The American League East title is ripe for the taking. A wild card slot (or maybe two) is also well within reach.
Every team in the division is littered with holes and question marks.
The Blue Jays must go for it in 2015 and plan to compete again in 2016.
After that, it will likely be time for a significant retooling, if not a complete tear down.
Jose Bautista, 34, and Edwin Encarnacion, 32, have been the heart of the Jays lineup for six seasons. Both players are aging, consistently battling an assortment of aches and pains, and playing their final guaranteed seasons on their contracts. Both players have very team friendly options for 2016 and then they will become free agents. And both are likely on the wrong side of their peak years.
The rotation is even more vulnerable to Father Time. Both Mark Buehrle, 36, and R.A. Dickey, 40, are free agents after the 2015 season, although the latter has an option for $12 million.
The Jays stand to shed $32 million off the roster if both pitchers walk after the season concludes. Plus another $7 million when catcher Dioner Navarro exits stage left. Another $24 million comes off the books at the end of 2016 thanks to Bautista and Encarnacion. In total, the Jays will take $63 million off the books by the beginning of 2017.
The albatross on the Jays’ books is shortstop Jose Reyes, who is owed $22 million a year from 2015 through 2017 at which point he’ll become a free agent, unless the Jays pick up his $22 million option. That’s not likely because Reyes isn’t a great fielder anymore and he’s definitely not an impact player at the plate (for more than a three or four games stretch) or on the base paths — and the last point is what made him so valuable at the beginning of his contract.
Adjustments will need to be made for catcher Russell Martin’s back-loaded contract which will jump from $7 million in 2015 to $15 million in 2016. And you know Josh Donaldson is eventually going to get paid as he’s got three more arbitration-eligible seasons before free agency. Both those players could be traded in 2017 or beyond to help reload the farm system (although Martin’s contract makes a future deal difficult).
Beyond that Toronto has few obligations after 2016.
Key building blocks for the future currently found on the big league roster include second baseman Devon Travis, as well as pitchers that include the injured Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, closer Roberto Osuna, and maybe Drew Hutchison. That’s it.
After raiding the minor league cupboard for 12 prospects to acquire the likes of Dickey, Buehrle, Reyes and the dearly departed J.A. Happ in three separate deals in 2012 there isn’t much talent at the upper levels of the Jays system. Most of the talent is two to four years away from impacting the big league club.
What is at the upper levels should be utilized now to acquire as much impact talent as possible to complement the veteran core and the few promising young players on the team. There are holes in left field, first base (depending on how much trust you want to place in Justin Smoak), two slots in the starting rotation and two or three in the bullpen.
It’s time to go big… and it’s going to hurt.
The Jays should be prepared to offer up the majority of their coveted, tradable assets including pitchers Daniel Norris, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, Sean Reid-Foley, Alberto Tirado, Jairo Labourt and Matt Boyd, outfielders Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford, shortstop Richard Urena and first baseman Rowdy Tellez. Young starter Hutchison could also be an intriguing project for someone.
With that talent at their disposal, the club should be able to obtain two stating pitchers, a reliever and an outfielder — if not more, while holding on to two or three of the prospects above. The trickiest part will be to get the tight-fisted owners to pony up the cash for the next two seasons and to cover the new additions.
Someone like former Marlins closer Steve Cishek, suffering through a less than ideal season, might be a good get along with perhaps young starter Mat Latos, a free agent in 2015. The Brewers recently announced outfielder Carlos Gomez (one of the better CFers in the game) is available in the right deal, and Toronto could also take closer Francisco Rodriguez off their hands; both have contracts expiring after the 2016 season.
The more obvious trade would be ace Johnny Cueto (and maybe outfielder Jay Bruce — another ’16 FA) — although Mike Leake would be a cheaper starting pitcher option and he, like Cueto, is a free agent at the end of the year. Closer Aroldis Chapman is also on the Reds but he might be too rich even for the Jays — especially if they want to spread the prospects around to fill as many holes as possible.
That should set up the organization well to compete in 2015 and 2016, while providing a solid exit strategy for 2017.
Let’s go, Blue Jays.