Jays Journal Roundtable: Most Important Free Agent to Pursue


Recently I came across an article at CBS Sports with a format that looked rather interesting to me.  They had several writers discussing their thoughts on Brian McCann.  Here at Jays Journal, we have debates all the time through Gmail, but we never really post them.  Today, we decided to make the first Jays Journal Roundtable, hopefully it will happen more often in the future.  I want to thank Kyle Franzoni, Michael Wray, Jeff Morten, Alex Dineley, and Michael Van Bommel for taking the time to contribute to this article.  Please feel free to share your thoughts as well in the comment section below.  We hope that all of you enjoy!


If the Blue Jays want to bring some hype back to Toronto they need to make a splash.  What do I have in mind?  How about SP Masahiro Tanaka? Is he a true free agent?  No, but he would be the get of the off-season for a team that needs to upgrade its pitching.  What would it cost the team?  Probably a $75 Million Dollar posting fee, plus a 6 years $65 Million contract.  Is he worth it?

Tanaka is 25 years old went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA this season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and pitched 212 innings. That means his prime pitching years are in front of him and he has already shown the ability to throw for 200 innings/year. There are well-known MLB pitchers who came over from Japan (Davrish, Iwakuma, Kuroda).  Let’s compare Masahiro Tanaka’s last three seasons to these pitchers last three seasons in Japan.  Masahiro has a walk rate of 3.7% with a Strikeout Rate of 25%.  This walk rate is lower than MLB pitchers Davrish (6.1%), Iwakuma(6%) and Kuroda(4.9%), while his strike out rate is better than all of them except Darvish (28%).

Does my gut tell me Tanaka will be as good as Darvish?  No.  There is no real way to know how it will turn out but I think the Blue Jays need to take the risk and post the potential $75 Million fee to negotiate with him.  This posting fee will not go against the luxury tax and he would be a big addition to put next to RA Dickey, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle.


Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest need for the Blue Jays is certainly pitching.  Everyone knows that.  The hole at second base is rather glaring and that’s why, in order to shore up the infield defensively we need a guy like Omar Infante.  Maybe not as splashy as the pitching needs but just as vital.

He doesn’t strike out much, fields the ball pretty well and he has played for a winning team in Detroit.  Throw him into the infield and you have the makings of something pretty solid offensively and defensively around the horn.  With there being a lack of quality second basemen in the free agent class we need to move quickly.


Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Toronto’s most important free agent to pursue? Well, let’s take out of the equation Masahiro Tanaka, who with the Yankees in full pursuit, the Blue Jays are not likely to win the posting bid for. Still, with pitching being the basest pure need for the Blue Jays this winter, I think it comes down to four pitchers; Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ricky Nolasco.

There are a few factors which we need to consider here to determine which the best fit is.  All three pitchers are relatively the same age, all being between the ages of 29 and 31, so there is no clear advantage here for any of them.  So we move on to their track records and proceed from there.

Nolasco has posted double-digit victories each of the last six seasons, and seven of the last eight.  That said, he also has a career 4.37 ERA which is nothing to brag about, coupled with a 0.97 GO/AO ratio and a 3.52 SO/BB ratio.

Jimenez holds a 3.97 career ERA with a solid 1.32 GO/AO ratio, a 2.43 K/BB ratio, and double-digit victories in five of the last six seasons.  However, his two seasons prior to his walk year were nothing to write home about and there is a risk involved with putting so much stock on one half of baseball.

Garza has a solid reputation as a competitor, but also has some character issues as well (see his Twitter rants for further information).  However, he’s proven he can pitch in the American League East in the past, has a similar GO/AO ratio to Nolasco (0.92), a 2.55 K/BB ratio, and a career ERA of 3.84. What will really be the key for Toronto will be whether he can stay healthy though, as Garza has failed to make 30 starts in a season in each of the last two years and only twice has surpassed the 200 inning threshold.

Finally we have Ervin Santana, who has already come out and stated his high salary demands.  He’s kind of a hit or miss pitcher, having posted double-digit victory totals in 5 of his nine seasons, and five double-digit loss seasons as well.  However, he brings to the table solid record of durability, a 2.52 K/BB ratio.  His GO/AO ratio of 0.87 is a bit lower than desired and he has averaged 25 home runs allowed per season, both of which could be determined as undesirable for Rogers Centre.

At the end of the day, my choice would be to pick up Jimenez.  His performance in the second half indicated a changed pitcher and the Blue Jays could do worse than to take a risk on him finding his 2010 form again.  That said, Nolasco would be my choice as a fallback option.


Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at the Blue Jays, I think the obvious read is the starting pitching was really bad.  Sure, Toronto could use another pitcher, but I think the bigger problem is the guy receiving the ball.  Catcher absolutely had an impact on the all-around aspect of practically every game this season.  Unfortunately, J.P. Arencibia didn’t get the job done. So in my opinion, the #1 need for Toronto is a catcher.

Toronto isn’t going to win a bidding war with Boston, so Brian McCann is out.  I’ve accepted that.  My guy is under the radar. My guy is Dioner Navarro. Navarro is 29, a former All Star, and it seems the poor years from 2009-2011 are behind him.  Last season for the Cubs, in only 240 ABs, he clubbed 13 HRs with a .300 AVG and .365 OBP.  Even if he splits time with JPA, he’s still an upgrade.

Navarro’s best contribution will come in the field.  Though his arm may have fallen off a bit in throwing out baserunners in 2013, 26% is still better than JPA’s 25%.  With the exception of this season, Navarro’s typically thrown out closer to 30% or better, which is better than the league averag.  He also had only 5 errors this season.  They were all on throws.  Oh yea… he also knows how to frame a pitch and block pitches in the dirt.

I know Navarro sounds like a “Who? Big deal..” signing, but take a look at the moves the 2013 Boston Red Sox made.  Those little moves like signing Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes excited nobody, but the positive impact of a few good, under-the-radar signings made a huge difference on that team.  Navarro is one of those guys for Toronto.  Inexpensive and just what the doctor ordered.


Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a little torn to name only one free agent as the most important for the Blue Jays to pursue.  The rotation obviously needs help so a pitcher would have to be on the top of my list. I see Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez similar in terms of ability.  Each comes with their own risk/reward factors but it would obviously be an upgrade for the Blue Jays if they could nab one of the three. For me it comes down to term – I would not be willing to invest five guaranteed years for any pitcher this offseason and my ideal signee would come with no more than four years (with a team option for the fifth).

I’ve also been toying with the idea of Scott Kazmir, which would leave the Jays with more payroll flexibility going forward as he’s expected to sign for two years at less than $10 million per.  He’s more of a wild card since he could be really, really good or possibly really, really bad.  But a two-year deal would work well with the current “window” for the Blue Jays and would leave them in a more flexible position after the 2015 MLB season.  I’d be more than happy if any of these four pitchers ended up as Toronto Blue Jays in 2014 under the right contract terms.


Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If Mike Napoli was still considered an everyday catcher and hadn’t previously been burned by the Blue Jays organization I would say that it’s a no brainer to put him at the top of the list of free agents the club would be pursuing. But with Napoli’s hip condition and Boston’s dearth of catching depth in 2013 turning Napoli into a first baseman, he no longer holds the same appeal as when AA gave him away after the Vernon Wells deal.

So that leaves me to go with the incredibly uninspiring Kurt Suzuki as my pick for the free agent most important to the Jays. It’s fairly obvious to everyone (except those who work in the Jays front office) that the Jays are seriously in need of an upgrade behind the plate. While they do have some intriguing potential prospects in their system, the clubs track record with anointing catchers of the future and dealing away useable catchers leaves me thinking an external option is best.

With Brian McCann not likely to land in Toronto and Jarrod Saltalamacchia likely to get himself overpaid coming off a championship with the Red Sox, the Jays would be looking at some of the less flashy names at catcher. Another name, A.J. Pierzynski, offers a little more with the bat, but he only had 11 walks in over 500 plate appearances. Going into his age 37 season, losing some bat speed could quickly see him turn into an older more expensive J.P Arencibia.

So using that deductive reasoning, I’m putting my money on Suzuki. Suzuki has been solid defensively, he knows how to take a walk, and has worked well with young pitchers in Oakland and Washington. With Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman all potential candidates for the Jays rotation that is something that cannot be discounted.