What's Next for the Toronto Blue Jays? 5 Possible Options for the Jays
After what seemed like an eternity, it was revealed on Monday that the Texas Rangers had won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish.
The news was met by disappointment and anger amongst some Blue Jays fans in no small part due to the amount of rumours which had been circulating that Toronto had won the auction for Darvish's services.
How much Toronto bid and how serious Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto ownership were in signing Darvish remains unclear with conflicting reports on how much their final bid was.
One thing is certain though: Darvish is not coming to Toronto and no matter how angry some fans are about it, the fact is it is time to move on.
So what is Toronto's next move?
1. Sign a Pitcher Through Free Agency
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Darvish and C.J Wilson are no longer available, and there are not many starters on the free-agent market who are going to help the Blue Jays in the short or long term.
The best options of those who are left are Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt. Jackson had a strong 2011, posting a 3.79 ERA and an impressive xFIP which stood at 3.73, better than Ricky Romero.
Oswalt put up similarly good numbers to Jackson, recording an ERA of 3.69 with an xFIP of 3.95, though he did set a career low in WAR. What makes Oswalt potentially attractive to the Blue Jays is that he may be seeking a one-year deal.
Signing either of these two would improve the middle of the rotation dramatically but with such a limited pool of free agents, Anthopoulos may not be willing to match the kind of offers Jackson and Oswalt may get from other teams.
If the Blue Jays want to take a gamble, then Rich Harden is also available. However, Harden is a huge risk, with injuries limiting him to only one season in which he threw over 150 innings in his career.
2. Trade for a Starter
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Even before the Darvish sweepstakes had finished, Toronto was linked to a number of starting pitchers including Matt Garza, Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos. It maybe that Anthopoulos revisits the idea of trading for a number-two starter.
The problem with the weakness of the free-agency market is that it has put quality pitching at a premium and the Cincinnati Reds have set the market value very high by what they were willing to give up to acquire Latos.
Similarly, Billy Beane is asking a high price for Gonzalez, a player whose career ERA is .80 higher away from the pitcher-friendly Coliseum and whose career BB/9 stands at a hefty 4.44.
Garza is a much better option, having come off a very impressive season with the Cubs in which he put up a 3.32 ERA and 3.19 xFIP while setting a career high 5 WAR. However, with the Cubs in full rebuilding mode under Theo Epstein, the price for Garza might be too high.
This will be the case for any top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
3. Sign Prince Fielder
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The reaction of the Blue Jays fans to missing out on Darvish has been a mix of disappointment and anger, with some accusing the club of a lack of ambition. Fans have repeatedly called for Toronto’s very rich ownership to spend big this winter.
In terms of free-agency targets, they do not get any bigger than Prince Fielder.
The idea of Fielder in Toronto is an attractive one. Fielder batted .299/.415/.566 last season and he would represent a significant upgrade on current first baseman Adam Lind, who batted just .251/.295/.439 and was five wins less valuable than Fielder.
Having a combination of Jose Bautista and Fielder in the middle of their lineup would make the Toronto offence one of the most dangerous in the league.
There are a couple of issues with Fielder though. Fielder would not come cheap and while the money is there, the length of the contract could be a concern due to potential health issues down the road.
Signing Fielder will not deal with the real issue for the Blue Jays. In 2011, Toronto’s offence ranked sixth in terms of runs scored. Of the teams above them, only the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs. By contrast, Toronto’s pitchers placed 24th in pitching, clearly the area that needs improving.
4. Do Nothing
If the free-agent options and trade scenarios do not work out, Toronto may well have to go with what they have.
Would this necessarily be a bad thing? The offence proved to be effective last season and could get better with the potential of a whole season of Brett Lawrie and Kelly Johnson and improvements from Colby Rasmus and Travis Snider, if he is given a whole season to prove himself.
Yes, the pitching is still too weak to compete in the AL East but the rotation should be better than it was in 2011. Ricky Romero will be looking to build on his strong 2011 (though do not expect him to be as good, as he is unlikely to sustain his .242 BABIP from last year) while Brandon Morrow will start to see his number match his peripheral statistics (his FIP and xFIP were better than Romero’s.)
Henderson Alvarez should continue to build on his good start to his Major League career while Dustin McGowan, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek will hope for strong comebacks in 2012.
In the bullpen, Toronto fixed their big problem at closer by trading for Sergio Santos, which should help solidify their relief pitching, which was a major problem last year.
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It may not be what Toronto fans want to hear, but 2012 may be another season where the Blue Jays are not competing for the playoffs.
We have been told that Toronto has one of the strongest farm systems in the Major Leagues and though a number of the players are a few years away, we have already seen what the likes of Lawrie and Alvarez can do. There will be more to come.
In my view, Alex Anthopoulos has to stay the course and finish what he started. The worst thing he can do now is throw money at free agents just for the sake of it or give up a number of prospects for a Gio Gonzalez which may seem like a good idea but will not guarantee a World Series or even a playoff appearance.
Signing A.J Burnett, Troy Glaus and B.J. Ryan did not work in 2006, why would doing the same thing in 2012 have a different outcome?
I was disappointed on missing out on Darvish and I would love to sign Fielder but in reality it probably will not happen. What Blue Jays fans have to do is stay patient and keep faith that the club is heading in the right direction.