Enthusiastic Toronto Bluejays fans believe 2012 could be their year to contend, with a young and exciting core of players, a highly regarded farm system, and flexible payroll options. As the 2011 season begins to conclude, Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue jays staff are evaluating what they have in the organization for next year. Many players find themselves competing for a role on next years team, where others such as Yunel Escobar have established themselves as core parts of the team. The positional players now seem stronger than ever this season, with many guys penciling themselves into next years lineup with a strong season. The 'placeholders' are now gone, as the unproductive and aging veterans will have to look to other teams for at bats. The Bluejays seem to have a much more exciting team in August than they did April, and who doesn't enjoy watching Brett Lawrie over Jayson Nix? The thirteen positional players on the Bluejays roster all seem like they could be back for next year; and even if Aaron Hill and Edwin Encarnacion depart, there will not be too many spots in the lineup to fill next year. The real emphasis this off-season will have to be the pitching staff. After Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow the rotation for next season is uncertain, and bullpen is anyone's guess. The Jays' pitching staff will be Anthopoulos' priority in the off-season.
Contending in the American League East can be extremely difficult, but it is nearly impossible without strong starting pitching. Romero has had a terrific year for the club, and will undoubtedly be a major part of the staff in 2012. Morrow has been good, but not great for the Jays; which seems good enough to earn him a spot in the rotation next year. That leaves three starters to complete the rotation. Brett Cecil seems to have a great chance for one of those three spots, despite a horrible start to the season. Brett has looked better and better since July, and six quality starts in his last seven games puts him on his way to being a lock for the rotation next season. The Jays could fill the last two spots in their rotation internally, but to compete in the A.L East they will need another proven starter. Anthopoulos could very well look for a proven starter in a trade this off-season, or make a splash in free agency.
Finding a good fit in free agency might be difficult, since top of the line starters are hard to find. With Romero and Cecil both being left handed pitchers, another southpaw wouldn't be ideal, especially if lefty Brad Mills earns the fifth spot in the rotation. The excess of southpaws may keep the Bluejays from trying to pry away C.J Wilson from the Rangers, and causing them to be more interested in a quality right handed starter. Edwin Jackson seems like a good fit, as he is having a strong season and currently projects to be a Type B free agent (and wouldn't costing the Jays draft picks). After Jackson, there doesn't seem to be too many right handed free agent starters to upgrade their rotation. Adam Wainwright would be very intriguing if he became available, but his health remains uncertain after missing almost all of this season. If the Jays decide not to sign Jackson they could make a trade for a top notch starter.
When the trade market takes shape this off-season, Anthopoulos will surely be inquiring on any top notch starters to compliment Romero at the top of the rotation. Almost all of the top notch starters to hit the trade block would be of interest to the Jays, but the other team will probably want top prospects back in return. Anthopoulos would be hesitant to give up top prospects in a trade, but they could get creative. Eric Thames could be a big part of a deal if Travis Snider can finish the season off strong. The strong farm system can help get the Jays the guy they want, without giving up their best prospects. Toronto will enter the off-season with a lower payroll then in recent years, so Anthopoulos should have the money available to sign an all-star caliber player. Luring a big name player such as Prince Fielder, could make Adam Lind traded for a pitcher. The Jays are then left to fill the last spot of their rotation internally, with many good options.
Finding a fifth starter for the rotation wouldn't be a big problem for the Bluejays. Mills has been one of the best starters in AAA this year, and could have an outside shot for the role. Carlos Villanueva has had some very good starts for the team, but looks like a better long reliever and a spot starter with his bullpen experience. Kyle Drabek has had a rough time in AAA to date, but he could very well win a starting role next season. Henderson Alvarez has had a great year in AA, and could be the youngest starter in the rotation next season if he continues to impress. Jesse Litsch could have an outside shot, but he may be better off in the bullpen; which needs the most work in off-season.
The bullpen will look very different in 2012, and is desperate for a new closer. Elite closers very rarely come from free agency, but that may be because they are hardly ever available. Committing a lot of money to a reliever can be very risky, but Heath Bell or Jonathan Papelbon are two of the best closers in the game. The Jays would definitely have interest in them if they become available, and should be interested in some experienced relievers such as Ryan Madson, Dan Wheeler, or Chris Ray to solidify their bullpen. Villanueva, Litsch and Casey Janssen could be back in the Jays pen next year, but don't expect to see Trever Miller or Frank Francisco. Rauch will certainly not be closing but could be a very good seventh inning guy if the Jays decide to pick up his option for next season. Shawn Camp has had a rough year, and doesn't seem likely to return next season. The Jays also may choose to have Alvarez setup for the team next year if he doesn't win a starting spot. He has both the stuff and the command to pitch out of the bullpen, and could be a very good setup guy. Alvarez could follow the footsteps of guys like Phil Hughes and Alexi Ogando, by becoming a very good reliever before becoming a top of the rotation starter. Despite the mediocre pitching by the Jays staff as a whole this season, the Jays should improve in 2012 and fans shouldn't find it hard to believe that their Bluejays could be contenders next season.