Needless to say, the 2013 season was a major disappointment for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. The team finished 74-88 and last in the American League East. After making a number of offseason moves last year to improve their roster, the team struggled consistently from April to September and found themselves falling well-short of a postseason berth.
Now the conversation turns to how the Blue Jays can improve for the 2014 season. If anything, the 2013 season exposed some crucial flaws in the make up of the team. Last year, general manager Alex Anthopoulos utilized the trade market to alter his team, but he has not closed the door on potentially going after free agents this year.
Here are a few weaknesses that I believe the Blue Jays need to address before heading into next season. For each weakness I have provided a player who may be available via trade to fill the void. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
Ryan Doumit at-bat against the Blue Jays in 2013.
Whether or not J.P. Arencibia should be the Blue Jays starting catcher in 2014 is a highly contested battle amongst fans. Arencibia, like many Blue Jays, performed below expectations in 2013 and the argument from his doubters is often that he is simply not good enough to lead a major league club.
Arencibia hit .194/.227/.365 in 138 games for the Blue Jays last season. He was replaced every fifth day when knuckleballer R.A. Dickey took the mound, and found himself unable to get into a groove all season.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has said that he doesn’t think Arencibia will return in a back up role. So if he is on the team in 2014, he will start. But the question is: Will he be on the team?
If he is not, who will find themselves behind the plate for the Blue Jays? To begin with, let’s start within the organization where A.J. Jimenez has been on a fast-track to the major leagues since returning from injury last year. He started the year in Single-A and was promoted all the way to Triple-A before the year was done. Look for him to make his MLB debut in either 2014 or 2015.
Elsewhere, the catchers market is quickly drying up. Carlos Ruiz just signed a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, but one possible acquisition may be Minnesota Twins catcher Ryan Doumit. The 34-year-old catcher has one year left on his contract worth $3.5 million and hit .247/.314/.396. Doumit brings a bit of flexibility to the table as he has experience playing first base, catcher, and both of the corner outfield positions.
An intriguing name that has been surfacing in the free agent market is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. At 28-years-old, Saltalamacchia represents a considerable upgrade from Arencibia and a long term acquisition that wouldn’t cost the organization any personnel. His expected contract would be somewhere between three to four years and in the $25-40 million dollar range. If the Blue Jays are able to sign him, it will almost certainly make Arencibia expendable.
It is without question that the Blue Jays need to improve their starting rotation in order to be competitive in 2014. After refusing to make a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson and watching him sign with the San Diego Padres, the Blue Jays have a gap in their rotation that they need to fill.
The starting pitcher’s position was fairly thin within the organization last season, but with Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek on the mend from various surgeries, the option exists for Anthopoulos to fill that spot internally. However, a more likely scenario is that the Blue Jays try and land a pitcher via trade to round out their rotation and continue to develop their young talent as long as possible.
There a few free agents that would appear to be good fits in Toronto include ex-Blue Jay Shaun Marcum and Canadian Jeff Francis. Both would likely be signed to short term deals in order to be the fifth starter. 30-year-old Ervin Santana is also a free agent who will also garner a lot of interest this offseason. He is a high-risk high-reward player and will likely be looking for a multi-year contract. However, Santana is highly durable and is able to log an impressive number of innings—two things the Blue Jays desperately needed in a season marred by injuries and early exits from their pitchers. The price on Santana would not be cheap, but if the Blue Jays believe he can find the form that allowed him to pitch 222.2 innings and win 17 games in 2010, then he may be worth the investment.
The trade market is a little bit more clouded, especially this early in the offseason. One player that the Blue Jays, as well as a number of other teams, have been linked to is Jeff Samardzija. The Chicago Cubs have been in talks with a number of teams about the possibility of trading away their 28-year-old starting pitcher. Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com reports that the Blue Jays have already put together a package in hopes of acquiring him, but nothing has been confirmed.
Before I even begin, I want to make it clear that I do not think the Blue Jays will throw their name in the ring for Robinson Cano. He is too expensive, too old and the Blue Jays have too much salary already committed to spend the rest of their money on one player. Although it is nice to dream about Jose Reyes and Cano manning the middle infield for the Blue Jays, it probably will not happen.
The option still exists that the Blue Jays may decide to roll the dice with Ryan Goins. Goins joined the Blue Jays late last year and was impressive in his 34 games. But just for the sake of staying on top of things, let’s check out what the second base market is like.
Free agency may not be the best bet for the Blue Jays if they are looking for an everyday second baseman. The youngest of free agents is 29-year-old Alexi Casilla, and save for Robinson Cano the Blue Jays may be better off with Goins and Maicer Izturis in 2014. However, if the Blue Jays are looking to add some positional depth and a veteran presence to mentor Goins, they may want to look at a player like Omar Infante. At 31 years old, Infante can still contribute to a team, as evidenced by his .318 average in 118 games last season. If signed, Infante would likely become the starting second baseman, but would likely share the starting duties with Goins or Izturis and would cost the Blue Jays around $4 million a season.
My guess is that it is unlikely that the Blue Jays will pull the trigger on a big name player to play second base. Last year, fans were calling for an upgrade at the position with someone like Chase Utley on their radar. However Utley was signed to a long-term deal riddled with clauses related to plate appearance, disabled list stints specific to his knee and vesting options. It would appear Utley will stay with the Philadelphia Phillies for the time being.
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