Griffin: Heading into New Year, Jays no better than fourth place team
The Jays had a well-defined shopping list of roster needs heading into the current off-season. They have taken care of some of that business, purchased or traded for other items on that list, but there's still much work to be done and so little time. As it stands right now, they are no better than a fourth place team in the AL East, and not much better than .500 given that the development of young players is never a predictable curve.
The Jays' young general manager, Alex Anthopoulos has filled some of his stated needs, starting with backup catcher Jeff Mathis, second baseman Kelly Johnson and closer Sergio Santos. The Jays still need some experienced bullpen depth, led by one lefthanded specialist, and they most definitely still need that much-talked about mid-to-top-of-the-rotation starter.
Much has been made of how they can get that missing piece in the wake of the multiple prospect hauls by first the Padres for Mat Latos and then by the A's for Gio Gonzalez. Clearly, the Cubs would be willing to listen to offers and to part with their young-veteran starter Matt Garza in the right package, with ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine speculating that the right package from the Jays would have to include an outfielder like Jake Marisnick or Anthony Gose AND a young starter like Kyle Drabek or Deck McGuire. That looks like a reporter thumbing through Baseball America's 2011 Prospect Handbook and coming out with names of outfielders and starting pitchers. It's too much for Garza, but there are other ways to approach the Cubs and the familiar thinking of Theo Epstein.
That Garza rumour also helps explain why Anthopoulos prefers to remain so secretive about what teams he is dealing with and what players he covets. He does not want the package of prospects necessary to complete a trade to be ratcheted up by public speculation and other GMs that may come into the discussion late because they have heard of the Jays interest. The theory is if they don't get said player, they will at least make it more expensive for a competing team like the Jays to make themselves better.
So while public speculation had the Jays interested in Andrew Bailey from the A's, or Huston Street from the Rockies to fill the need for a closer, Anthopoulos was pestering Chisox GM Kenny Williams to make Santos available even though the Sox closer had just been signed to a four-year plus two option years sweetheart of a deal for the club and who, after all, trades a player at a key position that they just signed to a multi-year deal. Apparently Williams. Sos is John Danks, five-year deal in hand, feeling all that secure?
Oh, the Jays will get their No. 2 or 3 starter before spring training starts, but it will likely be someone less publicly discussed than Garza. The Cubs righthander has value because he has competed successfully in the AL East and is still younger than 30 and controllable for the next two seasons before his free agency, but Anthopoulos sets a value on any player he covets and will not chase beyond that value. It would seem that the Cubs are playing hardball on Garza through the media and it would also seem that Gose or Marisnick AND Drabek or McGuire is a little steep and gives away too much of what is now a very impressive Jays' inventory of prospects for a guy that in three years may not be as valuable as Drabek or McGuire alone.
Make no mistake about it, the Jays do need to improve the rotation by one solid starter if they are going to compete, but it says here odds are the identity of the pitcher that will be added and of the team Anthpoulos is having discussions with has not been accurately identified yet. But the generous packages for Latos and Gonzalez are not helping him out.
If the baseball season was starting on January 1 with current 40-man rosters in place, here is how the AL East would be handicapped.
1-Red Sox: Despite the most graceless swan-dive off a September cliff and out of the playoffs in major-league history, the Red Sox still won 90 games in 2011. That came despite debilitating injuries to the rotation and a horrible season by free agent Carl Crawford. The rotation has a solid threesome at the top with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz leaving two spots open from among Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller among others. Dice-K may return by the all-star break. Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon as closer and setup are solid replacements for Jonathon Papelbon and Bard. The offence is solid with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Big Papi Ortiz. Bobby Valentine would really have to mess this up.
2-Rays: Joe Maddon deserved his manager-of-the-year nod and this team has talent. The Rays may not be done making moves but we are talking about if the season started on New Year's Day. With a full season of sensational rookie Matt Moore, added to David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis, that is the division's best rotation. Closer might be an issue with Kyle Farnsworth. The Rays are led by Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton. These guys are a 90-plus win team.
3-Yankees: This is a team that could win off the fumes of its $210 million payroll from a year ago, or could implode upon unreal expectations by the young Steinbrenners that they can still win the division without any significant additions like in the good old days. The Yankees are tired of paying huge luxury tax penalties. The magic number for paying the tax is $178 million under the new CBA and $189 million in 2014. The Yankees are headed in that direction. In the meantime, they defend the division crown and 97 victories with a sketchy rotation beyond CC Sabathia. How would you feel going in with a Nos. 2-5 of Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes? Of course on many nights they will simply outscore an opponent led by Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and A-Rod with his new all-German body parts. At what point does Mariano Rivera start to regress?
4-Blue Jays: The Jays rotation has Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow that can be counted on for anything approaching 200 innings. Sure the Jays claim Brett Cecil approached that number of frames, but a lot of that was at Triple-A following his demotion. The rotaton depth is mostly at Double-A and below. Santos has 28 professional innings as a pitcher before earning a spot in the White Sox bullpen. Can you count on continued excellence without ever a step backwards? Henderson Alvarez, Drabek, Dustin McGowan and others can't be counted on as sure things if you are looking for a 90-win season. The Jays have eight players that can handle left field -- Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Rajai Davis, Ben Francisco, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Teahen, Mike McCoy and Kelly Johnson -- giving them a pool with depth from which to trade. If Opening Day was on Sunday, the Jays woud be an 80-85 win team, just because they have Romero, plus two-time defending MLB home run champ Jose Bautista and can field third baseman Brett Lawrie for a full season.
5-Orioles: At least there's one given that we can always count on in the division.