ERA, allowing 243 hits in 184 innings, and averaging 4.5 walks every nine innings. In 2012 he went to the Cleveland Indians and in 44 games he had an ERA of 3.06, allowing 47 hits in 53 innings with 54 strikeouts and only 12 walks.

The book on Rogers is that he has a 4-pitch repertoire with a mid-90s fastball (94+ mph average), a plus curve (81 mph), an average slider (85 mph), and a below-average change-up (86 mph).  But, if he wants to be a starter, he really needs to work on his change-up, because left handed hitters tend to hit him very well (.362 against him in 2010).

He probably is at least a bullpen addition coming out of spring camp.

Ricky Romero is always about to break onto the scene as the next big thing but injuries and pitch command seem to hold him back. Romero has three fastballs: a four-seamer, a cutter and a two-seamer/sinker. His fastball tops off at about 92. He has a changeup that he will throw at any time in the count and an above average curve.  If Romero can stay healthy and can reduce his walks he has an excellent chance to take the number four spot in the Jays rotation.

Free agent rotation possibilities:  The biggest names still available are Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. After that there’s Bartolo Colon, Bronson Arroyo and Paul Maholm.  None of those players are equal to Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in Nippon Professional Baseball.

If Tanaka is eventually posted (presently, there is some rumblings his posting may not happen) I expect all teams to at least make a run at him. However, I would be surprised to see the Jays walk away with a winning contractual bid.

Matt Garza is Garza is power pitcher who features a two- and four-seam fastball, plus a slider and curveball. Garza is ultra-competitive and that can amount to him becoming a tad emotionally unchecked which sometimes interferes with him pitching to his highest ability. In 2013, Garza missed first seven weeks because of strained last muscle but eventually, in June, went 5-0 with 1.24 ERA in his last six starts with Chicago Cubs before being traded to The Rangers. Included in that run was a 3-0 record (2.15 ERA) out of four starts against American League clubs.

An interesting situation is that a team would not have to give up a draft pick to sign him. i.e., per MLB rule, the Rangers were unable to make a qualifying offer to Garza due to the fact that he was not a member of the team for a full season.

I expect the Jays to be in the hunt to sign Garza but I am not sure he will be worth the money it would take to get him to ink a deal. Mostly, because I believe he is at best a number four pitcher who has a pedestrian career record of 67-67 and a 3.80-plus ERA.

Ervin Santana, as a  Kansas City Royals, in the final year of his contract, had one of the best years of his career from a pitching-stats standpoint (ERA of 3.24 and WHIP of 1.142), although his record (9-10) would seem to indicate otherwise. Because of his 2013 season he is now one of the top pitchers in the free agent market.

Ervin Santana No-hitter
Ervin Santana No-hitter

Santana is not really considered a number 1 or 2 starting pitcher, and, Baseball-reference.com shows that his lifetime ERA and WHIP are 4.12 and 1.28 respectively, with an expected record, over a 162 game season, of 13-11 with 215 IP. Maybe that isn’t number 1 or 2 stuff but it is certainly worth a decent raise over his 2013 season salary of $13 million if a 4-14 pitcher like Phil Hughes can get $8 million a year for the next three years from the Twins.

In fact, except for 2012 Santana has had ERA’s of 3.92 (2010), 3.38 (2011) and 3.24 (2013) with 222, 228 and 211 IP associated with each year, respectively. The anomaly is that as his ERA has gone down and his IPs have gone up his record has become stagnated below .500, when, prior to that stretch he had was four years, out of six,  where his W/L percentage was .600 or better.

One another tidbit to keep in mind about Santana is that his last trip to the DL ended on July 3, 2009. Since then, only Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, James Shields and Clayton Kershaw have thrown more innings without logging DL time. Ervin Santana has set his price at $100 million over five years. If a team is willing to go there the Jays will not be that team.

Consider that Tim Hudson (38 years old and who I feel is a better pitcher) signed with Giants for two years/$23 million and Ricky Nolasco (31 on December 13 and who I think is a tad under Santana) signed with the Twins for 4 years/$49 million then Santana (31 on December 12) could be worth 5 years/$75 million.  (Note: Sources reportedly said Nolasco was initially looking for 5 years/80 million.)

However, if he is not signed by late December, the Jays could come in with an under the radar contract offer in three to four year/$15 million plus a year range, and, maybe a miracle could occur. I doubt it very much but ya never know.

Regardless, the Jays have shown interest in Santana and I believe it would be smart to take a serious run at signing him.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a pitcher who had a career year in 2010 and has been very unspectacular since then. He has a career 3.92 Era with a so-so/blah WHIP of 1.35.  I may be totally wrong about Jimenez but I think all teams should stay away from him. However, if they do make a run at signing him it should be for no more than two years and about $12 million.

I don’t see the Jays going after Jimenez because they have enough pitcher of his ilk coming to spring training already.

Bartolo Colon has a career W/L percentage of .596 with an ERA of 3.92 and a WHIP of 1.32 with a K/W rate of 2.4:1. In his last three years in the majors, his record is 36-15, with an average ERA of about 3.4 and a WHIP of about 1.22. His K/W rate has been close to, or better, than 3.3:1.

He made $3 million in 2013. If the Jays made him a two year offer of a about $6 million a year, they might just steal him from under everyone’s noses.

Bronson Arroyo usually has an ERA steadily under 4.00 and can consistently hurls 200 innings per season. In fact, every year since 2005 he’s logged at least 200 IP, except for 2011 when he threw 199, and, he once went as high as 240 (2006). Since 2009, his ERA has been in the 3.70-3.80 range except for 2011when he had a rare losing W/L record and posted a horrid 5.07 ERA. He’s not a big strikeout pitcher but he does have a career K/W rate of 2.37:1.

He earned $16 million plus in 2013. I don’t think he gets that total even with the numbers he has put up for the last eight years or so. Tim Hudson, at 38, got two years and $24 million from the Giants, then Arroyo who will be 37 by opening day of 2014should be in that same territory.

I don’t think the Jays will make an offer that high for Arroyo.

Paul Maholm has had only two winning seasons in his career: When he was 3-1 in his 2005 rookie year and in 2011 when he was 13-11 as he split time with the Cubs (9-6) and the Braves (4-5). He generally gives up more hits than innings pitched (165 IP/177 hits) and his career WHIP is 1.397.

He made $6.5 million in 2013.

I don’t think the Jays make Maholm an offer, and, frankly, I wouldn’t blame them if they don’t. 

Bullpen: The Blue Jays have a deep bullpen with a very nice balance of lefties and righties who can come with heat. If Anthopoulos is going to make a trade to shore up any part of the team he will most likely reach into the bullpen for some chips to add to the pot for what he is seeking.

Right-hander Casey Janssen was nearly flawless during his first full season as closer. The right-hander has

Casey Janssen
Casey Janssen

posted a 2.55 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 117/24 K/BB ratio across 116 1/3 frames the last two seasons while converting 56 of 61 save chances. Unless he suddenly collapses in 2014 he should be the closer for the foreseeable future.

Janssen is backed by the following pitchers:

Brett Cecil after years of the Jays trying to fit him into the starting rotation, found a place in the bullpen and in 60.2 IPs he posted a 2.82 ERA with a K/BB rate of 3:1. By year’s end he was put on the shelf due to an elbow inflammation but reports say there are no lingering effects and he should be throwing in spring training without any problems.

Aaron Loup put up a 2.47 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 64 games/69.1 innings of relief this season. His K/BB rate was a tad over 4:1.

Dustin McGowan has battled injuries throughout his career and hasn’t made it through a full season since 2007. In 2013, he stayed healthy and in 25.2 IPs posted a 2.45 ERA with 26 strikeouts. Some talk has been heard that McGowan will be given a chance to show his ability to start but I think the reality is that he continues his role in middle relief, where his ability to put hitters away is more important.

Esmil Rogers will be given a chance to crack the Jays starting rotation, and, if, he doesn’t he will probably find a place in the bullpen as a long reliever who can spot start, or, jump in if a starter goes down. He could be used as part of a trade as a secondary piece.

Todd Redmond will also be given a chance to crack the Jays rotation. He made 14 starts in 2013 due to the teams’ starters being ineffective and sustaining injuries. He had a 4-3 record, with a 3.3:1 K/W rate.  . He tends to pound the strike zone but if he gets the ball up then the result is the long ball. In 77 IPs, he gave up 13 HRs.

Redmond is another player who could be used as trade bait. In fact, if he is not traded, he will go into spring training without a guaranteed job. It is very doubtful he makes the Jays as a starter and is a long shot to make the bullpen, so when the season begins look for the Jays to try to get him through waivers so he can be sent down to the minors.

Sergio Santos was another Jay who battled injuries in the early part of the 2013 season. But later in the season

Sergio Santos
Sergio Santos

he was healthy and finished the year with 25.2 IPs, 28 strikeouts and a very nice 1.75 ERA. He has a guaranteed job in middle relief.  Santos has the potential to become one of the most dominant relievers in the game because of an overpowering fastball and a wipe-out slider.

Luis Perez, just two years ago, was relied upon to record key outs versus left-handed hitters and throw innings when starters faltered. But, eventually he underwent Tommy John surgery and that role came to an end.  He returned to the Jays’ bullpen in late 2013 and in just a very limited 5 IPs showed he could still strike out batters but, obviously, not much else. He will need a very strong spring to earn a spot in the bullpen. However, unless he is a complete washout in spring training there is little chance the Jays could sneak Perez through waivers. So, one way, or the other, he will be in the majors in 2014… either as a Jay or on some other team.

As mentioned much earlier in this exposition, Steve Delabar is controllable by the Toronto Blue Jays until 2018 and has shown that he can be an elite bullpen person.  It is assumed he will be in the bullpen unless his spring training is a complete bust.

And as mentioned earlier, Jeremy Jeffress was promoted from the minors during the September call-ups and in limited action posted the following: 10 games, 10.1 IP, 0.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and 5 walks. Jeffress throws in the triple digits with regularity and can blow batters away but needs to develop stronger secondary pitches.  He probably makes the bullpen.

NOTE: On August 30, 2007, Jeffress was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for “a drug of abuse,” … marijuana. The suspension meant he had previously tested positive and had already been given a warning.

In June 2009, he tested positive a third time and was suspended for 100 games.

Jeremy Jeffress
Jeremy Jeffress

One more positive test will result in a lifetime ban for Jeffress.

In late June 2013 while with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, Jeffress was diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy. Before this diagnosis, he had always experienced times of extreme anxiety and had been self-medicating with marijuana. He may or may not be eligible for a medical exemption depending on the interpretation of Canadian and US laws and those laws applications to medical marijuana use and the possibility of legitimate medical marijuana use in MLB. This bears watching.

Also, a hot prospect in the minors is Marcus Stroman (5-9, 185 lbs), who some see as the future closer, who is a right-hander with a powerful and live arm. Potentially, the Jays’ could take him north when spring training breaks in effort to slowly have him adapt to the reality of a major league bullpen and pitching to major league hitters.  Note: Marcus Stroman was suspended 50 games for violating MiLB’s drug policy. Stroman tested positive for the amphetamine Methylhexaneamine.

I don’t see the Jays adding to the bullpen from any outside sources.

As mentioned, if a trade is forthcoming look for Anthopoulos to move some of his bullpen pieces and don’t be surprised if Janssen is one of the pieces being moved. The Jays have at least one player who could step in immediately as a closer, Santos, and, others who could be ready if they had to be.

That is it; the picture, as I see it, for the Jays in 2014.

Jays logo on ball

 

 

 

Blue Jays Shirt

That completes the Hot Stove peek into the AL East. Now for my prediction for how it will all shake out by season’s end:

First, let me say, I think the AL East will be a hotly contested affair until the last week of the season with almost any of the five teams having a chance to win it all. In fact, due to that competiveness there may not be a wild card coming out of the East.

I see three teams with a real chance to win the division in The Red Sox, the Yankees and the Blue Jays. Yep, the Jays. I see them staying healthy and really rebounding in a big way from their disaster of 2013.

First place is essentially a pick-em but I think the Yanks will win it due to their off season moves IF they can pick up at least one more front line starter. If not then it will be between the Red Sox and the Jays.  Obviously, whoever is not first will be in a photo finish for second.

Soooo…  Assuming the Yankees get their pitcher here is the final standings for 2104 as I see it:

Yanks

Jays

Red Sox

Rays

Orioles. AL East

Let the arguing begin…

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