What a difference a year makes. Out of the 25 players on the Blue Jays 2014 opening day roster, a minimum 11 players will not start the 2015 season in a Blue Jays' uniform. With Opening Day just a couple of weeks away, it is time to give an offseason report card.
1. 3B Josh Donaldson: Grade A+
From 2013-2014, Josh Donaldson posted the 3rd highest wins above replacement (WAR) in all of major league baseball. With four years of control at an affordable price, the Jays seemed to have stolen Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics.
I am a huge fan of Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto and Kendall Graveman, but I would take this deal any day of the week. For a superstar type of player, the Jays did extremely well to hold on to Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez. I still cannot believe Donaldson is a Blue Jay.
2. C Russell Martin: Grade: B+
Martin's defence and pitch framing will be a huge addition to the 2015 Blue Jays. The Blue Jays' front office did well to upgrade at catcher, a bit of a surprise given the presence of Dioner Navarro. If the Jays could only afford one of Martin or Melky Cabrera, I am thrilled they chose Martin. His power number could increase in the Rogers Centre, while he has always shown the ability to take a walk.
On the other hand, the Blue Jays did commit $82 million to a catcher who will be 32 on opening day. His bat seems likely to be more average- slightly above average rather than the production he showed in 2014. I am thrilled the Jays found a strong pitch framer to play behind the plate, though I would have tried to find a cheaper option. A player such as Hank Conger or Ryan Hanigan would have provided the Jays with another strong pitch framer, while saving the $82 million for other expenditures.
3. LF Michael Saunders: Grade: A
After falling out of favour in Seattle, two years of Michael Saunders was given up for one year of J.A. Happ. Despite his injury history, Saunders is just 28 years old and has proven to be an above average major league hitter. Like Martin, his power numbers could also increase in Toronto and he loves to rack up the walks. A strong in the corner outfield positions, Saunders will be a large improvement over Melky Cabrera in the field.
J.A. Happ's contact numbers suggest a potential decrease in strikeouts. Though the Blue Jays did lose some pitching depth in the process, this is another trade I would have to take any day.
4. SP Marco Estrada : Grade B-
Despite a poor 2014 season, having Estrada could be extremely important during the 2015 season. Estrada was very successful during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which is a welcoming addition to a team needing pitching depth. Trading Adam Lind cleared up some payroll space, though the team did lose a very strong bat against right handed pitching. The team's defence will be much improved with either Justin Smoak or Daric Barton in the field. It is tough to see Adam Lind's bat leave the Jays' lineup, but it is tough to carry two possible designated hitters in the same lineup.
5. 1B Justin Smoak & Daric Barton: Grade B+
These two transactions were grouped together as the two players compete for one spot on the Blue Jays' roster. Both players were acquired for a relatively small price, while either player would provide a defensive upgrade at first base.
Smoak is a former top prospect with the ability to take a walk. He has a twenty home run season under his belt, while playing the majority of his career in a very pitcher-friendly park. If his power breaks out following this move to Toronto, the Jays will have quite the coup for a rather small investment.
Barton is a very strong defender with around league average offence for his career. Though he has limited power, he does show the ability to get on base at a solid clip. With a minor league deal, the signing of Barton offers next to no risk. With Danny Valencia to face left handed pitchers, the Jays could have themselves a nice and cheap platoon.
6. Devon Travis: Grade B+
The Jays desperately needed to add a middle infielder this offseason. Though Travis does not have the highest of ceilings, he seems to do everything relatively well. As a second baseman, he has hit 28 home runs over the last two years. If he can play solid defence at second base, he will not have to hit all that much in order to be successful.
Anthony Gose' strong defence is a tough loss, but Dalton Pompey had clearly passed him on the Blue Jays depth chart. His struggles against left handed pitching led me to believe that he should probably be platooned. The risk of Travis becoming a "AAAA player" keeps this from an A grade, though I love adding a very interesting option at second base.
7. Wilton Lopez: Grade A
From 2012-2014, Wilton Lopez has a similar xFIP to relievers such as Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez and Luke Gregerson. Given the prices of these other players, signing Lopez to a minor league deal could prove to be a huge bargain.
Lopez has a 3.30 xFIP for his career and a 2.99 xFIP against right-handed hitters. The 31 year old reliever has a very good chance to make the team as per Alex Anthopolous . Not spending significantly on the bullpen seems to be a wise decision for the Blue Jays front office. While these resources can be used elsewhere, the Jays did extremely well add potential options such as Lopez, Preston Guilmet, and Matt West.
Overall Grade: A-
All in all, it has been a very successful offseason for the Blue Jays front office. Whether they were acquiring star players such as Josh Donaldson or bullpen pieces such as Wilton Lopez, the Jays spent their resources extremely wisely. Though teams such as the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox seem to get more attention, the most action doesn't always equal the best offseason. If the Jays can plug a few holes by the end of the spring training, this grade could be raised even further.
Let us know how you would rate the Blue Jays' offseason in the poll!