Everyone that knows the Jays well seems to be aware that Alex Anthopolous will need to make some key decisions in 2 areas: the bullpen – as Jared Macdonald covered here earlier last week – and the infield. I’d like to touch upon the infield and the best options that Alex is facing this winter. I’ll begin with the most glaring hole in all of the infield, First Base, and will follow suit with posts for 2B, SS, 3B, and C.
To me, this is the biggest hole in the entire lineup. Not only have the Jays lacked power from the 1B position since Carlos Delgado left the franchise, but they’ve also lacked any sort of run driving production, something you can’t afford to have at such a key offensive position. Thankfully, the Jays and Alex Anthopolous have 3 major routes to go through to fix this ailment with a ton of options in each category – internally, through trade, or through Free Agency (FA).
The internal options are the most interesting ones if the Jays are looking to keep costs to a minimum.
1 – Adam Lind is the most talked about option at 1B heading into 2011. He had a miserable 1st half of the season, hitting a lowly .214 with a .271 OBP, but did pick it up a little in the 2nd half after making some adjustments at the plate, hitting a more respectable .267 with a .309 OBP. In either case, that kind of production is unsatisfactory for a 1B. Will it be different in 2011? Who knows, but whatever the case the Jays can’t afford to have that kind of production at 1B or DH if they want to make the playoffs in 2011 or beyond. The fact that Adam Lind recently signed a contract to remain with the club through 2016 at an affordable rate (if all options are used, 2014 if not) makes it likely that he’ll remain with the club.
However, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he were traded should he begin the year off slowly once again. I foresee the possibility of Adam becoming trade bait at some point this off season or in 2011, as he could easily be afforded by most teams in MLB and does have the power and hitting ability some may seek in a package for a player that they can’t afford to keep (Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder come to mind, but we’ll get back to that later). The Jays could very well play the waiting game in this case, hope Adam returns to form or heightens his trade value, and then pull the trigger or simply keep him at DH or 1B. There are a lot of questions surrounding Adam Lind from this point forward, all due to his lackluster 2010 season, but he did at least show us that he can handle 1B if need be.
2 – Re-signing Lyle Overbay is the most obvious of the bunch, and would maintain a familiarity within the group of players the Jays have on board as well as some stellar D, but it doesn’t fix the offensive woes the Jays have experienced from the position. This would be relatively expensive when compared to internal options from the minors, but it may also allow these other options to get the seasoning they need to be prepared for the jump.
3 – David Cooper – Although he has only made it as high as AA and probably still needs quite a bit of seasoning, David does provide a great backup plan to whoever will begin the year at 1B for the Jays. He is in the same mold as Danny Valencia in Minnesota, someone who plays sound D and hits well, but doesn’t provide much pop for the position he plays. He did much better than 2009 by hitting 20 HRs last season and did finish the year hitting .361 with a .439 OBP over his last 10 games, a much needed improvement to get him moving up in 2010. However, I can’t see the Jays allowing him to make the jump from AA to the majors, so beginning the 2011 season in AAA seems to be his most viable option. If he starts off like gangbusters, the Jays can give him a look in the majors come mid-season or as a September call-up.
4 – Michael McDade – This is a good internal option long term, but may be a pipe dream for the 2011 season. I am glad that he came through with another good – but not great – season in 2010, as he hit 21 HRs in only 480 ABs at 20 years old in HiA. But, he did strike out often with 121 SOs to his meager 21 walks. His OBP was also low at .315 and he’ll most likely inherit the AA 1B position from David Cooper as a result in order to see him work on those deficiencies. He is currently playing in the AFL and is looking great, with a .326 average in 43 ABs and a surprising 8 walks to his 4 Ks. That has brought his OBP to .442 for that short season thus far, but it’s expected that hitters do well in this hitter friendly league. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come for the big 260 lbs 1B, as I’d love for him to develop into a real power and OBP threat for the Jays at 1B. There is no doubt Michael needs at least 1 more full season in the minors before being called upon, but there is that minute chance of his tearing up AA for the 1st half and getting a look in the 2nd half of 2011 if all else fails.
5 – Brad Emaus – Although he has played mostly at 3B in AAA, Brad is able to handle 1B. His OBP hovered around .400 all season long in AA and AAA, and he has enough pop to make him a threat at the bottom or top of the lineup. However, due to his versatility, Brad is better suited to play a utility role and to fill in at 1B, 2B, and 3B when needed. In fact, he may very well be a candidate to take the 3B role on full time, although I’ll touch on that later this week.
1 – Prince Fielder – The big Brewer lowered his trade value by hitting fewer HRs than he has in 4 seasons and the lowest average of his career at .261. He also is represented by Scott Boras and will be a FA in 2012, making the likeliness of the Brewers retaining him extremely low. The Brewers still have to sign him or go to Arbitration for the 2011 season, making it likely that he’ll cost them more than the $10.5 million he cost them in 2010. The Jays are one of a few teams that could afford to pay Prince what he is worth and that have the goods to make a trade with the Brewers. They’ve conducted some trade with them in the past, the most recent being the older Lyle Overbay, and could dangle one starter along with Adam Lind to entice the Brewers to bite. The Brewers are in dire need of pitching and do have Matt Gamel coming up to give them some more pop in the lineup. I’m fairly certain that the Jays would ask the Brewers for permission to negotiate a new contract with Prince and Mr. Boras if they were to make such a deal, as dealing that much talent would be risky if he were to become a FA in 2012 and walk away.
The good thing about Prince is that he is just about to turn 27, the prime age for hitters and will be in his prime for the majority of any deal a new team will make with him. They’d also be ensuring that the Red Sox or Orioles don’t land him (remember that the Orioles made a strong push for FA Mark Texeira before he signed with NY) and would have a fixture at the plate behind or in front of Jose Bautista in the lineup for some time. One bad part is that he is already overweight for his age, but he can play DH in the AL, making his conditioning a lesser issue for the Jays. Another issue is the fact that he’s coming off a down year, but to me that makes it more likely that the Jays could land him and also more likely that the Brewers would deal him, as they can’t afford to both sign him and have him continue to struggle.
The deal I could foresee would depend on the ability to deal and sign him simultaneously. A SP, a hitter, and 1 prospect seems likely.
2 – Adrian Gonzalez – With all of the ties the Red Sox have had to Adrian Gonzalez, it’s hard to foresee him being dealt to the Jays. As mentioned above with Prince Fielder, acquiring Adrian would allow the Jays to ensure the Red Sox don’t acquire him, and would also add the consistent pop they seek. However, I don’t see the Jays doing this for a couple of reasons. First, he’ll cost the Jays more than Prince Fielder would in terms of talent because his stock is currently higher. Second, he may also cost a lot more to sign long term and may be harder to sign because he’s had more success recently. Finally, he’s older at 29 for the 2011 season, and just had shoulder surgery which could sap some of his power. Adrian will only be making $5.5 million in 2011, and although the Padres have said re-signing him makes no sense for them financially, they could be forced to do so in order to have a face to their franchise. If he goes, who becomes the face of the franchise, Matt Latos? Whether they do or don’t sign him, Adrian will be looking to get paid big time in 2012 and beyond after making so little up to this point for such a high performance level – making it even less likely the Jays will land Gonzo.
3 – Others – Mark Reynolds and James Loney are the only 2 other impact 1B I can foresee the Jays targeting as trade options. The Jays had been linked to the Dodgers often last year in hopes of trading some pen help to the Dodgers, but failed to make a deal. I can’t truly say that either team would be willing to deal these players, but I will say that the Diamondbacks have been saying they’re looking to dump some salary all year long. Mark’s salary is jumping from $0.5 million in 2010 to $5 million in 2011 and $7.5 million in 2012, making him a candidate to be dealt. However, even though Mark’s power is much better than any Jay not named Bautista, his lowly average (blow the Mendoza line at .198 in 2010) makes it unlikely the Jays will deal for him, unless they believe that was an anomaly after 3 years at better levels.
Adam Dunn – Now that JP Ricciardi is gone, perhaps the Jays can entice Adam to join the club and to bring his power show to the AL East. Adam made $12 million in 2010 and is said to be looking for a deal that would go 3 or 4 years. He’ll play 2011 as a 31 year old, making a 4 year deal at a high rate risky to say the least. However, I could envision the Jays paying up to $13 million per year for 3 years, making the total contract worth $39 million or $40 million, just to round things out. What would they get for their money? Well, he’s about as sure a 40 HR and 100 RBI man as you will find in MLB and offers a great OBP and average to boot. He won’t cost the Jays any talent except that which they can’t afford due to the contract they give Adam, and he can play 1B and the OF when required. Between he and Adam Lind, the Jays would have good options at 1B, DH and off the bench, although both hit from the left side of the plate, making their tandem a little less effective. But, when you consider that Vernon Wells,Jose Bautista, and JP Arencibia are all RHB power threats, that fits very well within the lineup as a whole.An added bonus for Adam is his reputation as a great clubhouse guy and his willingness to play in smaller markets.
Lance Berkman – He would be an okay short term option, but shouldn’t be signed any longer than 1 season at a time. At 35 and with many injury issues, I can’t see his fitting with the Jays but do still consider him a threat at the plate, so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he becomes a Jay.
I foresee the Jays and Alex Anthopolous letting Lyle Overbay walk unless he’s willing to come off the bench. Next, I strongly believe that they’ll try everything they can to land Adam Dunn without giving in to his 4th year demands, and that if this falls through they will try to land either Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez – in order of likeliness. If these options fall through for any reason, the Jays will allow Adam Lind to continue to play 1B and will wait to see how well David Cooper and Michael McDade do as they are promoted to the next level. If need be, they’ll use Brad Emaus or Mike McCoy at 1B to spell Adam Lind.
That’s my take on first base for the Jays in 2011. Anticipated result and lineup if Adam Dunn is landed as a FA: