First thing’s first: this sudden criticism of Alex Anthopoulos, Rogers and the Blue Jays for the handling of the Yu Darvish bid process is majorly overblown.
If reports and speculation are to be believed, the club made a bid in the neighbourhood of $50 million for the Darvish negotiation rights, coming up just short of the Texas Rangers’ $51.7 million bid in what was a closed process. Falling short of winning the Darvish bid is disappointing and leaves the Jays’ off-season incomplete (more on that in a moment), but the team made a big-money push and did all they could – short of winning the bid, of course – to prove that ownership will open up the cheque books when necessary.
Now that that’s off my chest, it’s time to look at losing out on Darvish for what it is: a disappointment that leaves the Jays with money to spend but with substantial upgrades needed on the pitching front.
The bullpen isn’t yet an area urgently in need of attention. Sergio Santos has already been added to anchor the relief corps and all of Casey Janssen, Luis Perez, Carlos Villanueva, Joel Carreno and Jesse Litsch expected to assume supporting roles. The rest of the ‘pen (most notably another left-hander) could be had via inexpensive free agent/waiver wire options or internal solutions (Dustin McGowan? Evan Crawford? Newly-acquired Jim Hoey?), none of which really has to be resolved before spring training.
The Darvish miss leaves the focus squarely on the starting rotation and the potential remaining options with which to bolster it. Beyond Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, there exists nothing but questions. Brett Cecil was a 2011 disappointment and can’t be relied upon as a consistent No. 3 starter after going 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA last season. Meanwhile, for very different reasons, none of McGowan, Kyle Drabek or Henderson Alvarez can be reasonably relied upon to fill a season-long starting role at this point.
The basic take-away: Toronto needs at least one and possibly two starting pitchers to sell themselves as a 2012 playoff threat and to consider this a successful off-season. With Darvish out of the picture, the focus must shift to who’s left.
The free agent market boasts one remaining name of intrigue – three-hour Jay Edwin Jackson. The basic make-up may intrigue Anthopoulos (strikeout machine, a 28-year old entering his prime), but Jackson could command decent money as the clear gem that remains among the starters (Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t hold the same long-term appeal). Plus, AA recently spelled out his present approach to acquiring pitching by stating, “We won’t rule out the free-agent market, but right now [...] the trade market makes more sense for us.” It doesn’t take a Jon Heyman or Ken Rosenthal to speculate that dealing from new-found outfield depth (Travis Snider or Eric Thames, most likely) would be a starting point in any Jays trade.
So, then, what does this trade market offer?
Gio Gonzalez, A’s – It seems that more has been written about the 26-year old lefty this fall/winter than in the previous two seasons, in which he’s tallied 31 wins, combined. Oakland GM Billy Beane is looking to sell high on a guy who is young, controllable (can’t reach free agency until 2016), remarkably cheap (made $420,000 last year) and supremely talented. The ‘sell high’ part will be critical, as Anthopoulos will surely test the waters (if he hasn’t already).
Matt Garza, Cubs – My personal favourite option as a player with two years of controllability left (is baseball reporting the only realm where “controllability” qualifies as a word?) and a proven track record of success in the AL East. Garza won’t come cheap (not sure any of these guys will) and, to complicate matters further, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer don’t appear to be in fire sale mode and seem to be pursuing talent ready to contribute at the major league level.
John Danks, White Sox – The Jays have already dealt future for ready-to-contribute talent with the South Siders in the Santos-Nestor Molina deal and could do so again if they opt to pursue Danks, the less-exciting of the 26-year old southpaws. Danks, however, has two significant strikes against him: he is FA-eligible after this year and, with an 8-12 record and 4.33 ERA last year, he may not be a huge upgrade.
Jon Niese, Mets – The big lefty is just 25 and had 11 wins last year. My questions: is he any good (ugly 1.411 WHIP last year) and how quickly did Anthopoulos hang up the phone if, as reported, Sandy Alderson and the Mets asked for Travis d’Arnaud in return.
Wandy Rodriguez, Astros – I’m not opposed to adding one starter who falls on the north side of 32 (Rodriguez is 32), but the lefty is far and away the priciest available option (well, except for James Shields, who I still don’t buy as being truly available). Therefore, Anthopoulos would be looking for a significant break on any assets going the other way, with the understanding being that Toronto is doing Houston a favour by taking them off the hook for what is potentially $36 million (two guaranteed years, plus a $13 million team option for 2014 that could be guaranteed with performance).
Travis Wood, Reds – The Mat Latos trade left Cincinnati with a surplus of young starters. Of those players, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake aren’t going anywhere, Homer Bailey holds more value to the Reds than to other teams and Bronson Arroyo is no one’s idea of an appealing ‘get’ anymore, leaving Wood as the logical name to surface. He’s already been involved in Cubs’ trade talks and would be younger than any of the aforementioned guys, but couldn’t be slotted in as any more than a No. 5 starter and would hardly serve as much of a consolation prize for Darvish.
Of course, Anthopoulos could be (and probably is) working on names that aren’t currently being tossed around by us suckers in the rumour-mongering business. Either that, or it’s time for a run at Prince (the money’s there and there appears to be an opening to compete with Seattle… I’ll stop).
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Written by Ben Fisher