As we enter the final week of January, Canadian baseball fans can take solace in knowing that we only have one more truly brutal month ahead of us (ghastly, godawful February), before the excitement of baseball and all that it brings with it (warm weather, beer, the sun, and more beer) returns.
What this also means is that Major League Baseball’s offseason is winding down. Sure there are a few intriguing names still available, but with most of the big fish out of the free agent pond, I think we can take an opportunity to look at how successful (or unsuccessful) Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has fared to this point.
Below are eight wishes, or in some cases demands (as in angry, fist-shaking demands) that Jays fans had at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Did AA do an adequate job in fulfilling these wishes? Let’s find out.
1. Bring Back Johnny Mac
The Ask: Re-sign fan favourite John McDonald, who was traded away to Arizona in August, so he can finish his career in Toronto.
What AA Did: Well, he didn’t bring back Johnny, who re-signed with the Diamondbacks for two years at $3-million. But, at least in my opinion, he did one better in bringing in 44-year old defensive wonder Omar Vizquel. Despite being seven years older than Johnny, Vizquel continues to play excellent defense, and actually has outproduced McDonald on the offensive side of the ball. In 2011 he put up a .592 OPS to Johnny’s .577, and has posted a .650 OPS from ’09-’11, compared to Johnny’s .642. Plus the dollar value and contract length are more team friendly.
Verdict: Though he’ll never replace Johnny Mac
in our hearts, Vizquel is an adequate replacement. AA wins the point.
2. Bring In A Bona Fide Closer
The Ask: Simple – give us a closer. One who can get hitters out on a fairly routine basis without giving fans heart attacks on a regular basis.
What AA Did: Dealt pitching prospect Nestor Molina to Chicago for closer Sergio Santos. In pure baseball terms this was a solid move. Molina had never thrown a pitch in the majors, and Santos had 30 saves and a ridiculous 13.07 K/9 ratio in 2011. In monetary terms it was an amazing deal, with Santos signed for three years (plus three option years) and owed $8.25-million total for those years.
Verdict: It wasn’t a big name like Papelbon, but it’s even better that it wasn’t a big name. Chalk up another point for the GM.
3. Revamp the Entire Bullpen
The Ask: It wasn’t rocket science to figure out what Toronto’s Achilles heel was last season. The bullpen underperformed all year long, plunging fans into months of mediocrity. Fans wanted a new bullpen.
What AA Did: As described above, he brought in Santos to close. He signed veteran lefty Darren Oliver to give the Jays a serious strength against left-handed hitters. He let the wildly inconsistent and disappointing Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, and Shawn Camp walk. He re-acquired old set-up man Jason Frasor from the White Sox. And yesterday, Anthopoulos signed former Cincinnati Reds closer Franciso Cordero to pitch the 8th inning. Yes Cordero’s numbers may be declining, but I think he’ll be a good insurance policy for Santos, and can team with Frasor and Oliver to bridge the gap to the ninth. Plus AA kept the only two decent relievers from 2011 – Villanueva and Janssen.
Verdict: Fans can whine all they want about Oliver and Cordero being old – the bullpen is vastly improved. AA delivers.
4. Add A Big Bat
The Ask: Add a power hitter to slot behind (or in front of) home run king Jose Bautista.
What AA Did: To this point, nothing – to the derision of many fans. With Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Aramis Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran all on the move, Anthopoulos sat and watched other teams snap those guys up, preferring to hope for rebound years by Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind.
Verdict: There was a high probability that Adam Lind played last season with a busted back, meaning he is a good candidate to bounce back, and seeing the absolutely ridiculous contracts given to both Fielder and Pujols, I’m not as disappointed that a bat wasn’t added. Is a shot at a World Series in the next two or three years really worth paying Pujols $25-million when he is 42, or paying Fielder $23-million when he is 35 and potentially 350 lbs and immobile? I’ll give AA a push on this one.
5. Settle the LF Question
The Ask: Pick one – Travis Snider or Eric Thames – and go with him for the entire season.
What AA Did: So far nothing at all. Both Thames and Snider are still Blue Jays, and both are still slated to make the big league team. Will they platoon? Will one start and one sit? Will one be sent down? Will one be traded? Questions still abound.
Verdict: Tough to say. Most still believe that Snider has more upside, and he is still only 23 years old (24 next week). It was always going to be a tough situation for AA to be in, and I (along with many) would probably feel more comfortable with a decision and/or trade coming sometime during the season after each has been given an opportunity. A push.
6. Settle the 2B Question
The Ask: Bring in a quality second baseman, something that’s been missing since Aaron Hill went AWOL.
What AA Did: Re-signed Kelly Johnson to a one year $6.375-million contract. In a limited audition with the Jays after being acquired from Arizona, Johnson hit .270 with a .781 OPS and 3 HR, and according to rumour, has long been an Anthopoulos favourite.
Verdict: In truth, the 2B options in free agency were limited, and it was somewhat shocking that Johnson accepted arbitration back in December. The question remains as to whether KJ is a good enough long term option, but at $6-million and one year there is little risk. The only problem is that the Jays are likely right back in the same position next year. Still – a mild win for AA.
7. Improve the Rotation
The Ask: In a nutshell – sign Yu Darvish. Most fans were clamouring for Yu, with the noise hitting a fever pitch in the week before the posting decision was announced. To a lesser extent, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, and Edwin Jackson were thrown out there.
What AA Did: Nobody actually knows if a bid was placed for Yu Darvish, with some reports saying no and others saying approximately $50-million. Either way, it wasn’t enough and Darvish went to Texas. Nor did AA sign any other starting pitcher. He did, however, extend Brandon Morrow for three years, which, for those who read this site often, is a gold-star type move in my opinion.
Verdict: While Darvish would have been nice, it can’t be stressed enough that he has never faced major league hitting before, and spending $111-million (contract + posting fee) is a tad outrageous. With a rotation fronted by Romero, Morrow, and promising rookie Henderson Alvarez, the top three look solid. Last year Toronto finished 81-81 with a wildly inconsistent Morrow, and horrendous, bottom-of-the barrel type seasons from Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek (not to mention four months worth of Jo Jo Reyes). Even a minor bounce back year from Cecil and/or Drabek, plus the addition of McGowan and maybe even one of the rich pitching prospects in the minors, and the rotation is already better than last year, without overpaying a crappy free agent. Win.
8. Improve But Don’t Cripple Us
The Ask: Basically this: get better in all areas of the game, but don’t ruin our future by a) trading away prospects and/or b) signing players to terrible contracts. Awful deals to Vernon Wells, B.J. Ryan, and A.J. Burnett are still fresh in people’s minds, and nobody wants to see an Anthony Gose or a Jake Marisnick starring for another team in a few years.
What AA Did: Nothing over the top, which is a good thing. Yes he dealt Molina to Chi-town, but the jury is still out on what kind of impact he’ll make. AA avoided overpaying for Wilson, Fielder, Pujols, Beltran, Papelbon, etc., and he hung on to the jewels of his farm system instead of pooling them together for a Matt Garza, Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos, or Carlos Quentin.
Verdict: Huge win. If the price to be in contention for a World Series in 2012 was to have no chance at winning from 2014 – 2018, then I’d rather not. Raiding the minors and overcommitting financial resources to top free agents is an untenable strategy – just ask the New York Mets.
By my count, that is one hell of an offseason for our GM.
Hats off to Mr. Anthopoulos.