Now that the Jays have hired John Farrell as their 12th manager in franchise history, the team can now begin looking into their offseason plans as they look to continue rebuilding in 2011.
The team was fortunate to come away with 85 wins last season, surprising just about everyone. They also surprised everyone by leading the league in homers. Fortunately, most of their core is locked up, such as LHP Ricky Romero, DH Adam Lind and 2B Aaron Hill. They also have a number of players under control who have yet to amass six seasons of big league experience, such as RHP Shaun Marcum, RHP Brandon Morrow, SS Yunel Escobar and RHP Jesse Litsch.
That said, this team is full of question marks. This can be broken down into three categories: the Bautista decision, the bullpen bind, their corner-infield predicament.
News flash: OF Jose Bautista has some pop. His 2010 breakout season was foretold by no one, but the 30-year-old’s future in Toronto is very much in the air. At the moment, it appears as though the Jays would like to work out a three- or four-year deal with the third baseman/right fielder stay in Toronto with a reasonable salary. Bautista, however, could take a 1-year deal or go through arbitration to see if he can get a bigger payday. Based on his numbers, Bautista would see somewhere around $6.5-7.5M from the arbitrator.
The potential contract offer will come down to whether both sides can agree on a number in both years and term that will land Bautista less than a 54-home run guy would normally be worth, but a lot more than a 17 home run-a-year player will make. If neither side is lenient, Bautista is as good as gone.
In all liklihood, Bautista will open the 2011 season with a Jays uniform. Where he plays is yet to be determined, as he’ll likely have to wait to see what GM Alex Anthopoulos does in the free agent market, if anything.
My question is this: is Bautista a fluke? There’s no question that he won’t come close to 54 homers again (my prediction is 25), but will there be a regression like there was for Hill and Lind? Both players still put up good homerun numbers, but that, as well as all their other stats, slipped significantly. Are Hill and Lind for real? Can they bounce back in 2011? Can we expect Bautista to have a similar slip statistically?
Current 1B Lyle Overbay, 33, is a free agent coming off a disappointing season. Toronto is currently thin at first basemen, but all signs point to Lind, who played 11 games at first base, taking over the position. Luckily, their options are not limited, as the 2010 free agent pool is especially generous this year. Big names like Lance Berkman, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Carlos Pena, Aubrey Huff, Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee are all set to test the market. The Jays certainly won’t sign any of these players to a long-term deal, but some may accept a short-term deal to get see if they can bounce back statistically in the hopes of signing a bigger contract the following season.
Across the diamond, 3B Edwin Encarnacion sits at third base. The Jays hold arbitration rights over him, but the club could elect to walk away from the soon-to-be 28 year old, despite hitting 21 homers. Encarnacion is poor defensively, and it’s unclear if the club would be willing to pay him over $4M in arbitration, especially since they sent him down to Triple-A twice last season.
Letting Edwin walk, though, means that Bautista is stuck at third, whereas his value is higher in right field because of how strong his defensive play and throwing power/accuracy is. If they choose to keep Bautista, their best option is to try and groom a new third baseman, such as Brad Emaus. On the market, the free agent third basemen are headlined by Adrian Beltre, but aside from him and maybe Mark DeRosa, the pool is shallow.
Toronto’s three major relievers from last season – LHP Scott Downs, RHP Jason Frasor and RHP Kevin Gregg – all enter 2011 with doubt.
According to Cot’s contracts un-official Elias Rankings, both Downs and Frasor will be ‘Type-A’ free agents, meaning that teams that sign them would forfeit their first-round draft pick to Toronto, and the Jays would get a sandwich pick between the first- and second-round in the draft from MLB. Gregg projects to be a ‘Type-B’ player, meaning that the Jays would only receive the sandwich pick.
Both Downs and Frasor will need to be offered arbitration for the compensation to be awarded, so it’s almost a guarantee that this will occur. Whether they accept it, however, is an issue on its own – they can either accept the one-year deal with the Jays or walk away and test the free agent waters.
Of the two, Downs is almost guaranteed to decline arbitration to become a free agent. His value is currently sky-high: a lefty reliever who can pitch equally well to lefty and righty bats, and also has the ability to save games is something that’s highly sought after. Few teams forfeit draft picks for a late-inning reliever, but many teams are currently just a solid bullpen arm away from becoming serious World Series contenders – namely, the Yankees and Red Sox. Downs will almost assuredly receive an offer from both clubs, as well as from about half the league as well.
Frasor, however, isn’t in the same boat. He’s coming off a below-average season and lost his job as the team’s closer early in the year. At the moment, his interest on the open market is unclear, and you can expect fewer teams to come calling if they’re forced to lose a draft pick to sign him. Because of this, Frasor is likely in Toronto for at least one more season.
Finally, we get to Gregg, in which the Jays have two options as to which route they can take – they can sign him for $4.5M for 2011 or lock him up for 2011 and 2012 which would cost the club $8.75M over the two seasons. Gregg saved 37 games last season, but isn’t the prototypical ‘closer’ that most teams look for. His ‘stuff’ isn’t great and is nowhere comparable with other closers who are in or around 30 saves. Until the Jays either sign or develop a closer in waiting, it’s hard to imagine the club at least not picking up one of the options.
Downs would be the best option in terms of getting key outs. That said, he’s too important to simply limit to ninth-inning duties. He needs to be available in the fifth, sixth or seventh when the Jays need a double-play ball or to get a lefty bat out with two on and two out. I’d like to see others get chances – guys like RHP Shawn Camp or RHP Casey Janssen could be given tries, and if all else fails, they can always go with a closer-by-committee.
I don’t claim to know everything about baseball, but these are just some ideas, but I’d really take a serious look at OF Carl Crawford and OF Jayson Werth. Both guys add power, speed and defensive ability to the lineup, a deadly combination. Take a look at teams like the Rangers, Rays, etc.. They’re all fast teams. Not all their players are fast, but they can, and know how to, run well. If you can put pressure on the pitcher and make him lose concentration by worrying about you, you’re halfway there. Adding Werth or Crawford means more steals, and allows the Jays to be more aggressive on the basepaths since they now have faster options. Neither player would come with a terribly high price tag either.
Speaking of price tags…
Oh God. Yes, Manny-to-Toronto rumours have started. Again. Manny told ESPNdeportes.com on Monday night that he’d be interested in playing for Farrell in Toronto.
“John has tremendous knowledge of the game, a very pleasant man and he trains ballplayers. Toronto has made a great acquisition. Farrell is a manager for whom I would like to play, and Toronto is a team I’ve liked since they had all those Dominican players in the ’80s…I still have a lot of baseball left in me. I think that I can still bat if I keep myself healthy, and it is less probable to have an injury playing as the designated hitter.”
Well, he’s not wrong. Personally, I can’t stand Manny. He’s slow, he’s dim-witted, he’s annoying, he hogs the spotlight and is a clubhouse cancer. I’d rather have Werth or Crawford over Manny any day of the week. But at the right price, Manny in Toronto (*only* as the DH) would be another great power bat to add to the lineup. He did hit .298, but the 38-year old slugger had a down season with just nine home runs and 42 RBI in 265 ABs because of knee and groin issues, which are now resolved after he underwent successful hernia surgery. He’s expected to resume baseball activities in mid-November.
It makes sense, though. If Lind plays first, Bautista third and Snider in the OF, the team needs a new DH. It doesn’t make sense for Toronto to use a DH-by-committee whenever someone needs some time off – if there’s a power bat available at a good cost, go for it. The Twins had this with Jim Thome this year, and he worked wonders when Justin Morneau was lost for the season. Manny still has a season or two of solid offensive numbers left, so maybe Toronto should use them. Since he’s coming off a down-year and recently had surgery, now might be the perfect time to offer him a one-year incentive-laden/performance-based deal to get him to step it up. Plus, he consistently *kills* the ball at the Rogers Centre.
Will Anthopoulos do it? Unlikely. He’s building the team wisely – a young foundation with added veterans where needed. The Jays have arguably the best young staff in the majors, so their starting-five is reasonably solid and young. They’ll need to add some bullpen help and a big stopper for late-innings. I think 2011 is a tad optimistic for the Jays to be seriously competing in the AL East, but 2012 is more reasonable to think they’ll make a splash.
These are the three biggest issues for Toronto. They still need to figure out what’s happening with All-Star C John Buck, as well as finding a fifth starter in the rotation (Marcum, Romero, Morrow and Cecil). This winter should be one to keep an eye on for Jays fans, as it could be the final steps before slugging it out with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.