We are only a week into a so-far-successful September for the Toronto Blue Jays, but the offseason rumor mill is swirling around a club that was once in first place before dropping to 9.5 games back since the All-Star break. So, naturally, the guessing game has begun concerning the big names who are either up for free agency this winter or have pricey options on their contracts.
On the field
Although he is now out for the season with a broken finger, re-signing Melky Cabrera should be the number-one priority for the Blue Jays. The 30-year-old outfielder is solid and consistent at the plate, and he has held his own as one of the best defensive outfielders this season — putting his 2012 PED use and 2013 benign tumor behind him. Losing Melky Cabrera to free agency at this point in his career would be a huge loss for the club.
Melky Cabrera is everything the organization and fans anticipated they were getting during the 2012 blockbuster winter, where he inked a two-year deal with the Jays for $16 million. So, it’s hard to imagine GM Alex Anthopoulos not trying to keep the switch-hitter at all costs before he goes to the open market in November — even if his going rate is in the $50 million for four years range. The Melk Man is a key piece hitting second in the lineup, and he’s integral in the outfield … which, after the September call-ups, is more than you can say for the Blue Jays center fielder.
To be blunt: Colby Rasmus is as good as gone when the season wraps up. Last Wednesday in Tampa, he blatantly told Sportsnet’s Barry Davis that his spot is “up for grabs” after he was benched as a pinch-hitter for the remainder of the season to allow rookies Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar try their hands at his position. Rasmus is also a free agent this winter. With a disappointing 2014 under his belt, the writing is not only on the wall, but it seems set in stone as well, that his time in Toronto is over.
Keeping with the outfield theme, it wouldn’t be an upcoming Blue Jays offseason without those Bautista trade talk rumors. Is it smart? Probably not. Is it likely? I doubt it. It’s hard to imagine or even back such a game-changing decision, but let’s look at the arguments behind this annual discussion anyway.
Jose Bautista is currently under contract for $14 million a season, so it’s easy to understand how this idea gains momentum concerning the All-Star slugger. It’s purely a financial thing, and the discussions bring up that word Anthopoulos loves to dodge: budget. Realistically, the Jays could receive a handful of future stars in return for sending Bautista to a contending team that would allow him a World Series opportunity at the height of his career.
On the mound
The call-up of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris in September, and Drew Hutchison’s more-often-than-not solid return from Tommy John surgery, have possibly paved the way out for the underwhelming veterans in Toronto.
R.A. Dickey has spent two lackluster seasons on the mound for the Jays, and although Mark Buehrle was dominant in his first year with the club and for the first-half of this season, he has steadily struggled of late. It might be the right time for Anthopoulos to continue to move-on from the big 2013 trade and consider letting go of some of the veteran big-name starting pitchers to make way for the anticipated future-of-the-franchise rotation. Regardless of their individual struggles in Toronto, Dickey and Buehrle would still be attractive options, especially as a package deal, to other contending teams, which would not only bring the club a decent return but allow for some salary relief that could aid in re-signing Melky Cabrera and fixing-up the bullpen.
With just 16 starts in the past two years, it’s easy to forget mentioning Brandon Morrow. The Blue Jays have a $10 million option on the right-hander this offseason, and with around $93 million already reserved for eight players in 2015, the organization shouldn’t lose too much sleep over a gamble on Morrow regardless of his possible potential in the bullpen, where he was placed for the remainder of the season after finally returning to the team on Tuesday.
In the pen
Uncertainty over Casey Janssen’s free agency this offseason has loomed over the club all year and could very well take its toll on the closer, who started his career with the Blue Jays and is now in his seventh season. If someone would have told fans that Janssen would need a closer to follow him for multiple games, no one would have believed it – but once August rolled around, that has indeed been the case.
It was reported in the spring Janssen approached Anthopoulos to discuss the possibility of an extension, but that conversation did not amount to anything, and further talks were apparently put on hold. I think it’s safe to say that this doubt has played a role in the veteran’s second-half struggles. Since the All-Star break, Janssen has seen his ERA increase from 1.23 to 4.28 and has watched as 22-year-old rookie Sanchez recorded saves in favor of him.
Manager John Gibbons seems to be growing less and less comfortable with Janssen as a full-time closer, so the odds of him receiving an offseason offer — from the only organization he has ever known — have probably dwindled. But great closers are hard to come by, and they will never be cheap, so if the club sends Janssen to the market in a few months, who will take his place? As closers go, names for the 2015 season are projected to include Francisco Rodriguez, Sergio Romo, Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara, among others. Again, it’s a budget thing with Anthopoulos and the Jays. The club could decide to pass on the options of fellow bullpen residents Sergio Santos ($6 million) and Dustin McGowan ($4 million), which could either help the Jays hang on to Janssen with a new deal or throw those millions into the pot to get one of the arms on the market.
There have been suggestions that Sanchez should fill his role, but with pending holes in the Blue Jays starting rotation yet again, it might be more sensible to use his arsenal in that capacity.