Toronto Blue Jays Add Potential Closer at the Expense of Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli was a member of the Blue Jays just long enough for most of the team's writers and fans to get familiar with his capabilities and salary situation and come to a conclusion as to where he would fit in with the club. Napoli seemed to fit as the team's primary DH, which caused a chain effect with the rest of the position players.
All that needs to be revisited now though as Napoli has already been spun to the Texas Rangers for reliever, and potential closer, Frank Francisco. He is the latest new arm to a bullpen that will be stocked with new faces come Opening Day. The Jays have already added Carlos Villanueva, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero this offseason and figure to welcome back Jason Frasor and David Purcey as well. Francisco is the fifth arm added and he also figures to be the best of the bunch as well.
Francisco has been about as consistent as you could reasonably expect from a relief pitcher over the last four seasons. He's made no less 51 appearances in any of those four seasons and has been particularly effective the last three seasons. Since 2008 he's struck out at least 10.25 batters per nine innings and has put FIPs of 3.18, 3.34 and 3.12 in those three seasons.
After struggling with walks early in his career he's only given up 2.74 and 3.08 free passes per nine innings the last two years. The end result has seen his ERA range from 3.13 to 3.83 to 3.76 the last three years. He also brings along the reputation of being someone who can handle closing duties (always up for debate is how overrated that sort of thing is) having saved 25 games in 29 chances back in 2009.
Francisco also figures to be cheaper than Napoli by a couple million dollars or so. Although, that's not a big deal when you figure Napoli was part of a deal that saved the Jays $70 million in future payroll obligations and the simple fact that Napoli projected to provide more value than Francisco, thus justifying the increased cost of employment.
Alex Anthopoulos did address the Jays' seeming abundance of relief help added this offseason by stating that he wants a deep and veteran bullpen to help ease the burden on the young starting rotation. Indeed, the Jays rotation as currently constituted won't send anyone to the mound over the age of 26. It's tough to argue with that logic but it's also tough not to wonder if the bullpen really needed another arm and if the team would've been better off keeping Napoli.
The loss of Napoli also changes the outlook of the Jays lineup and roster construction. Just two days ago he looked to be the primary option at DH with Adam Lind at first and either Jose Bautista at third and Juan Rivera in left or Bautista in right and Edwin Encarnacion at third.
That's still probably the case and Bautista is probably slightly better off in right than third. But now if Encarnacion is going to play third they have a hole at DH. The only good thing about a hole at DH is that finding a DH is easier than finding a third baseman to push Encarnacion back to DH where he'd probably be better off in a perfect world because his defense is lacking.
Again, as mentioned here, the Jays might be dead set on keeping Encarnacion away from playing third. If that is the case, barring another trade, their only option at third is Bautista. This would allow the Jays to see what Encarnacion can do with the bat while keeping him away from what he clearly cannot do, play something resembling average defense. And finding a corner outfielder isn't as easy as finding a DH but it's still easier than landing a third baseman in late January/early February.
The Jays' options for another outfielder were covered a few days ago here, but now that they suddenly might need a DH let's take a look at some of the remaining free-agent options. The biggest name left on the market, at any position, is Vlad Guerrero who spent last season with the Texas Rangers. Vlad enjoyed a nice bounce-back season with the Rangers hitting .300 with a 5.4 percent walk rate, .196 isolated power and 29 homers in 643 plate appearances. By keeping him off the field he was healthy enough to play in 152 games, his highest total since 2006.
He, unlike Napoli or even Encarnacion, would be strictly a DH at this point in his career. He'll also be 36 but he's been a very consistent hitter and his production last year showed that he can't be written off just yet as a productive hitter. Vlad has never hit below .295 going all the way back to 1997 and has had an ISO lower than 2010's .196 just once in that same time. But there's always a first, or second, time for everything and if his average and power slip he doesn't offer much else to provide value. He hasn't walked much the last two seasons posting on-base percentages of .334 and .345 despite being, basically, a .300 hitter the last two years.
The Jays could also use their low risk, high reward approach to bullpen building and take a flyer on Hank Blalock. He was last seen in 2010 getting just 69 trips to the plate for the Tampa Bay Rays and putting together a .297 wOBA. That's nothing to get excited about but from 2007-2009 in just over 1,000 plate appearances he had a .230 ISO and 47 homers to go with a .262 batting average and a .313 OBP. It's been a while since Blalock was both productive and playing every day but with a low financial commitment he'd be worth a look.
The bottom line is that the loss of Napoli for Francisco stings, but if Napoli was primarily going to DH and give up time at first to Adam Lind and time at catcher to J.P. Arencibia, then replacing him won't be all that hard. They could commit some money to Vlad or go bargain shopping for Blalock or even Willy Aybar for that matter. The decision on Bautista's spot in the field still dictates how they round out the roster but there are still options at both DH and the outfield worth exploring.
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