....Or at least that's how my perfect Toronto Blue Jays off-season headline would read.
Obviously I was trying to be somewhat realistic as the "absolute" perfect headline probably would include Teixeira, Sabathia and Manny as well. I was trying to think of the moves that are at least semi-realistic that the Jays could make this off-season that would give the Jays a real shot at contending next year.
Rafael Furcal may be the best fit of any available FA for the Jays because he basically kills two birds with one stone for the Jays. The Jays deficiencies at SS over the last 8 to 10 years are well chronicled, with the leadoff spot in not much better shape over the same period. Furcal (if healthy) would fill both of these roles perfectly. He is a plus defender who consistently ranks near the top of the league in Fielding Percentage, Range Factor and Zone Rating. He is a nice offensive player as well, and would be a huge upgrade over anything they have ran out there in recent years. His career OBP is over .350 which suits the leadoff spot well, he consistently steals 20+ bases a year, he is a legitimate threat to bunt for a single if the need arises, and provides enough pop to knock out 40-50 extra base hits a year. I believe it would change the entire dynamic of the Jays offense to have him leading off.
Ben Sheets would be a nice fit for the Jays because he isn't likely to draw quite as much attention in free agency as Sabathia, Burnett, or even Lowe, and therefore should come cheaper than any of those guys. I also think, that while he poses more of a risk than any of those guys, he has more upside than any FA pitcher outside of maybe Sabathia. So yes, it would be rolling the dice but I think those are the types of moves that teams like the Jays need to gamble on. There is also the outside chance that he might be looking for a 1 or 2 year deal to prove that he can stay healthy and then really cash in at that point. He would slide perfectly into the 2 hole behind Halladay, basically replacing the void left by Burnett's exit. Leaving us with a rotation that looks something like this by mid-season:
One of either Purcey, Janssen, Cecil, or R. Romero
While the loss of Burnett hurts, it's actually the loss of Marcum which could hurt the Jays more next year. I believe that the Jays had basically been planning on a life without Burnett for 2009 probably since they signed him and gave him that out clause. The Marcum injury however is more unexpected and would likely be the actual catalyst of the Jays signing any FA pitcher this off-season.
As far as the trade portion of the headline, I find it harder to speculate on the specific players you could acquire, but I will speculate as to whom I think the Jays should try to trade and the positions I believe they should target.
Rolen would be an obvious choice if you could find someone to take him, but I don't foresee that happening with his contract the way it is combined with his offensive production. He might just be a guy the Jays have to live with for this year and simply pray he improves his offensive production. His defense is still strong and with a good hitting club around him there would no longer be as much pressure on him to help carry the middle of the order, they could live with him as a 7 or 8 hitter provided his defense doesn't decline.
Based on the bullpens' production from this year, it is fairly safe to say they could afford to deal one of those arms. Of those guys, I would personally try and shop B.J.. Now that's not because I am worried about his production, as I believe he will bounce back next year and be a very good closer again, it's just that on a team that has to watch it's payroll and make the most efficient use of it's dollars, having a highly paid guy like B.J. on the staff when you clearly have other guys whom could fill the void nearly as well or potentially even better, then he has to be the guy you move. He might not bring quite as much back in return, but with the number of teams looking for pitching, the Jays should have no problem getting something fairly valuable in return.
There really isn't much else I would try to do trade wise, unless, the Jays are sold on trying to sign a DH. I personally have no problem going into next year with Snider and Lind holding down LF and DH. Some people are religiously against having youth DH, I don't get that, I don't believe that, but that is for another story. But, if the Jays are intent on signing someone such as a Giambi, Blalock (from what I have read the Rangers will not be picking up his player option), bringing Delgado back for a victory lap (if he isn't retained by the Mets which is entirely possible after the year he just had), then you could probably look at dealing Lind (as I personally would consider Snider nearly untouchable). I have no idea what Lind's market value would be, I have no sources, teams might not be interested at all, but the Jays could at least entertain the idea if they decide to sign a DH.
As for positions they should target in trades; Catcher and 3B. For the purposes of this article I am obviously assuming they sign Furcal and Sheets, otherwise you could probably add SS and SP to that list of needs.
Catcher is probably the weaker of the 2 needs as Barajas seemed to get stronger as the year went on, and really responded to Cito's presence. We also have Arencibia tearing up the minors and it is hard to say how much longer they will be able to temper his ascent if he continues to progress at his current pace. But for next year, they really could use a solid and experienced backup. I doubt you would be able to acquire a starting Catcher, as teams just don't seem to make them available unless they are fatally flawed in some way, so the Jays pretty much have to be content to have Barajas starting next year, adding a solid backup and hoping Arencibia is only a year away.
Third is also a little tricky, Rolen is clearly no longer a starting 3B offensively, but you are financially committed to him and he would probably become malcontent if he were simply a backup. What I would propose would be a platoon at 3B where he also could pickup a few AB's/starts at either DH or 1B. So there are 2 possible outcomes here, either trade for a middling 3B journeyman with more offense than Rolen, or if the right deal came along use your pieces and deal for your starting 3B of the future. You wouldn't be increasing your chances of winning next year with that move, but with a few valuable pieces you could probably move this year without dire consequence to the current roster, now might be your best opportunity to set yourself up for the future at 3B. Something like this; sign Blalock to DH/platoon at 3B with Rolen, install Snider in LF full time, and then deal B.J., Lind and/or a couple prospects for your 3B of the future.
So there is my wish list for the Blue Jays this off-season. If all of these things transpired, I would feel very good heading into the 2009 season as a Blue Jays fan.