Griffin: Despite loss of many popular trade targets, Jays have options
The trend of the Jays being seen as bridesmaids continued big-time early this week, when in the space of 24 hours, coveted A's leftander Gio Gonzalez was traded to the Nationals and free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran signed a deal with the Cardinals for two years and $26 million.
There was no surprise to the length and the dollars in Beltran's contract, so it came down to where did he want to play. How about for the defending champion Cardinals, with a huge hole in the middle of the order in a baseball-crazy town. Perhaps more than coincidentally, the 34-year-old's agent is Dan Lozano, who also represents the departed Albert Pujols. Maybe he thought he owed the Cardinals a favour and Beltran helps.
The Jays' current off-season has been one of ending up being seen as also-rans in virtually every trade for an established player and in many free-agent signings at their positions of need. Who knows how many negotiations the Jays have actually been interested in being in on, but, face it, it's easy to include the Jays if you're an agent trying to promote your client, because they will always refuse to confirm or deny. Make no mistake, there is still time for GM Alex Anthopoulos to get the job done, but he needs to step up the pace and pull the trigger, likely on a deal being made behind the scenes, to help his roster for 2012.
The Jays went into the off-season needing to strengthen themselves at second base, back-up catcher, bullpen closer and several middle relievers, a mid-to-top-of-the-rotation starter and a middle-of-the-order bat, most likely in left field.
Anthopoulos, as is his personal philosophy, preferred to do most of this roster shuffling via trades rather than leaning on an overpriced, overrated free agency system. He planned on utilizing a very deep farm system of prospects, many of them pitchers, as inventory. Two months into the off-season, Anthopoulos still has much work to do with less than two months to go before pitchers and catchers report to training camp in Dunedin.
As the New Year approaches, the Jays' GM has only a short portion of his wish-list filled. He obtained catcher Jeff Mathis for non-prospect lefthander Brad Mills. He merely was an interested observer as second baseman Kelly Johnson unexpectedly accepted arbitration for one year of non-guaranteed salary, solving second base in the short term, but costing the club two draft picks in June. Anthopoulos obtained a closer, Sergio Santos, giving up the first of his deep inventory of talented minor league starters, Nestor Molina. Then he obtained righthanded reserve outfielder Ben Francisco for lefthander Frank Gailey.
He still needs a mid-to-top of the rotation starter, several relievers and a strong bat. The arm and the bat were his most important needs. Gonzalez and Beltran were in that mix. The Jays were rumoured to be in on Mat Latos who went to the Reds. The packages to the A's for Gonzalez and to the Padres for Latos were both more than the Jays were willing to send. Anthopoulos sticks to his evaluations and won't chase in trades or free agency.
Then there was John Danks. The Jays and many others were seen to be in on the White Sox lefthander, having discussed the possibility with GM Kenny Williams while talking about Santos. But the same day Gonzalez went to the Nats, Danks was signed to a multi-year extension in Chicago.
While all of these perceved lost trades and signings for the Jays had been percolated on the media front burner, as Anthopoulos has often proven in the past, he does his best work behind closed doors, wherein the Jays' trade or free agent signing is announced with little in the way of warning or fanfare. Examples include Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells, Kelly Johnson, Shaun Marcum and Santos. The Colby Rasmus trade was as close to a leak as was out there, but likey because of the three-way aspect and the details needing to be tied up with the White Sox and Cardinals.
A quick look at the top 3-4 starters in the 30 major-league starting rotations, the type of players that Anthopoulos would be targeting, show that there are still many legitimate options out there that just have not been publicized.
The more publicized include Matt Garza of the Cubs; Wade Davis and James Shields of the Rays; Gavin Floyd of the White Sox; Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris of the Astros; A.J. Burnett of the Yankees; Jeremy Guthrie of the O's; Ervin Santana of the Angels; Cole Hamels of the Phillies; Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison of the Rangers; Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake of the Reds and the list goes on. In free agency, the best available are Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson and Rich Harden.
A nice round number to review the Jays roster again would be on January 18, the deadline for the Rangers to sign Yu Darvish to a major-league deal. There's a good chance the Jays roster by that point will have solved at least one of those problems. When it comes to Anthopoulos and anticipating his moves, look for the road less travelled.