While mathematically, the halfway point between the first day of the post-season and the day pitchers and catchers report (February 19!) is right around Christmas, for all intents and purposes the close of the Winter Meetings marks the beginning of the second half of the off-season. It's time then, as that week draws to a close, to asses the state of the Blue Jays and look ahead to what developments might ensue.
We'll have to speak in broad general terms because, of course, our NGM (Ninja GM) will certainly do something (probably everything) in a manner not even hinted at in my speculations, but it would take all the fun out of it (and kill what little traffic I get) if I conceded that i really have no idea what comes next, so I soldier on as best I can. The best way to anticipate potential moves is to look at still existing needs. also, lets note up front that Alex prefers trades to expensive free agents.
First, let's look at the line-up if tomorrow were February 19:
Catcher: JP Arencibia is locked in, Travis d'Arnaud is at minimum half a season away and almost surely won't be seen before September barring serious injury to JP. Jeff Mathis is locked in as the reserve, and while I fully expect the team to maneuver a situation in which he does not get the amount of money he made last year in arbitration, there's no reason to assume he won't be here.
First Base - Everything AA and John Farrell say about Adam Lind leads one to believe they are committed to bringing him back as the first baseman. That said, if there is a position that's ripe, among hitters, for a ninja move it's first. Prince Fielder is obviously out there, but unlikely to sign on terms the Jays would agree to. The only other really sensible candidate who might be an upgrade on Lind (depending of course on whether Lind does bounce back) is Josh Willingham. Personally, I don't expect a deal there. Looking around the league, there's not an obvious upgrade rumored to be available via trade either.
Second Base - Kelly Johnson is set. There's some possibility - Alex even hinted at it - that he might surprise us with a deal to add a "core piece" to use his terms, and if he can do so - think maybe Gordon Beckham - then you could see Johnson flipped to a team like the Rockies. There's every possibility the will go with Johnson though.
Shortstop - Yunel Escobar. Next question.
Third Base - Brett Lawrie. Next question
Right Field - Jose Bautista. Next question.
Center Field - Colby Rasmus. Next question.
Left Field - open competition between Travis Snider and Eric Thames. Snider is the more talented player, but if he loses he might be "change of scenery" before May, if Thames loses he will be the 4th outfielder and occasional DH, and a good one, or go back to AAA to wait.
DH - Edwin Encarnacion. The only obvious way to upgrade here is via an unexpected trade, or convincing Carlos Beltran to DH, which seems unlikely. If the Jays were tossing aside the future to play for 2012, they'd plug Beltran into LF and push aside the kids, but I don't think Alex will deviate from the long term plan.
On the bench: the aforementioned Mathis, the loser of Snider/Thames maybe (though possibly this person could be in AAA or traded), Raji Davis, an infielder (Vilbuena, McCoy, or some player yet to be acquired - nether of these is an impressive SS) and, for now, Mark Teahen although my guess is they eat his contract before April 1.
Turning to pitching, again, mostly assuming this is what we go to camp with-
AA and JF have both spoken often about needing a top of the rotation starter. I made the case in my previous post for Yu Darvish and he's the one guy known to be available who fits that bill. I don't believe the Jays will pay the exorbitant cost to obtain Gio Gonzalez and I don't think they should. Pretty much anyone I'd be willing to pay that price for isn't on the market. Certainly there's no free agent comparable to Darvish. Roy Oswalt comes closest, and if he would come to Toronto I'd be cool with him if we try and fail on Darvish.
Beyond additions -
#1 - Ricky Romero in a lock
#2 - Dustin McGowan by seniority, and by talent, but if they want to coddle his arm a bit they might slide him to the #5 just so they can skip him occasionally.
#3 - Brandon Morrow seems set here. if they did sign Darvish then Yu would be #2 and Morrow still fits at three.
#4 - Brett Cecil but with a tentative grasp. Farrell reports he's working out this winter and in MUCH better shape than this time last year and if so, may well come to camp and demand this spot. but he's also the guy in this group most likely to fit as a bullpen piece (probably a highly effective guy in the 8th) - if he stumbles and two kids show well, he might lose out.
#5 - Henderson Alvarez/Kyle Drabek- The former has the edge, and it's his spot to lose. but Drabek will have a chance to beat out someone , so if either Cecil or Alvarez stumble in the spring and Drabek looks resolved, then he could steal a spot for sure.
Other candidates depending on emergency need: Potential relievers Villianueva, Listch, Carreno, Perez and minor league prospects Hutchison and McGuire and maybe Jenkins. It's unlikely any of those guys will be used out of spring training except in highly unusual circumstances.
In short, the odds are that it's Darvish, or nothing here. the depth is sufficient that adding a middling guy would be unnecessary and Alex has publicly noted as much.
The bullpen is where it really gets interesting. Alex has openly mentioned he fully intends to add here, and particularly in 8th inning guys.
We know that Sergio Santos WILL close.
We know that Casey Janssen, Carlos Vilianueva, and Jesse Litsch are locks, barring injury, and that Luis Perez and Joel Carreno have an edge on all the other non-locks currently in the organization.
We can also surmise that an 8th inning lefty is a priority and that second to that would be an 8th inning RHP (Alex speaks fondly of having Janssen available in the seventh since he's effective against both left and right handed hitters.
So four established slots, two potential "gets" and the last spot will go to Perez (second lefty) if he doesn't throw it away. Barring Cecil moving in of course.
So what are the options? as free agents, the top of the list (such as it is) would be:
LHP - Mike Gonzalez, George Sherril, Damso Marte (if healthy) and Tsuyoshi Wada (if you can sell him on relief instead of starting)
RHP - there all pretty mediocre guys, frankly.
So you kinda have to turn to trades - this sort of thing is tricky to predict because Alex tends to surprise, but some names that have been mentioned include Jeremy Affeldt of the Giants (probably as good a choice as you will find), Sean Marshall of the Cubs, Greg Holland of the Royals (very good, pretty young, years of control), Tim Collins of the Royals (okay, only I am mentioning him - but if they are wiling to deal Holland, we could ask about Collins), Koji Uehara of the Rangers (no idea why there's talk but you have to like him), Matt Thornton of the White Sox (really, pretty much anyone on the White Sox - except Chris Sale - including Jason Frasor), and pretty much anyone in the A's 'pen - Grant Balfour would probably be a good target.
So in summation:
1. Take a run at Darvish
1a. Failing that look in on Oswalt or maybe Rich Harden
2. restock the bullpen likely via a series of trades.
3. find a reserve infielder who plays a good SS and handles the bat at least to McDonald levels
4. keep your eyes open for a chance to add a core player
5. pay attention to Fielder and Beltran until they are off the market just to be prepared for surprises.
That should do it!