Hands up those of you who thought that the Blue Jays would opt to welcome back free agents Jason Frasor and Edwin Encarnacion. Since I clearly can’t see how many of you have raised your hands, I’ll safely assume that few – if any – of you called it. I sure didn’t.
Both men were brought back with relatively little risk – Frasor at a modest salary which arbitration will determine and Encarnacion at $2.5 million – about half of what he would have earned through arbitration. While the Frasor signing wasn’t completely unexpected (he wasn’t going to find much of a market for a decent set-up guy who, as a Type A free agent, would cost his new team a top draft pick), Encarnacion’s return is surprising as he had earlier been picked up on waivers by Oakland – who then failed to offer him a contract.
Ironically, it marks the second time that Encarnacion’s days in Toronto were thought to be numbered. The third baseman was designated for assignment in June, only to be brought back less than two weeks later.
Encarnacion returns in a decidedly different role than he experienced last season. Wanting to keep his 21-homer bat in the line-up without having to endure his error-prone efforts from the hot corner, the team is expected to use him as a first baseman / DH. Still, his signing does not necessarily mean that Alex Anthopoulos is done tinkering at of first, third or the DH position.
Farewell Downs, Overbay, Et Al
Hardly much of a surprise that Scott Downs (Angels), Lyle Overbay (Pirates), John Buck (Marlins), Jeremy Accardo (Orioles), Brian Tallet (Cardinals) and reportedly, Kevin Gregg (Orioles) all flew the coop. While the losses leave plenty of holes on the team’s roster, all but Downs and maybe Gregg are easily replaceable. The team did not want to be saddled with some of the contracts these guys got ($33 million for Downs and Buck alone… no thanks!).
Even with the re-signing of Frasor, Anthopoulos will have four selections among the first 50 picks of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft – all thanks to the departures of Downs, Buck and Miguel Olivo (Mariners).
Two Trades, Revisited
The exit of Overbay and Accardo allows for a re-evaluation of two trades made by former GM J.P. Ricciardi during his tenure with the club.
In late 2005, Overbay and reliever Ty Taubenheim were acquired from the Brewers in exchange for Gabe Gross, Dave Bush and Zach Jackson. Overbay offered a promising start to his tenure with the Jays hitting .312 with 22 HR and 92 RBI in 2006. Lyle could not duplicate those numbers over the following four seasons. Still, he averaged 16+ HR and 36 doubles during his five years north of the border and provided exceptional defence at first base.
On Milwaukee’s end, that trade ultimately came down to Gross and Bush (Jackson started only two games as a Brewer and is now back with the Jays). Gross enjoyed a standout 2006 that included a .274 average and .382 OBP, but fizzled out in 2007 and was soon dealt to Tampa Bay. Bush, meanwhile, has been a solid if underwhelming back-of-the-rotation constant for Milwaukee, making at least 20 starts in each of the past five seasons.
Verdict: Tie. Overbay held his status as the best player in the deal, but Milwaukee got a serviceable starting pitcher and a productive year from Gross.
Accardo, meanwhile, was acquired from the San Francisco Giants for Shea Hillenbrand and Vinnie Chulk in 2006. Hillenbrand had left the Jays on bad terms after clashing with then-manager John Gibbons wrote“This ship is sinking” and “Play for yourself” on the clubhouse chalkboard. Despite his self-serving scribblings, Hillenbrand was utterly forgettable in a 60-game stint in San Francisco and was out of baseball just one year later.
The trade really came down to the relievers – Accardo and Chulk. Accardo had an uneven four seasons in Toronto highlighted by a 2007 season that saw him save 30 games and earn a 2.14 ERA in 64 appearances. Chulk was an innings-eater in parts of three seasons for the Giants, tossing 107 innings over 112 appearances.
Verdict: Toronto wins. Accardo’s 2007 campaign was head and shoulders above anything either Hillenbrand or Chulk have accomplished since (unless we’re counting Hillenbrand’s .340 average with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, which we aren’t).
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Written by Ben Fisher