2017 has began as 2016 went out, with the Hot Stove stone cold. This despite, as MLBTR notes, that there's an abnormally high number of free agents unsigned who should sign major league deals. That should start to change soon with just 42 or 43 days until pitchers and catchers report, and of course the Blue Jays still have some work left.
But we've probably still got some time to wait. The first significant move in 2016 came on January 8th, when the Jays acquired Drew Storen for Ben Revere (with respect to Arnold Leon, who was purchased on January 5th). The last transaction to occur on January 2nd was in 2013, when the Jays lost Russ Canzler on waivers to Cleveland, ending his memorable 12 day tenure after he was claimed from Cleveland (Cleveland lost him to the Yankees two days later, who had him for a month before losing him to Baltimore...poor guy was passed around like a hot potato).
The most significant early year transaction in recent Blue Jays history came back in 2012, when Alex Anthopoulos rang in the New Year by acquiring Jason Frasor from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for prospects Myles Jaye and Daniel Webb. Frasor has been traded to Chicago at the 2011 trade deadline as part of the Colby Rasmus machinations, days after passing Duane Ward for the franchise's all-time pitcher appearances record.
Interestingly, this was only possible because of the now-abolished Type A/B free agent compensation system that was in its last year of existence in the 2010-11 offseason when Frasor was a free agent. He was a Type A, and no teams were going to give up a first round pick for a good middle reliever, so Frasor accepted the Jays offer of salary arbitration and signed a one-year deal with a 2012 option that the White Sox picked up.
Thinking about transactions involving White Sox relievers from the timeframe always leads me to one of the great "what ifs" of recent time. Sandwiched between trading Frasor to Chicago and back, the Jays acquired Sergio Santos in December 2011 for Nestor Molina (actually re-acquired since he was previously a shortstop in their system acquired from Arizona with Troy Glaus in December 2005). Santos had vaulted all the way to Chicago's closer in 2011, recording 30 saves and an excellent 3.55 ERA and 2.87 FIP.
Entering the last series of 2011 against the White Sox, the Jays had lost two in a row to fall to 80-79. In the opener, they trailed 4-1 going to the 9th, and Santos came in for what should have been an easy save. It was anything but. He walked J.P. Arencibia (!!!) leading off the inning and after a single got two strikeouts. But David Cooper doubled in the two runner to make it 4-3, then Santos issued a pair of walks sandwiched against a wild pitch to load the bases. But Adan Lind struck out and Santos managed to secure the 44 pitch Kevin Gregg save.
The Jays lost 2-1 the next day, with Chris Sale recording the save with Santos almost certainly unavailable, leaving them 80-81 going into the season finale. Chicago was up 2-1 again going to the 9th, and Ozzie Guillen opted again for Sale over Santos likely due to those 44 pitches two days before. Whether it was working a second straight day, or something else, it was not Sale's day. A double and single put the tying run on the corner, before a sac bunt (why the Farrell was Colby Rasmus sac bunting?). Arencibia was intentionally walked to load the bases, before he walked in the tying and go ahead runs.
The Jays won 3-2 and finished 81-81, half a game better than Washington at 80-81. As a result, the Jays slotted in 17th in the draft order with Washington 16th, which would have been reversed absent the Sale meltdown. That meaningless win potentially ended up very significant, as Lucas Giolito suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery that sent him tumbling down the draft board from the potential 1st overall pick.
Gambling on Giolito would have seemed right out of the Alex Anthopoulos playbook. He was a risk taker, the Jays had a big draft pool to accommodate Giolito (he ended up signing for for $2.9-million, $800,000 over slot), and the Jays never shied away from drafting injured pitchers (Jeff Hoffman, Clint Hollon, Patrick Murphy). But Giolito's slide ended one spot before the Jays could have taken him, when Washington nabbed him.
Giolito is now one of the best prospects in baseball, ranked #3 by MLB Pipeline. The Jays ended up taking D.J. Davis (one spot in front of Corey Seager), who has stalled out in A-ball. It is hard not to wonder what could have been. Of course, since this is what-if, it's also possible if they had drafted 16th and taken Giolito, Davis is still available 22nd overall, and the Jays take him over Marcus Stroman. That's an interesting one to ponder - Giolito or Stroman?
To complete the circle, this winter Giolito was the headline return for the White Sox in the deal that sent Adam Eaton to Washington. Had they not blown that game, they may not have him now. Actually, if the Jays had taken Chris Sale over Deck McGuire in 2010, Sale wouldn't have been there to blow that game, and maybe the Jays have Sale and Giolito.
Let's go down the chaos theory route a little further. I've been looking over some old Blue Jays transactions recently, and noticed a couple of interesting things as it pertains to the Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson.
In August 1998, the Jays signed an undrafted free agent catcher from Florida State. Kevin Cash shot through the minors, debuting in September 2002 and spending parts of 2003-04 as the backup catcher. In December 2004, Cash was traded to Tampa Bay for Chad Gaudin, then an undistinguished swingman. After posting a 13.15 ERA over 13 innings in five games in 2005, Gaudin was flipped to Oakland for the famed PTBNL.
Gaudin figured things out in Oakland, first as a reliever in 2006 and then as a starter in 2007, and at the 2008 trade deadline was included in the deal that sent Rich Harden to the Chicago Cubs. Who was the in the package heading back to Oakland? A catcher named Josh Donaldson. If not for Kevin Cash, do the Jays ever acquire Josh Donaldson? Cash of course figures into another infamous Blue Jays storyline, as after retiring in 2012 he joined the Jays as an advance scout before moving onto Cleveland where he recommended they acquire Yan Gomes.
There's another Donaldson tie-in. In November 2010, the Jays acquired Rajai Davis from Oakland for prospects Danny Farquhar and Tryston Magnuson. Opening 2011, the Jays had an out-of-options David Purcey in the bullpen. His April 11th meltdown against Seattle (up 7-1 in the 8th, the Jays lost 8-7) was the last straw, and he was designated for assignment. He ended up going to Oakland, with Farquhar coming back. One month later, Oakland flipped Purcey to Detroit for Scott Sizemore. And famously, it was an injury to Sizemore in Spring Training 2012 that opened the door for Donaldson at third base, and the rest is history.