Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has a lot of work to do once again this offseason. In his first winter with the Blue Jays; he increased scouting staff, signed some important free agents and traded away Roy Halladay. This winter, his first task is to find a new manager since Cito Gaston is retiring, but then once again he will be focusing on his players.
Anthopoulos mentioned two areas of improvement that will be his primary focus, the bullpen and the batters on-base percentage. Since Lyle Overbay and John Buck are becoming free agents, their positions will need to be filled either internally or through acquisition.
There are also the unstable positions of third base and the outfield. Vernon Wells and likely Travis Snider will be filling two outfield spots, and then there are the options of Jose Bautista and Fred Lewis. For third base, you have Edwin Encarnacion or also the potential to slot Bautista there. Bautista's .378 OBP is a definite improvement over Encarnacion's .305 OBP, and in the outfield, Lewis' .332 rating was the 3rd best on the team.
For the bullpen, if Scott Downs and Jason Frasor end up leaving, they loose two of their most experienced and reliable options. The Blue Jays have plenty of arms who could possibly step into the bullpen to fill some roles, but as they seem to prefer having veteran options, they might have to scan the free agent market.
Here are some possible options that they Jays could turn to make their ball club better.
Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo led his team in almost all offensive categories in 2010.
In the October 13th edition of ESPN's Rumor Central, it asked the question whether Sin-Shoo Choo might want out of Cleveland after several losing seasons in a row.
If this is the actual case, the Blue Jays should see what kind of offer they could present to Cleveland because Choo is exactly the type of player the Jays offence could use.
Choo led his team in nearly every offensive category, but most important to the Jays were his .401 OBP, his .300 AVG and his 22 steals. If Choo had been on the Jays this past year, he would have led them in all three of those categories as well. His OBP has been .394 and higher for the past three seasons, and at twenty-eight years old, he still is a player in his prime.
Choo is entering his first year of arbitration, and could be deserving of a significant raise on his $461,000 salary from 2010. Cleveland has been cutting costs for several years now and may not be willing to pay their star player's salary, especially with Scott Boras being his agent.
If the Blue Jays were able to acquire Choo, that would create an outfield of Vernon Wells, Travis Snider and Choo, a rather impressive combination when they are at their best. This would free up Jose Bautista to bring his power bat to third base primarily.
Pitching for Tampa Bay for the past four seasons has allowed Grant Balfour to have plenty of experience pitching in the Jays' division.
Grant Balfour has pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays for the past four years, which means he has faced the Yankees and Red Sox plenty of times. That kind of experience against two of the Blue Jays primary opponents and coming from the third would provide the Jays with an experienced arm to put into the bullpen.
Balfour's strikeout to walk ratio is quite impressive and he has kept his opponent's batting average to .235 or lower.
If both Jason Frasor and Scott Downs leave during free agency, then the Jays will need an experienced arm to fill in for them. Balfour would likely fit best in Frasor's role, supplying a veteran arm in the later innings.
If Downs could be kept, he could continue his very strong play in the set-up role, with Gregg still to close unless a more viable option is found.
Pablo Sandoval has struggled in the 2010 season, and has only played two games in the postseason so far.
Alex Anthopoulos has already proven that he has quite the talent for making trades, especially ones where the player they get has been struggling with their current team.
Pablo Sandoval is certainly struggling this year. After a breakout year in 2009 where he hit .330, had a .943 OPS (On-base plus slugging), knocked in 90 runs and had 25 home runs he finished 2010 with a .268 AVG and was more than 200 points lower in his OPS.
His struggles have continued in the postseason, where his .167 average has only allowed him playing time in two games so far for the San Francisco Giants.
So after all this, admittedly the Jays chances of acquiring Sandoval are pretty slim. Yes, he is out of favour with management right now and has struggled to build on last year's success, but being only 24 years old still, he is still young and has huge potential for improvement.
Anthopoulos managed to pry Brandon Morrow away from Seattle and Yunel Escobar away from Atlanta, who were both struggling with their respective clubs, but neither of them showed the kind of season Sandoval already has.
If the Jays managed to work their managerial magic once again, Sandoval could fit in for the departing Lyle Overbay at first base, or also play third base if Adam Lind takes over first.
Adam Lind remains an option for first base and could have a bounce back year with the Blue Jays in 2011.
So it might be a bit of stretch to obtain Shin-Soo Choo or Pablo Sandoval this winter, let alone both of them. Grant Balfour is a possibility but there is a good chance he will want to stay with the Rays.
What do the Jays do if none of the available free agents are actually much of an upgrade, or actually a downgrade and the trade options just aren't there?
Well, that is when you start using internal options, and the Jays have some good ones.
Adam Lind could still be used for first base in 2011. He didn't have a lot of starts this past year, but with some work on his defense and a bounce back year at the plate. he could be the Jays first baseman of the future.
John Buck will likely be leaving as a free agent, so losing his potent bat will hurt, but the Jays have a Triple-A MVP waiting for his chance. J.P. Arencibia struggled at the big league level with his defense and game calling, but if the Jays retain Jose Molina as a mentor he could progress very quickly with some playing time.
Arencibia doesn't have much more to prove at Triple-A, at least with his bat, so if the Jays are committed to building a contender they have to give their youth the playing time to develop.
Finally, one thing the Jays certainly aren't lacking are young arms eager for their chance to show what they can do with more playing time or an expanded role. David Purcey, Josh Roenicke, Jesse Carlson and Marc Rzepcynski are all viable options to be a part of the bullpen, with Shawn Camp and Kevin Gregg providing veteran leadership.
One thing is for sure is that it is going to be another interesting offseason for the Blue Jays, with the team once again trying to make that push to get back into the playoffs.