Yes, I know, JP has specifically said he is not interested in dealing BJ Ryan. Ok, I'm going to dispense with that right now. JP has a long and proud history of doing exactly the thing he's said publicly he has no interest in doing. We already know that he's dealing with budget restrictions and most of us are savvy enough to survey the marketplace and figure out the obvious answer to the question of which contract makes the most sense to deal, both in terms of the market and in terms of how well the team carries on without the player.
Don't get me wrong about Ryan - I love the guy. I believe in him, iu have every confidence he'll be a great closer in 2009. If they Jays were not making so much noise about money woes, I wouldn't even be talking about moving him. But all things considered, his contract is the glaringly obvious one to dangle.
Now, it so happens, as all this is going on, in another MLB city there's a team which the Jays had dealings with not too long ago. Despite having a couple of promising young relievers, they are flirting with Brian Fuentes whom they would like to sign for a two year deal at something like $9-10 million per (co-incidentally, just what Ryan is under contract for) but who is growing more frustreated that Fuentes wants to play for the Angels and is waiting on them, and by Fuentes insistance on a three year deal. That team, the St. Louis Cardinals, provide what is, in my opinion, possibly the best match for the Jays on a Ryan deal. The idea is at least on the radar of Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel though he seems unsure about the potential return, but I have a suggestion.
Ken Rosenthal reported something a couple of weeks ago (per MLBTR) which is worth noting - the Cardinals apparently offered Rick Ankiel (and a prospect) to the Mariners in a deal for JJ Putz.If Ankiel is worth Putz, and if the Cardinals are willing to spend $10 million a year over the next two years for a closer, then the Jays need to make a deal happen.
Rick Ankiel for B.J. Ryan
I won't go into proving to you that Ryan meets the Cards' needs as well as Fuentes or Putz would, but you may be wondering about how Ankiel makes sense for the Jays. After all, he's one year away from free agency and he's represented by the dreaded Scott Boras (ruling out the possibility of an extension). Well, let me explain it.
First, Ankiel is a legitimate CF defender who would, along with Wells and Rios, give the Jays one of the best defensive outfields in the majors. He would allow Adam Lind to DH and Travis Snider to stay in AAA to start the season, or, alternately, give the Jays the depth to trade Lyle Overbay if a suitable deal arose. His OPS+ was virtually identical to that of Vernon Wells in 2008 - the best on the Jays - and he probably has a bit more upside yet to tap. Yes, he had trouble with LHP last year, it's difficult to asses how big an issue that will be going forward given how little opportunity he's had as a hitter. Furthermore, he made only $900,000 last year which means his salary this year will, despite being in his last year of arbitration, be far less than that of any of the reliable names who are free agents. Only two left fielders in the AL hit better than Ankiel did in 2008.
It would be good if the Jays could manage to sign him to a 2 or 3 year deal but knowing Boras they would pay a premium to do so. it would, of course, be even better if we could persuade the Cards to give up Ryan Ludwick for him - who had a better year but is less certain to maintain his level of performance. but even as it stands, if the Jays feel the need to lose a significant chunk of payroll, Ankiel is a good return and it clears out $10 million out of an overburdened 2010 payroll. Finally, if Ankiel performs to that level or higher in 2009, he could hand us a couple of solid draft picks in the 2010 draft (as opposed to the 2011 draft).
Yes, in an ideal situation the Jays could persuade the Angels to give us Brandon Wood, or we could find in some other place a young, talented shortstop who's under control for several years - I would certainly ask the Angels before making any other deal - but there is no indication such a deal is likely to occur. I happily concede that getting young cheap high-upside talent is better than getting a guy in his walk year. And with the Brewers insisting JJ Hardy is off the market, the options to add a younger talent from a team willing to invest considerable money in a closer seem to have dried up.
Any time you make a trade your gambling the opportunity costs of doing something else with the player you traded, so I can't argue there's not a better opportunity out there, unreported. But the way the pieces fit together here - Ankiel having been offered, what they are willing to pay Fuentes, what Ryan makes, the Jays money woes - all these factors say to me that there's a natural match here.