The Toronto Blue Jays pulled off a shocker of a trade today when they dealt away long time Blue Jay and severely overpaid center fielder Vernon Wells to Anaheim for catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and right fielder Juan Rivera.
Wells had four years and $86 million remaining on his contract, and while we are not yet aware of the exact amount of that the Jays are eating, it is being reported that it will be approximately $5 million.
Thus they are left with increased salary flexibility going into 2012, an additional $20 million when they are expected to make an aggressive attempt at contending.
As of today, the Jays are committed to only $16 million in 2012. This trade will not only allow them the opportunity to sign Jose Bautista to a mutually beneficial multi-year deal, but it also allows the Jays to acquire a couple of elite players going into 2012 and make a push to contend with the big boys.
It is widely expected that Major League Baseball will add one playoff team per league in 2012, the perfect time for the Jays to go hard after the prize.
Alex Anthopoulos has done it again, that is, he's made another move that his predecesor J.P. Ricciardi would not have been able to complete. Blue Jays fans, it's time to get excited again as Paul Beeston appears to be, dare I say, helping to mould the next Pat Gillick out of his very own clay.
Here's a look at what the Jays roster could potentially look like in 2012, when they are poised to make a push for a title.
J.P. Arencibia will likely be the man behind the backstop in 2012.
If Carlos Perez and/or Travis D'arnaud take big leaps forward, then perhaps the Jays keep a veteran like Molina in the fold in 2012 and move Arencibia to 1B or even possibly look to deal him
Any way you look at it, Anthopoulos has left himself in a very nice position at catcher heading into 2012.
Possible free agent catchers for 2012:
Jason Kendall KC
Yadier Molina STL
Dioner Navarro LAD
Jorge Posada NYY
Ivan Rodriguez WAS
Brian Schneider PHI
Kelly Shoppach TB
Chris Snyder PIT
Prince Fielder - Potential Free Agent In 2012
Going into 2011 it looks like the Jays are set on giving Adam Lind the bulk of games at first base. He will be given the opportunity to show the Jays that he can indeed be a solid fielding first baseman.
The trade for Mike Napoli is really only a one-year commitment at this point and the same goes for Edwin Encarnacion, as he is not signed beyond 2011.
Should the Jays decide that Lind isn't their first baseman of the future, they could move him to DH and go after one of the potentially top free agents on the market for 2012 in Prince Fielder, whose father played for the Jays over 20 years ago.
Regardless of what happens with Lind this year, the Jays should be in good position when it comes to the first base portion of their corner infield in 2012.
Potential free-agent first basemen for 2012:
Prince Fielder MIL
Ross Gload PHI
Adrian Gonzalez BOS
Albert Pujols STL
Jays prospect Brett Lawrie
The Jays are going to be in an interesting position in regards to second base coming into the 2012 season.
The Jays have a club option on Aaron Hill's contract, and based on the solid work he's put in for the Jays over the course of his early career, it seems prudent that the Jays would pick up Hill's option.
One popular line of thought is that the Blue Jays plan on shifting Aaron Hill back to third base so that they could slide stud prospect Brett Lawrie in at second base.
There has also been some talk that the opposite may occur and that Hill may in fact remain at second base while Lawrie shifts over to third.
The Jays have so many options at second base that a scenario could even present itself that sees Adeiny Hechavarria take over at shortstop, with Yunel Escobar moving to second, Aaron Hill moving to third base and Brett Lawrie taking up residence in right field.
It appears the Jays will have little to worry about when it comes to the second base position in 2012
Potential free agent second basemen in 2012:
Clint Barmes HOU
Robinson Cano NYY
Jamey Carroll LAD
Luis Castillo NYM
Aaron Hill TOR
Kelly Johnson ARZ
Brandon Phillips CIN
Freddy Sanchez SF
Rickie Weeks MIL
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, the Jays definitely have some options and some serious potential at shortstop. Yunel Escobar will be heading to his arbitration year, with a chance to take the job at short and run with it.
Another option could be Cuban youngster Adeiny Hechavarria, who will be 23 years old when the 2012 season starts. He has tremendous raw skills, but he's still just that: raw.
The Jays have some good options at shortstop, and if I were a betting man I'd put money on one of these two becoming a fixture at shortstop for years to come.
Though they have money to spend, the Jays may want to take a stab at All-Star Jose Reyes, who is slated to become a free agent after the 2011 season.
Potential free agent shortstops in 2012:
Yuniesky Betancourt MIL
Rafael Furcal LAD
J.J. Hardy BAL
John McDonald TOR
Augie Ojeda ARZ
Jose Reyes NYM
Ramon Santiago DET
Marco Scutaro BOS
Jack Wilson SEA
Due to the interchangeability between many of the Jays infielders, as well as the ability of right fielder Jose Bautista to also play third base, the Jays are stacked with solid options at the hot corner.
Even though you will likely see a lot of Bautista at third base this year, I believe the plan is to sign him long term as a RF to use his rocket of an arm.
You will likely see either Hill or Lawrie at third base while the other patrols second. Again, the Jays appear to be fully stocked in valuable third-base options.
I also wouldn't put it past Anthopoulos to trade either Lawrie or Hill.
Potential free agent third basemen in 2012:
Casey Blake LAD
Mark DeRosa SF
Greg Dobbs PHI
Aramis Ramirez CHC
Jose Bautista and Travis Snider
In addition to freeing up some valuable budget space to lock up Jose Bautista long term, the Vernon Wells trade has cleared out a necessary body in the Jays crowded outfield, and put some clarity into the situation heading into 2011 and beyond.
Though you will likely see Bautista patrolling third base in 2011, it appears that he will be a lock in right field in 2012 and for years to come.
Travis Snider is the left fielder going forward and Rajai Davis will play center field, as he is locked up through the 2012 season.
One intriguing outfield possibility looms large for 2012. That player is Grady Sizemore, and he will be a free agent after the 2011 season.
He is coming off microfracture surgery on his knee and this year will be one in which he attempts to make his way back to the player who only two short years ago was considered to be one of the top young outfielders in baseball.
The Jays will be ready to go all out in contender mode for 2012 and they will have the budget to acquire an elite-level talent like Sizemore.
Moving Rajai Davis to the fourth outfielder role would provide the Jays with the type of depth and skill in their outfield that they haven't seen since the days of Bell, Moseby and Barfield.
I'm just sayin' is all...
Potential free agent outfielders in 2012:
Bobby Abreu LAA
Jose Bautista TOR
Carlos Beltran NYM
Milton Bradley SEA
Mike Cameron BOS
Ronny Cedeno PIT
Michael Cuddyer MIN
Jack Cust SEA
David DeJesus OAK
J.D. Drew BOS
Jeff Francoeur KC
Jonny Gomes CIN
Gabe Gross OAK
Carlos Guillen DET
Corey Hart MIL
Raul Ibanez PHI
Conor Jackson ARZ
Jason Kubel MIN
Ryan Ludwick SD
Nate McLouth ATL
Juan Pierre CWS
Juan Rivera LAA
Cody Ross SF
Grady Sizemore CLE
Nick Swisher NYY
Josh Willingham WAS
The future of the Jays starting rotation was thrown a nasty curveball when Shaun Marcum was dealt away in the Brett Lawrie deal. That being said, the Jays were dealing from a position of strength.
The Jays currently project to have a young and talented starting rotation when they take the field over a year from now. With Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and top prospect Kyle Drabek, the Jays have the potential to have a great rotation for many years to come.
Filling the fifth spot in the rotation could very well come from internal help, as Mark Rzepczynski, Zack Stewart, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond or even Deck McGuire could step into that role by 2012.
This rotation may lack a true ace, but Romero, Morrow, Cecil and Drabek all appear to be guys who are capable of putting up 16-win seasons on a regular basis. If one of the other guys pans out, the Jays will be laughing all the way to the playoffs.
Potential free agent starting pitchers in 2012:
Mark Buehrle CWS
Chris Carpenter STL
Aaron Cook COL
Kyle Davies KC
Zach Duke ARI
Edwin Jackson CWS
Scott Kazmir LAA
Paul Maholm PIT
Jason Marquis WAS
Scott Olsen PIT
Roy Oswalt PHI
Oliver Perez NYM
Joel Pineiro LAA
Wandy Rodriguez HOU
Brian Tallet STL
Tim Wakefield BOS
C.J. Wilson TEX
Relief pitching, and particularly a closer is the position where I foresee the greatest opportunity for the Jays going into 2012.
While teams tripped all over themselves to signing closers this offseason, the Jays sat back and signed a few on the lower end of the pay scale in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch.
The Jays are not married to either of them, and given the number of premium closers that should come available on the free agent market after the 2011 season, the Jays are primed and ready to land their next Tom Henke or Duane Ward.
The guy I would be putting up big money to would be Heath Bell. Plain and simple, the man is an absolute horse on the mound, who intimidates and flat out gets the job done.
The Padres have already shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, so many feel that Heath Bell won't be far behind. The Jays have both the need and the available budget to pay Bell handsomely, and I know that Anthopoulos would recognize the opportunity and pounce on it.
There are other good options if Bell doesn't work out, such as Jonathan Papelbon, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Nathan, Francisco Cordero and even Matt Capps.
If the Jays do nothing else, they should be able to acquire an elite closer at a reasonable price. Not a cheap price, but a reasonable one.
Potential free agent relief pitchers in 2012:
Danys Baez PHI
Matt Belisle COL
Heath Bell SD
Rafael Betancourt COL
Jonathan Broxton LAD
Tim Byrdak HOU
Shawn Camp TOR
Matt Capps MIN
Todd Coffey MIL
Clay Condrey MIN
Francisco Cordero CIN
Lance Cormier TB
Ryan Franklin STL
Mike Gonzalez BAL
John Grabow CHC
LaTroy Hawkins MIL
Brad Lidge PHI
Scott Linebrink ATL
Javier Lopez SF
Ryan Madson PHI
Damaso Marte NYY
Sergio Mitre NYY
Joe Nathan MIN
Jonathan Papelbon BOS
Chris Ray TEX
Francisco Rodriguez NYM
George Sherrill ATL
Carlos Silva CHC
Jose Valverde DET
Tyler Walker WAS
Michael Wuertz OAK
Joel Zumaya DET