Jays Keeping Pace

I left for an unexpected trip with the Canadian Forces late last week and did not have much access to the internet, so I apologize for the lack of recent content.  I caught up with all of the news in Jays land upon my return, and I’m glad to see that the Jays are keeping pace with the AL East elites. In fact, other than the Boston Red Sox who are on a bit of a roll over their last 10 games (7-3), the remainder have stayed around .500 over that span.

What caught me by surprise the most was numerous salvos being thrown around by Alex Anthopolous that point to the Jays being buyers in this market. He does make that evident with lots of caution that the Jays would have to continue their strong start for the next month or two in order to be “real’ buyers, but there are a few great reasons for the Jays to buy between now and the trade deadline.

  1. They have the cash to take on lots of salary because they entered the season well below their usual 80-90 million mark, with a total of just over 60 million owed. This means that any team that can’t find anything of value for a player could simply try to dump salary (as the Jays did with Alex Rios last season in a waiver situation). This may or may not cost the Jays a prospect, depending on the amounts and whether the player was on waivers. Just because AA said the Jays could be buyers, it doesn’t mean he’s willing to deal top prospects, and this is the best way to make that happen in my opinion.
  2. The Jays are going to have to place a ton of top prospects in the minors after the upcoming draft which means they’ll have to make some room. Therefore, many of the prospects currently in the minors could be dangled as value bets for teams looking to dump some salary. If the Jays are willing to take on 5 million and add John Tolisano or Justin Jackson in a deal, for example, the other team may be more willing to make a deal happen. Since the Jays have so many top end picks, chances are many minors transaction will be made in June, July, and the beginning of August.
  3. The Jays have a ton of guys with expiring contracts, as well as many “extra” minor leaguers as explained above, therefore, they have more trade chips to put on the table than usual. Upgrades at certain positions could be the name of the game before the deadline instead of simply dealing prospects and taking on salary.

Having said all of that, I am still doubtful that the Jays will land a top trade market guy like Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee. Adding one of the two would make the Jays a real contender, in my opinion, so long as it doesn’t cost the Jays one of Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Brett Cecil or Marc Rzepczynski (which it would obviously not make sense to do). But, adding one of the two to this rotation would allow the Jays to have a veteran presence it would clearly need to make a sustained playoff run.

So, because I know everyone is asking themselves “what would it cost” to land each arm, here’s the best guess I could come up with.

  • Cliff Lee acquisition cost: Seattle is only 6.5 games out of the AL West lead, so Cliff won’t be on the market for a long while yet. However, it we are to assume that they do fall behind, say 12 games or so, then he will be made available to the highest bidder – so long as the highest bidder is willing to provide 2 guys worth more than a 1st rd pick and a sandwich pick (what they would most likely get if they lost him to FA). Cliff would only be owed close to 4-5 million if traded before the deadline, making him very affordable. Therefore, acquiring Cliff would cost the Jays a lot more than acquiring Roy Oswalt, but they’d also be getting someone who is proven to be successful in the AL. Roy has no experience in the AL and his performance has diminished already in the NL, so he may struggle to get comfortable in the AL East. I see Cliff as costing the Jays 3-4 prospects in the range of SP Brad Mills, 1B Michael McDade, one of CF Darin Mastroianni – RF Moises Sierra or LF Eric Thames, and SP Luis Perez. The Mariners could also ask for one of the many talented Jays catchers in the minors like AJ Jimenez or Brian Jeroloman. I’m not certain that would get it done, but it’s also possible that one or some of these could be replaced by one of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Scott Downs or Jason Frasor if the Mariners are looking for an immediate impact player. Would it be worth it for the Jays to do this? If they’re in contention, definitely. Because not only would they get Cliff to make a run in 2010, but they would most likely land 2 top picks for him in the 2011 draft once he signs elsewhere (making use of their supped up scouting department) and could slip Kyle Drabek in the spot for the 2011 season. Cliff’s acquisition would put butts in the seats – something that has been dearly lacking in Toronto to everyone’s surprise.
  • Roy Oswalt, on the other hand, is owed a ton of money and plays for a team that is way out of it at 11.5 games back. The thing that makes his acquisition hardest is that he controls where he goes. I doubt Toronto’s at the top of his list because he knows they have to beat all of the other AL East monsters to make the playoffs. Still, if the Jays can pull up to the top 2, he may consider it. If he does, he would cost the acquiring team between 7 and 8 million dollars depending on the date of acquisition, as well as 16 million in 2011 and a minimum of 2 million in 2012 if he is bought out of a 16 million club option year. Therefore, the Astros are more or less looking to move him and his salary while trying to get at least 1 or 2 prospects – more if they are forced to eat some salary. The Jays can afford Roy at 16 million in 2011, but do they want to? I’m not so sure. Like I said, he’s unproven in the AL East and could cost the Jays a ton of money for Javier Vazquez 2010 edition type performances. Therefore, he’s riskier. The nice thing about acquiring Roy, however, is that the Astros need prospects at ALL positions except catcher. David Cooper, Brad Mills, Jarrett Hoffpauir and one OF prospect may be enough to get Roy so long as the Jays want to take on all of his salary. To me, although it is riskier, it is probably a better match for the Jays to acquire Roy Oswalt than to chase Cliff Lee. He’s a strong leader who wants to win badly, and who knows what his presence could do for the Jays in 2010 and 2011. The rotation of Oswalt, Romero, Marcum, Cecil, and Litsch or Rzepczynski, and eventually Drabek, would surely make the Jays real contenders in 2010 and 2011 while costing them players who are not in the future plans for the Jays but who would become some of the best prospects for the Astros.

Do I expect either of these scenarios to happen? Probably not as the likeliness of Cliff going elsewhere is definitely higher and Roy most likely would rather go the the Dodgers, Rockies, or Mets. I would add St-Louis but I doubt the Astros would deal to a division rival. Nothing Alex does would surprise me though and his presence as Jays GM does make everything a possibility. I would even be surprised to see a 3-team deal with Seattle AND Houston include, maybe with Carlos Lee or Lance Berkman heading to Seattle to give them the oomph they need. Nothing would surprise me. All I know for certain is that he’s letting other GMs know that he’s listening and willing to buy if possible. His communications to the media are not for the fans, but are aimed at getting others teams to contact him before they deal prominent players as the deadline approaches. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a deal done within the next 2 weeks, and it could make the difference between playing ball after the season ends and golfing instead.

Go get’em Alex – bring it one or two major pieces and let’s see where the chips fall.

Topics: Brett Cecil, David Cooper, Jarrett Hoffpauir, Jason Frasor, Marc Rzepczynski, Michael McDade, Ricky Romero, Scott Downs

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