The Jays are not as bad as their 2013 record would show.
Going into 2014 with a top-of-the-order of Reyes, Cabrera, Joey B, EE, and Lawrie (all hopefully healthy!) and Dickey and Buehrle performing at 2013 post-all-star levels, the Jays have the foundation of a competitive team.
But there are always holes to fill. A top-of-the-rotation starter, an upgrade at catcher, a power-hitting 1B or DH (depending where you slot EE), a hitting+fielding 2B – any or all of these would improve the Jays’ odds.
It is an interesting coincidence that when you look at the projected contracts of the players potentially available for 2014, several potential Jays targets come in around the same level: 5 years, $70-85 million. Which begs the question – assuming that the prices are similar, and that we cannot afford them all, which players should the Jays prioritize?
Tanaka has been lights-out in Japan and is projected as a MLB number two starter. His total package is expected to be less than Darvish, but still something in the Aribal Sanchez range of 5/$80m. He is only 24, but 2013 is his seventh season in Japanese pro ball.
Tanaka has great upside, and his best years should still be ahead of him. But paying big bucks for a player from Japan carries a risk – for every Darvish or Kuroda, there is a Matsuzaka or an Igawa.
McCann is 7x all-star and a 5x silver slugger, who still puts up a positive dWAR. He is only 29, and shows no signs of being unable to continue playing at catcher, but the AL Jays have the luxury of giving him days off at DH. He is projected to get a Yadier Molina – level contract of 5/$75m.
Catcher is likely the Jays’ greatest non-pitching need, and with McCann the Jays would be getting one of the best. He is almost certain to be given a qualifying offer, so the Jays’ interest might be affected by whether their 2014 first round pick is protected or not.
Garza has the advantage over Tanaka that he is a proven MLB-calibre starter. Texas cannot make a qualifying offer, so he will not carry draft pick compensation. He is projected to sign for something like 5/$85m.
The knock on Garza is that he has benefited from pitching in the NL and in pitchers’ parks. So far in 2013 in Texas he has a 4.56 ERA, and even in his 15-10 2010 season for Tampa Bay he had a 4.27 ERA away from Tropicana Field (which was ranked the most pitcher-friendly park in the majors that year)
Yes, I know that Minnesota claims that they have no interest in trading Mauer. But they did put him on revocable waivers in 2012, and said that they did not do so in 2013 only "to prevent confusion". Does this mean that the Twins would move Mauer and the 5 years and $115 milliion remaining on his contract if the buyer were to pick up a significant part of that $23 million per year (30% of the Twins 2013 payroll)?
Suppose that Mauer would waive his no-trade, and that the Jays could get him for 5/$80 or so plus a few minor leaguers not named Sanchez or Osuna (or perhaps JPA?). Worth doing? Mauer is 30, and has 10 years behind the plate so it is debatable whether he could remain catching for the remaining 5 years of his contract. But he is a good enough hitter that he would still generate value at DH – or even at 1B. And the 2-3 years that he can still catch would give the Jays time to find an alternative – possibly in a Jimenez or Nessy?
Kinsler has four years and $57 million left on his contract with Texas (plus a $5 million buyout in 2018). Unless Texas changes its mind and trades Elvis Andrus, Kinsler is blocking the way for Jurickson Profar to play every day. Kinsler’s OPS of .749 over 2012-2013 is no longer elite (it would place him 10th among qualifying 2B over that period), and based on his WAR of 5.2 over those two years he will not "earn" his $16 million salary in 2014 and 2015.
That said, he is still a decent defender (UZR of ~zero) with a .340 OBP in 2013 and 15 steals. And it is unlikely that Texas would expect an exorbitant price for him if the receiving team picked up the full salary commitment.
In A-squared’s position, I would take a gamble on Tanaka and make a try for Mauer (McCann will just have too many suitors). If I still had money in the piggy bank, I would target Kinsler – or invest in shorter-term deals for someone like Santana.