The Toronto Blue Jays made their first major signing of the offseason this past week when they signed catcher Dioner Navarro to a two year, $8 million contract. The move essentially made last year’s catcher, J.P. Arencibia, expendable and they quickly allowed him to become a free agent.
After a 2013 season well below expectations, many expect general manager Alex Anthopoulos to shake up the team heading into the new season. Fans have already watched hitting coach Chad Mottola, first base coach Dwayne Murphy, starting pitcher Josh Johnson and now Arencibia leave the team; now they are waiting for the player upgrades that they expect.
It would appear that Anthopoulos is happy with his outfield. Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Anthony Gose will be the group that the Blue Jays trust heading into 2014. When Cabrera inevitably gets injured, Gose is a suitable replacement, while Kevin Pillar and Moises Sierra can be promoted at a moment's notice.
The left side of the infield is one of the best in baseball if both Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes can stay healthy—something neither was able to do last season. First base and designated hitter will be a platoon of Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind, which was a combination that worked well for the Blue Jays last year. Without a setback from either player, those positions are taken care of.
With the catcher position recently solved, that leaves two holes in the Blue Jays lineup that they need to look into upgrading: second base and starting pitcher. Both of these positions will more than likely be filled before the season starts and there is no better place to get moving on a player acquisition than the MLB winter meetings.
Anthopoulos is no stranger to the winter meetings. It is where he traded Roy Halladay and where he pulled off last season’s blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins that completely changed the nature of the franchise.
The Blue Jays' top priority needs to be acquiring one, maybe two, starting pitchers. Their current rotation is composed of three MLB-quality pitchers: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow. In addition to those three, a long list of mediocre talent is fighting for the last two spots, including Esmil Rogers, J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, Todd Redmond and Ricky Romero. In order to compete in the AL East, the rotation needs to improve.
Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago has already reported that the Blue Jays have put together a package for Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. However, acquiring a pitcher of this caliber would likely cost the Blue Jays a substantial package that most likely includes Anthony Gose.
The Blue Jays have also been rumored to be interested in acquiring Oakland Athletics left-handed starting pitcher Brett Anderson. The price for Anderson would likely be a little cheaper for the oft-injured Anderson than Samardzija. One of the reasons that Anthopoulos may be “infatuated” with Anderson, as Susan Slusser reported, is because Anderson has one guaranteed year left on his contract with a team option in 2015. Having club control is something Anthopoulos has coveted in a contract.
Whether or not he Blue Jays will be willing to part with some of their already depleted farm system in order to acquire pitching remains to be seen. If not, there are a number of free-agent pitchers they may offer a contract to. However, if Anthopoulos is going to try to pull off a trade at the winter meetings, Samardzija and Anderson may be on his radar.
In my opinion, whereas upgrading the Blue Jays starting pitching is a necessity, an upgrade at second base would be a luxury. The current combination of Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis will be able to handle the position in 2014. Goins and Izturis will not be elite second basemen, but they will more than likely be serviceable.
If Anthopoulos is looking to upgrade at second base, there are a few names via free agency he may go after, including Omar Infante and Mark Ellis, but at the winter meetings he may have another player on his mind.
It has been widely rumored that Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is available via trade, but the 32-year-old is signed to a lucrative contract that guarantees him $50 million over the next four years. He hit .261/.310/.396 last year, which was his worst offensive output in a Reds’ uniform, and all indications are that his age is catching up with him.
Of course, there exists the possibility that last season was an anomaly. Even a poor season by Phillips’ standards would likely be an upgrade at the position for the Blue Jays, which is why he is an intriguing possibility. Jim Bowden at ESPN has even gone as far as to create a mock proposal between the Blue Jays and Reds. His proposal is that the Blue Jays acquire Phillips in exchange for Brett Cecil, Ryan Goins, Matt Dean and Anthony Gose. I’m not sure the Reds would accept such a proposal, but furthermore I am not sold on Brandon Phillips.
His offensive numbers are declining with every passing season, and a massive contract until he is 36 years old is very discouraging. While Goins is a respectable defender, Phillips has been known for his glove. He has four Gold Gloves to his name, but a quick analysis of his defensive statistics may shed some light on the situation. Last year, in a season where he won a Gold Glove, he had a below-average range factor per game and per nine innings, while he recorded a fielding percentage just .003 points above the league average. As players age, defense is one of the first things to deteriorate and if this is any indication, Phillips is past his prime.
If Alex Anthopoulos is looking to invest $50 million in an aging second baseman while giving up a portion of their farm system, outfield and bullpen, then this is their guy. If they are looking to acquire similar statistics for far less and use the money saved to get better pitching (choose this option, Alex!), then they might be better off not making this move at the winter meetings. This time, the move the Blue Jays must make is not getting caught up in the Brandon Phillips hype.
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