The Toronto Blue Jays concluded what many think was a successful season in 2011-12. Nobody was expecting a .500 record or better, but the Blue Jays managed to accomplish just that, a record of 81-81.
There were some definite highs, like the debuts of Henderson Alvarez, Brett Lawrie, the rookie season of JP Arencibia and the return of Dustin McGowan to the starting rotation.
Some definite lows hit the Jays this season, as well.
An American League-worst 25 blown saves, plus an unsuccessful season for starters Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and Kyle Drabek.
There was also some regressing by Travis Snider and Aaron Hill, who was eventually shipped to Arizona, where he discovered how to hit again.
GMs take the highs and lows in stride and learn and build from them. That's exactly what Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos intends to do, and already has done, in his short tenure with the ball club.
He's witnessed a team try their hand at free agency and fail, so he's decided to spend more money on a farm system.
That farm system has gone from a bottom five farm system in the majors to one of the top five in just a matter of a year or two.
The Jays right now are in a great position. Armed with a loaded farm system, an already developing young team, and some room on the team payroll to add big ticket players, the Jays should be on the fast track to bringing back playoff baseball to Toronto.
The Red Sox and Yankees are starting to age, and the Jays are starting to mature as players.
Last season, the Jays blew 25 save opportunities, and went down as the second worst save percentage team in the majors, ahead of only the lousy Houston Astros, who finished 56-106 for the 2011 season.
For the Jays, given their lack of experience and the division they play in, coming out with a .500 record was not only noteworthy but pretty impressive in hindsight.
But the Jays still have three glaring holes that need to be filled, or at least sealed for the time being.
The team still needs a second baseman, bullpen help, and of course a front-line veteran starter.
Here, I'll explain how they should fill those needs.
The Jays don't have many options here. The free agent market is pretty bare when it comes to free agent second basemen.
The most likely option is the Jays re-signing Kelly Johnson, but don't discount the return of Aaron Hill to the fold.
Even more of a long-shot, Adeiny Hechavarria making the Jays and the club shifting Yunel Escobar to second is a possibility.
The trade market could be another option for the Jays to fill the second base role.
An option here might be taking a chance on trading for Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts in a buy-low move.
Another option could be White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who really hasn't hit his stride yet in the Windy City and could use a change of scenery to re-energize his career.
One last option via the trade route could be Martin Prado of the Atlanta Braves.
Playing in left field, the second baseman is out of position as the Braves use Dan Uggla at second.
Potentially, the Jays could trade a player such as Travis Snider, Colby Rasmus, Anthony Gose, Eric Thames, and so on so to fill a larger gap at second rather than the outfield, where the Jays are stacked.
Frank Francisco ended the year on an incredible high, but the fact remains he'll likely sign elsewhere for a more lucrative deal.
If the Jays do bring back Francisco, he'll be brought back as the team's closer and not a setup guy. If the Jays shell out the cash to Francisco, it certainly won't be for a setup role.
Other than Francisco, the closer free agent pool is stocked pretty deep with quality arms up and down the list.
Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson and Joe Nathan are some other closers on the market.
A possible candidate for the closer role in Toronto could be Jonathan Broxton.
The powerful 6'4" 300-pound closer battled injuries and inconsistency throughout last season and could be a possible buy-low candidate.
Another buy-low option could be Joe Nathan, who struggled returning from injury during his 2011 campaign.
Broxton seems the more likely option as he's only 27, as opposed to 38, and still has some upside remaining, while Nathan is pretty much done.
An outside chance could be Jonathan Papelbon, as he enjoyed most of his success under the teaching of then-pitching coach and current Jays manager John Farrell.
Again, the Jays shelling out big cash to a closer might be too much to ask, but you never know—they could pull the trigger.
Hopefully this time, the Jays don't get B.J. Ryan-like results.
Other than Francisco leaving, departures may include Jon Rauch and Shawn Camp from a relatively ineffective bullpen. After the club dealt relievers Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepcynski and Jason Frasor, the bullpen was easily the weakest part of the Jays' attack.
The bullpen will likely be filled from within, but a few veteran arms could be added via free agency or trade.
There really isn't a lot out there, but the Jays could swing a deal or two to get a quality bullpen arm in place.
Front End Starter
The Jays' starting rotation was pretty inconsistent most of the season. A strong season from Ricky Romero aside, the Jays had one of the worst starting ERAs in the majors.
Terrible seasons from Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek, along with a roller coaster season from Brandon Morrow, didn't really give the Jays much of a chance for long-term success.
After the club traded Shaun Marcum to the Brewers for potential All-Star Brett Lawrie, the starting rotation took a definite hit both on the mound and in the clubhouse.
Marcum was the leader of the starters, often found between starts giving other starters advice and tips. He took his talents to Milwaukee, where they made the playoffs, eventually losing out to the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The pitching for Milwaukee was pretty strong for most of the year, but Marcum would be the one to struggle most in the playoffs. Go figure.
The free agent pile for starters is fairly deep with names like CJ Wilson, CC Sabathia, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, and even Brandon Webb being thrown around.
The biggest name, and most likely to win up in Toronto could be Japanese import Yu Darvish, who has absolutely dominated Nippon Professional Baseball and is looking to take his show to the next level.
The cost of negotiating with him and signing him, however, could be as high as $50 million, and the Jays could balk at that cost.
Darvish is likely to sign a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $75 million dollars. For a player of his talent, I say it's worth the risk.
Other than the free agent crop, some possible trade partners could be the Tampa Bay Rays as they already have a strong five-man rotation and could see Matt Moore enter the fold next season.
Could James Shields be getting a tad expensive for the Rays' tastes?
Anthopoulos has plenty of work to do. According to reports, he's working day and night to get prepared for free agency.
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