The Blue Jays entered the offseason with three gaping holes on the roster: catcher, second base, and starting pitcher. By trotting out the same lineup that was used last year, there is absolutely no way Toronto can contend in 2014. Change must be in order.
And that change has clearly begun, with last night’s stunning news about J.P. Arencibia. The Jays backstop for the past three seasons was unceremoniously non-tendered, making him a free agent and effectively ending his time in Toronto. After putting up a cruddy .258 OBP and .666 OPS over his 380 game career, the move wasn’t a surprise. It just seemed like a non-Blue Jay thing to do, as I think most expected the team to try and fix JPA by throwing him back out there.
The signing of Dioner Navarro to take over the starters job is certainly a gamble, as Navarro has only played 225 games over the past four seasons. Is a Navarro/Thole combo any better than what we had last year? Who knows. But it is different, and different was something that HAD to happen.
So what happens now with SP and 2B? Here are some options:
The Pricey: Robinson Cano
There has been a lot of Twitter activity in the past few weeks by hopeful Jays fans linking Cano with the team, mainly due to his relationship with Jose Reyes. Photos of the two have been Tweeted, with fans (delusional??) hoping Reyes can convince his pal to join the Jays as his double play partner. There’s no denying Cano would be a tremendous fit for Toronto, a power hitting, smooth fielding dynamo, who would fit in incredibly well on a team loaded with Dominican players. Signing Cano would instantly elevate the Jays back to contender status.
But signing Cano would cost a lot of money. And by a lot of money I mean A LOT of money, perhaps even greater than $200-million. With Rogers just spending over $5-billion to acquire the rights to NHL coverage, does anybody really think they have cash leftover for Cano? Toronto has pulled a shocking signing like this in the past (see Clemens, Roger) but sadly there is no way Cano is coming.
The Bargain: Mark Ellis
Ellis will turn 37 in June, and though his best days may be behind him, he is still a useful player. In his past two seasons with the Dodgers, Ellis has put up a combined WAR of 5.5, a .328 OBP, and a +22 defensive runs saved number. He’s not going to fool anybody into thinking he can become a Cano or Pedroia type player, but he can definitely fill a need for the Blue Jays. Ellis made $5.25-million last year, and one would expect a salary of about that level (or less, citing his age) – not cheap, but a fraction of what Cano would cost.
The Incumbent: Maicer Izturis / Ryan Goins
If there is one thing that Toronto can hope for, it’s this: Izturis can’t possibly be any worse than he was last year. Maicer put up career worst numbers in all rate categories (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS), saw his stolen base total drop from 17 to 1, played terrible defense, and put up a WAR of -1.0, one of the worst marks in the American League. Just going by the simple law of averages, he has to improve. Doesn’t he?
Goins was tremendous in the field during his time in Toronto, posting a +12 defensive runs saved number in only 29 starts at 2B. Imagine that over a full year? The problem continues to be his bat. A .609 OPS with a poor .264 OBP isn’t good enough. But if he saves more runs with his glove than he contributes with his bat, is that a bad thing?
The Pricey: Ervin Santana / Matt Garza / Jeff Samardzija
Santana and Garza are both free agents, and judging by recent signings, the market for pitching has gone haywire. Seriously – Ricky Nolasco for 4-years/$49-million (Twins) and Scott Kazmir for 2-years/$22-million (A’s) have only driven the prices for Santana and Garza even higher. And considering that Garza has a better track record, and Santana had a better 2013 than either of those two, their prices were already high to begin with.
Samardzija is not a free agent but has been heavily linked with Toronto in the past few weeks. While he won’t cost a lot in terms of dollars (at least not yet), he will likely command a high price in terms of prospects going back to the Cubs. For a team that already dealt Nicolino and Syndergaard last year, does it really make sense to fully empty the cupboard and offload Sanchez or Stroman (or both)? Maybe not.
The Bargain: Bronson Arroyo
Bargain, in this context, is in a relative sense. Arroyo will still cost a lot of money, but should (hopefully) be less than the above mentioned trio, and less than Kazmir and Nolasco, if for no other reason than the fact that he will be 37 years old in February. Before you get critical that an Arroyo signing would give Toronto three SP all north of 37 (which is true), consider that Arroyo is basically just as durable as Mark Buehrle, with 9 consecutive seasons with at least 199 IP. Furthermore, save for a horrendous 2011 season, his ERA has been in the 3′s every year since 2009. And yes it’s true that he has put up those numbers in a relatively weaker NL Central, he does have AL East experience with the Red Sox. He could be a good fit.
The Incumbents: Todd Redmond / Esmil Rogers / J.A. Happ / Jeremy Jeffress / Kyle Drabek / Drew Hutchison / etc.
With Dickey, Buehrle, and Morrow cemented into the top-3 spots, there will be a ton of open competition for the remaining slots in the rotation. Should Toronto fail to bring in outside help, it will likely come down to a combination of the above arms to fill them. One would think Redmond, Rogers, and Happ would have the advantage considering they took the bulk of the starts last season. But Happ really struggled, Rogers – outside of a few good starts – was pretty awful, and Redmond doesn’t appear to be anything super special.
The more interesting names are the last three. Drabek was the top prize of the Halladay trade, and Hutchison showed much promise in 2012. Both are coming off Tommy John surgery and might be better of in Buffalo, but both have higher upside than Happ, Rogers, or Redmond. Jeffress is a hard throwing righty who struck out 12 in 10.1 innings of relief with Toronto last year, while putting up an ERA of 0.87. The latest rumour has Toronto interested in stretching his arm out as a starter, which may make for an interesting option in 2014.