When the offseason began 2 months ago, it was clear that the Blue Jays had some serious holes to fill. While they've certainly been quite active in making upgrades, there remain multiple areas of concern, viz.: second base, righties in the bullpen, an experienced outfielder able to play centre field, and maybe a starter. To say the least, it would be frustrating and disappointing if nothing were done on these fronts to shore up an otherwise solid roster.
Fortunately, there should be some money available to address some of these holes, assuming Paul Beeston wasn't outright lying in August and October. By my math, the Jays are sitting just under $105-million in committed cash salaries for 2015 (including offseason buyouts, which I believe are conventionally counted towards the next season budget). MLB Trade Rumors projects about $16.5-million for the five arbitration eligible players, and figure a little over $5-million to round out the other 10 spots with players around the league minimum. The Blue Jays also apparently sent the Mariners some money in the J.A. Happ-Michael Saunders swap, possibly neutralizing the 2015 difference in salary, which would be another $3.5-million. That would bring the opening day to $130-million, so even before possibly moving Dioner Navarro there should be around $10-million available.
Unfortunately, with the New Year approaching in a couple days, the majority of offseason activity is historically in the rearview mirror at this point. The free agent market is largely picked over save a few premium players looking for huge dollars, reclamation projects, and second division regulars on the downside of their careers as available candidates.
With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to review what the Blue Jays have done in January and February over the five years of the Alex Anthopoulos era. What's past if not always prologue, but we'll get a sense of the types of players added, the types of transactions used, the money spent, and value added. Notable minor league (MiLB) contract signings include only players with enough prior major league experience to cross rookie thresholds.
FA: Kevin Gregg, Jose Molina (only $400,000 guaranteed, another $600,000 vested when he made the roster)
Waivers: claimed & lost Brian Bocock
Trades: acquired Merkin Valdez from Giants (for cash); Dana Eveland from A's (for cash)
Notable MiLB Signings: Shawn Hill, Jeremy Reed
Net change in payroll: +$3.75-million
FA: Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch
Waivers: claimed & outrighted Wil Ledezma
Trades: acquired Mike Napoli & Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells & cash ($5m), acquired Frank Francisco & cash (under $1m) for Mike Napoli
Notable MiLB Signings: Chad Cordero, Scott Podsednik ($1m MLB salary)
Net change in payroll: -$2.5-million; +$7.25-million if excluding Wells-related deals.
FA: Darren Oliver, Francisco Cordero, Rick van den Hurk (lost on waivers in ST)
Waivers: lost Darin Mastroianni
Trades: acquired Jason Frasor for minor leaguers Daniel Webb, Miles Jaye
Released: Mark Teahen
Notable MiLB Signings: Chris Woodward, Omar Vizquel (veteran presents!), Nelson Figueroa, Tim Redding, Kyle Phillips (failed physical in ST)
Net change in payroll: +$13.5-million
FA: Mark DeRosa (veteran presents redux!), Henry Blanco
Waivers: lost Russ Canzler, claimed & outrighted Tommy Hottovy, lost Sam Dyson (needed veteran presents!), claimed Lars Anderson (traded at end of ST)
Trades: acquired Michael Schwimer for minor leaguer Art Charles
Notable MiLB Signings: Adam Loewen, Andy LaRoche, Munenori Kawasaki (March 2)
Net change in payroll: $1.5-million
Waivers: lost Brett Morel, claimed Liam Hendriks
Notable MiLB Signings: Chris Getz, Brett Carroll
Net change in payroll: none
Overall, the Jays have made nine major league free agents signings, have made six trades involving 40-man players, claimed five players and lost five players on waivers, and made 14 notable minor league signings. So the average January and February over the last five years has seen two free agent signings, one trade, one players claimed and another lost, and about three signings minor league signings. The total net salary added has been about $15.5-million, or around $3-million per year. However, the Vernon Wells trade in January 2011 involved very unique circumstances and is a huge outlier. If those two trades are tossed out, the total is about $26-million or around $5-million a year. Of course, there's a pretty big range, from essentially no payroll added last year to $13.5-million in 2012.
By far, the most money has been spent on adding relievers, with $22.75-million in guaranteed net payroll added for five major league free agents and Jason Frasor acquired in trade. All were contracts for one year, and all were veterans with solid track records as opposed to reclamation projects. To some extent, this may have been driven by a desire to accumulate draft picks under the old compensation system, but half of the acquisitions were before the chage and half after. If the Blue Jays wanted to go this route in 2015, options like Casey Janssen, Joba Chamberlain, Ronald Belisaro, or even Rafael Soriano (if his market deflated enough) could be targets.
Waivers moves and minor league signings have had virtually no impact on the major league roster, especially since Omar Vizquel was going to have to play himself off the roster. Munenori Kawasaki is the exception, and he was signed after spring training began. Two other types of players have had luck finding jobs with Toronto in this time period: back-up catchers, and veteran "character" infielders. It's hard to see the Jays adding a catcher even if they move Navarro (why else pick-up Josh Thole's option?). Likewise, even with the second base problem it's hard to see room for another infielder in the mould of a Vizquel or DeRosa unless Steve Tolleson and/or Maicer Izturis were dumped. And even then, I'd suggest it's highly undesirable, especially if it means dumping a prospect to open a roster spot. But who knows, maybe Scott C. will get his wish for Mark Ellis, who would fit right in this category.
So, what to expect before spring training? Realistically, probably not a lot. A couple of waivers moves, a couple of minor league contracts for players with MLB experience, maybe a smallish trade, maybe signing a reliever or two to a one year deal. But who knows? Anthopoulos has already broken sharply with the past in giving out a big free agent contract to Russell Martin, or maybe this is the year he breaks sharply with the past in January and February too. Hope springs eternal, or so they say. Jays fans might be forgiven for thinking otherwise.