Over the course of the 2014 offseason, the ongoing theme for the Toronto Blue Jays was patience. After swiftly acting to sign free agent catcher Dioner Navarro, the team decided to let the market come to them in regards to free agent arms, hoping that the team could pick up a viable starter at the price they wanted to pay. After all, the Blue Jays were in a good position with limited destinations available.
Ultimately, outside of signing Navarro, the Blue Jays were left empty handed.
Alex Anthopoulos and his staff underestimated the resolve of their various targets. They also underestimated the lasting impression their decision to low-ball every available player would have once the market shook out. Injuries created openings with other teams and those players spurned the Jays in favor of landing in more preferred destinations, sometimes for equal deals that Toronto was offering (see Ervin Santana).
Now, mistakes are part of life. The key is learning from said mistakes and using the examples of the past to carve out a strategy for the future. Put simply, the Alex Anthopoulos and staff need to change things up in order to be successful during the 2015 Hot Stove season.
That change starts with an increased sense of urgency. Anthopoulos recently told the media (h/t John Lott, National Post) that the Blue Jays intend to be competitive this winter, but both Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston were quick to maintain that the Blue Jays will continue to hold to their 5-year limit on free agent contracts. That’s a tricky slope to walk with one hand holding the other back.
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The Blue Jays could find a way around the 5-year limit by committing more money on shorter terms, similar to how the Boston Red Sox did prior to the 2013 season. That may limit their pursuits of top free agents like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, or James Shields, all guys looking for the big payday and likely looking for a large commitment of both money and years.
However, jumping into the fray with top dollars early may sway some targets immediately. One of those targets will be Toronto’s own Melky Cabrera, who the Blue Jays will attempt to re-sign this winter. The team would be prudent to lock up Melky quickly, preferably within their 10-day negotiating window, than to allow him to hit the open market where the bidding will rise.
While there are some helpful players on the second base market, players like Mike Aviles and Asdrubal Cabrera come to mind, the overall 2015 class at the position is limited to role players. That may lead the Blue Jays to pursuing a third baseman instead, which will shift Brett Lawrie to third base in the process.
Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval, and Aramis Ramirez highlight the hot corner market this winter. Now, Sandoval is said to be a hot commodity, given his productive bat and solid clubhouse presence. At 28-years-old, he’ll certainly be looking for a deal at five years or more, and there are bidders out there that will give him both the money and the length of term. However, Headley and Ramirez fall into Toronto’s wheelhouse a bit more.
Headley’s injury history, and his age (31) make it unlikely that he’ll garner more than a four-year deal. However, the Yankees loved what they got from him down the stretch and are said to want to bring him back, even with Alex Rodriguez returning next season. The Yankees may simply price him out of Toronto’s market.
That leaves Aramis Ramirez in play, and he would be a solid fit. While he is getting up there in age (37) and his power took a dip this season, he has stayed relatively steady, both at the plate and in the field. Having him in the American League also presents the luxury of being able to give him rest in the DH sport a few times a week. A 2-year, $25 million deal may be enough to bring him to Toronto, but again, the team would need to be aggressive and drop that offer on his lap right at the opening bell.
That leaves our bullpen. While most of the Jays Journal staff and just about any fan would love to see Andrew Miller in a Blue Jays uniform next season, the history of the Jays spending big on relievers just doesn’t say he’ll get the payday from Toronto. B.J. Ryan will forever haunt us. And truth be told, the expectation is that the closer role will go to an internal candidate (cough…Brett Cecil…cough), which leaves the offseason focus on set-up roles. There are a few intriguing arms to be had, both right and left-handed, but again the Blue Jays need to be definitive in their pursuits.
By coming out of the gates strong, the Jays will send a message that they want players, and won’t simply settle for what everyone else refused to pay. It’ll also help to waylay some concerns from the fan base, although that is not likely a concern of the management. The rest of the division has needs to fill as well, as it promises to be an aggressive winter for the entire American League East.
The Blue Jays simply cannot afford to wait their turn and watch the rest of the division get better around them.