The days remaining before the big guy comes shimmying down the chimney are disappearly quick. If you haven’t already, you should be frantically jotting down last minute items on your Christmas list.
Even though the Blue Jays don’t officially break camp until late February, they should be too. The good thing about their predicament though: they’ve done most of their shopping. All they have left to do is pick up a few low-key items at the local store and they’ll be left with a
happy satisfied fan base.
First on the Christmas list, is the obvious hole: the bullpen. Currently the Jays pen looks to be Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Bo Schultz and Joe Biagini. That list shouldn’t astound you as only Sanchez, Cecil and Osuna spent the full season with Toronto last season.
So the Jays are likely left with attempting to acquire at least one reliever. With a hypothetical $10 million left in budget, maybe that’s all they can afford anyways.
The options aren’t endless either. There’s Joe Blanton whom we’ve covered before and other veteran options like Fernando Rodney or maybe Ross Ohlendorf. It seems MLB has already had a frenzy of relief pitching signings this off-season so the Jays may be left with the option of picking at the remaining scraps or assuming the risk with the current crop of "talent."
Next on the list, although probably not as well-known, is the need for a backup catcher. Currently, the Jays have two catchers on their roster: Russell Martin, the obvious starter, and R.A Dickey’s personal catcher Josh Thole.
Martin has proven himself; he’s among the best behind the plate throughout the league both offensively and defensively. He’s also fairly durable. Only Francisco Cervelli and Buster Posey played more games last season and only Cervelli played more at catcher. That’s not something you should expect going forward. Fangraphs’ Steamer projection forecasts Martin to play a more modest 113 games next season, leaving 49 games for, yes you guessed it, Josh Thole.
That possibility shouldn’t be something that excites you. If you’ve watched the Jays at all over the last year, it certainly won’t either. Thole was abysmal in 2015. His triple-slash of .204/.250/.245 should make pretty much any Jays’ fan nauseous especially when you consider the possibility of seeing that for over 100 plate appearances next season. Plain and simple, Thole was below replacement level last season. But hey, he can catch Dickey right?
Thing is, so can starting catcher Martin. Although, catching Dickey comes with its rigors. Often Martin is tasked with blocking balls in uncomfortable awkward situations, which can be taxing on the body over the season. Martin had thumb issues and he said that catching Dickey's knuckleball he, "never caught it in the sweet spot," according to an August article written by Sportsnet's Jeff Blair.
The thumb problems translated into a manifest struggle offensively as well. In the 21 games that Martin caught Dickey, he saw his triple-slash fall to despicable levels of .179/.224/.333. Thus, despite Martin doing a serviceable job catching Dickey last season, it may be a better idea to stick with Thole in hopes of bringing a stronger Martin for the remainder of the season and in the playoffs.
However, if they can get another catcher to share the workload, maybe the move makes sense. The problem is, there isn’t a lot left on the free agent market for that department. Jeff Mathis is available on the open market but another option potentially could be veteran Carlos Ruiz.
Ruiz had a rough campaign last season hitting just .211 and is owed $9 million next season by the Philadelphia Phillies. If they have hope of trading the seasoned catcher, they would likely have to eat a significant portion of that contract. Given his track record, maybe Ruiz is ready to take on a back-up role, providing the Jays with even more experience to tutor their young arms.
Extend, Extend, Ex…
The Jays brass is saddled with a tall order: extend their two top performers from the past five seasons. The Dominican duo, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, could be expensive with both likely to haul individual lucrative deals on the open market.an
First, the question of whether or not the Jays want both back needs to be addressed. Both sluggers are well into their thirties and with Bautista on the wrong side of 35, he may be looking at being transitioned into a role as a first baseman, currently one of the two spots Encarnacion can play.
Does it make sense for both to come back? Is it financially manageable? Those are questions the Jays brass will have to delve into.
However, if the Jays do indeed want one or both back, now would be the best time to start those negotiations and avoid a PR nightmare mid-season with the playoffs being the true focus of season.
As said, the Jays don’t have a lot left on the shopping list. But as you probably know, waiting until the last minute to shop isn’t a good idea unless you’re content on picking up the scraps from whatever everyone else doesn’t want.
Time is ticking; with little left on the shelves, it’s time for the Jays to break into the stores and get what they need before another long season of baseball.