Alex Anthopoulos has demonstrated solid intelligence in his first year at the helm of the Toronto Blues Jays. If Jack Zduriencik, the Seattle GM, hadn't followed his equally scintillating first year with a desultory sophomore slump of almost firing dimensions, I'd be overly giddy about AA's future. And that of the Jays.
So, colour me a little skeptical.
But boy, does the boy genius have me enthused, even still, about the Jays' future. Later today, we'll find out whether the Jays finish 10, 11 or 12 games out of a playoff spot. That's a LOT of games to still make up, even though Toronto won somewhere between 10 and 20 games more than 'most' experts had them winning this season. (Anthopoulos won't win GM of the Year ... this year. But he should have been talked about). Those last few games from a .500 club to actual playoff contender are a tough slog.
One fantasy would have been to wonder if the Jays had signed Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Vladimir Guerrero, as per my plan stated at the end of last year. And kept Doc Halliday. Even assuming Cameron got hurt, this would have meant Doc and no fifth starter, Beltre instead of the probably released Edwin Encarnacion and Travis Snider as the fourth outfielder, since Guerrero would have DH'd and Adam Lind would have been in left. A Snider-Jose Bautista platoon in right might have happened. My plan also had Johnny McDonald (who had a career high in homers this season) at short and no John Buck signing behind the plate. For the 120M bucks it would have taken to field that team, I think they could have contended. In fact, deep in my heart, I KNOW they would have won the whole bloody thing. Just on the difference between Halliday and the legion of wannabe's that would have filled out the fifth spot in the rotation. Oh well.
So here's my plan for next year. Double-A can add a flourish or two, but I'm okay with him stealing it whole cloth.
Sign Beltre. Overpay and give him the 4x14M it'll take to steal him away from Detroit and that big ballpark. Boston's moving Kevin Youkilis back to third and trading for Prince Fielder this off-season, so he's not going back to Beantown. And NY is not an option due to ARod. The Angels are the other team in the mix, although I can see a late offer from Atlanta needing to be fended off. He's really only worth 3x13M, but the extra year and 4M more is worth what he'd bring to a good defensive team--the assurances to the players that management is willing to spend money. Nobody loves Beltre in the first year of a multi-year contract. But he's always an MVP candidate when a contract is on the line. I'm hoping for median offence for this contract and the usual Gold Glove level defence. It's too bad he'll cost the Jays their first-rounder in 2011's draft.
Given that the price would be ONLY money and a second-round pick, the Jays should finish their free-agent spending by swiping Rafael Soriano from soon-to-be-cash strapped Tampa Bay. This (and the Beltre signing) do take away immediate assets from other AL East bigwigs, while giving them long-term assets, but Soriano is the kind of elite closer a top-notch pitching staff looking to average 7 innings apiece would love to have. I'm not sure what Soriano's price is going to be. It could very well be BJ Ryan-ish. But Soriano is much less of an injury risk because of his throwing motion. He's younger and in better shape than BJ was when he got his Ricciardi (an outlandish contract). And he'd be right back in contention mode, whereas the Rays are headed for a downturn. It's not like the Latin nature of the Blue Jays is going to turn him off.
Well, we are half-way to my plan from last year. But that's where it stops. One trade, a couple of no-draft compensation relievers and we're done. Well, maybe a second trade. But let's get that first trade off our chest. It's a whopper.
Fred Lewis is NOT coming back to Toronto next year. He fancies himself a starter and he's not going to get that chance, at least to start the year, in Toronto, next season. He's a serviceable outfielder who can bat some lead-off. Has some pop and decent speed on the basepaths. But he's strictly a left-fielder on a team with Snider and Lind already on the roster. Plus he'd whine as a fourth outfielder and he's already done that in San Francisco and let the initial notes of the same old song be heard here already. Trading him and getting something back will be tricky, but a lot easier as part of a package. So, how about we package Lewis, Robert Ray, Justin Jackson (the former top SS prospect) and uber prospect Kyle Drabek .... yeah, you were waiting to see if I'd throw in some quality sugar ... to Kansas City for Zack Greinke.
First of all, you don't get a Greinke for a bag of peanuts and a warm handshake. The cost-controlled Drabek fits the bill for Kansas City. He's a year or two away, as is the impressive Kansas City Kiddie Corps. He tracks to be at or near Greinke in value. And did I mention he's under control for four more years than Greinke? Ray has a future as a long reliever and occasional spot starter and Lewis' acquisition makes it possible to make the inevitable David DeJesus trade (which will happen right after this trade). And Jackson's the wild-card in the deal. A former bright light in the minors who might get back on track in a different organization.
Of course, for Toronto, a starting five of the fab four and Greinke represents value even Boston would be jealous of. Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow could all win 15-18 next year. Add in a 20-win candidate like Greinke and it's possible to see 80-88 wins from the starting staff as a real possibility. That's AWFULLY close to a division-winning total right there. And it's not like Soriano would be blowing a LOT of those potential wins.
We STILL need a fourth/fifth outfielder who can play centre-field. I'd love THIS YEAR's Dewayne Wise back for that job, but he's going to be a year older, a step slower and I think we got lucky with his offence. But he had the right attitude. And that's hard to find with the other necessary attributes. The issue is to find somebody younger, but experienced, with the attitude and a desire to be a team-first kind of guy. I keep mentioning attitude, cuz otherwise Baltimore chronic under-achiever Felix Pie or Washington nutcase Nyjer Morgan would be good fits. And it might not take something more than a Brad Mills to pry them away from their respective teams. Maybe as little as Scott Richmond. The same price, but with some money attached to him, would get us Kosuke Fukodome from the Cubs. Chicago would love to rid itself of as much of that contract as it could. So, for money and Richmond, we have our spare CF/RF. But I could live with Wise for another year, if only because I think Bautista could handle the position on a short term.
There are a gazillion grizzled old relief pitchers out there each off-season. None will cost a draft pick. Choose well and you get a Matt Capps. Choose poorly ... well he can be replaced quickly and often. I have to admit to a fondness for Brian Tallet, but he had an awful year. If not him, hoping for a rebound, how about Mark Hendrickson for a reunion tour. And, if we are doing reunions as a theme, maybe Miguel Batista. I like Manny Corpas if we are turning the page on the Alumni roster. Let's call it Hendrickson (because you can never have enough lefties) to add to a pen that will look like this: (LH long) Mark Rzepczynski (LH short) Hendrickson, Jesse Carlson and David Purcey (RH long) Shawn Camp (RH short) Casey Janssen and Kevin Gregg (Closer) Soriano. Josh Roenicke, Taylor Buchholz and maybe Shawn Hill would be sitting in Vegas awaiting the inevitable struggles and injuries, although Hill would be starting. Mills and Jesse Litsch would be there with him. The key here is the final admittal that Rzepczynski is a four-inning monster. He could spot start and he throws strikes and groundballs. Perfect long-man fodder. Having two old pros and the ever-improving Purcey to throw short from the left-hand side would be perfect for a manager who likes to mix and match. The righty contingent isn't anything near as impressive, but it helps to have Gregg around in case of Soriano flame-out. Or Soriano around when Gregg turns a five-run game into a save situation. It's an eight-man staff backing up an ace-filled starting staff. And that MIGHT prove too much pitching power. Which probably gives AA some in-season trading capabilities.
So, let's see what the rest of the roster now looks like. JP Arrencibia and Jose Molina to do the catching. Adam Lind at 1B, Aaron Hill at 2B, Yunel Escobar at SS, Beltre at 3B and an outfield of Travis Snider, Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista. Hmm, no DH listed. Of course Johnny Mac or Fukodome could DH. But why not let Lind DH and re-sign dependable defender and decent hitter Lyle Overbay to play 1B? That's a regular line-up that will play a LOT. Without much need for pinch-hitting, save at catcher. This is also a team a little light on the batting backup side. Molina, McDonald and Fukodome. Rest MIGHT be an issue. But Bautista can play third and first. Fukodome can play all three picket spots. McDonald can play left in a pinch as well as third and second. Lind can play left. There ARE reasons you keep guys like Mike McCoy and Jarrett Hoffpauir in Las Vegas.
Now, I have to admit I'm NOT a big Snider fan. I wouldn't be adverse to calling Baltimore and seeing if they'd take him for Luke Scott and Pie. I still think Snider's only a .260 hitter with 20 homer power and suspect defence. But I've been wrong before. I like Scott and Pie's acquisition would forestall spending money and Mills/Richmond to get Fukodome. So, that would be a plus. But, given Snider's inevitable investiture in LF for the Jays next year, he's the lead-off guy. Bunt-happy Escobar will fill the two slot and then we have Bautista. Normally, Wells and Beltre (or more likely Beltre and Wells) would then follow, but that would put FOUR righty-swinging Jays in order. Have to think Lind breaks up the group, at least initially, by batting fifth. I'd have it go Beltre, Lind, Wells but I'd talk to Wells first. If he showed any truculence to that idea, I'd make it Lind, Wells and Beltre. Hill would then be a third straight righty, so he goes AFTER Overbay. Arrencibia/Molina get to bat ninth. On days where Fukodome rests Wells, he could bat first and have Snider in Wells' spot. Everybody would move down a spot on days when McDonald, the ninth-place hitter, would rest Beltre or Hill. Johnny Mac would go right into Escobar's place on days he plays SS. There would be days when Snider would DH and Lind would play in LF.
So, there wouldn't be a lot of button-pushing here. The new manager (Tim Wallach) would do most of his work getting rest for all the players and managing the pitching staff. He'd be like Clarence, letting the vets play and play just a little more little ball than the strict station-to-station plan preferred by Gaston. That's the kind of roster he'd have. No sense breaking out Billy Ball when there's a dearth of speedsters on the roster.
Guess it's time to deal with the last BIG issue of the off-season. Jose Bautista's contract. He's not a one-year wonder. In fact, he did NOT keep pace with his September production of last year (he'd have had to hit SIXTY HOMERS this year to do that). He's found a coach, an approach and peace of mind. Baseball is all about the three C's: Capability, Confidence and Concentration. His new technique of hitting put the finishing touches on Capability. His Confidence has been restored. And he's always seemed to have Concentration, as his walk totals attest. He's turning 29, a so-called late bloomer. Late bloomer, meet Ryan Howard. He was no spring chicken on arrival in the national spotlight either. Bautista will be a fine hitter (if not home run leader) for the next six years or so. He's a leader on this team, something that's been sorely lacking in Toronto for years. Sure, the Halliday's and Wells's of the world lead by example. But leaders inspire with more than deeds. They cajole, push, praise and generally pull the troops behind them. Bautista seems to be doing that this year. And the kids seem happy to go along for the ride.
So I go big and long with Bautista. I show the club I respect their leadership structure, I respect Bautista's hustle and willingness to do whatever for the win and that I see the talent that's been there all along. I give him five years at 10M per, with a club option for 12M in year six (and a buyout option for $1.5M). That's a lifestyle guarantee for Bautista. PLUS he'd still be only 35-36 and might have one last decent contract in him after that.
Well, that boosts the Jays from their current 75M type roster to something about 30M more. But that's the cost of playing with the big boys. They have a couple more years of staying within spitting distance of that number before having to make the decision on the starting pitcher group. Maybe, by that time, the fruit of this year's pitcher-heavy draft will give them alternatives. But to contend, Toronto has to spend nine-figures annually. They have to act like the big league city Toronto is supposed to be.
And I trust that they plan to. I know I have.