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Jays’ Off-Season Shopping Wraps with Vintage Buys

Posted By Ben Fisher On Jan 25 2012 @ 2:10 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | 1 Comment

As if managing the day-to-day operations of a baseball club and facing questions about his (lack of) off-season activity aren’t stressful enough, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is growing self-conscious about his age as he approaches the big 3-5 this year.

Okay, I don’t know that to be true whatsoever, but how else do you explain the sudden stockpiling of greybeards to fill holes in the roster? Each of Anthopoulos’ five most recent acquisitions (Darren Oliver, Nelson Figueroa, Chris Woodward, Omar Vizquel and, reportedly, Francisco Cordero) have been older than the GM.

We’ve already discussed Oliver here [1]and – let’s be honest – it’s hard to muster up any kind of reaction on Figueroa or Woodward, so we’ll focus our discussion on the most recent signees, the 44-year-old Vizquel and 36-year-old Cordero.

When I finally stopped snickering about the thought of a 44-year-old manning the middle infield for Toronto and actually started making sense of the deal, its low-risk, high-reward brilliance hit me.

The worst-case scenario for Vizquel sees him exposed as a washed-up has-been in spring training, leaving him to be waived (at minimal cost to the team) and for one of Mike McCoy or Luis Valbuena to serve as the primary utility back-up. The best-case scenario? That he performs well enough to earn some at-bats while helping mentor Adeiny Hechavarria and keeping Yunel Escobar focused.

And here, it’s the best case that looks more likely. McCoy had a decent 2011 campaign when he wasn’t getting bounced around between Toronto and Las Vegas, but neither he nor Valbuena can match the defensive production of even a middle-aged Vizquel.

The Cordero addition isn’t quite as risk-free. Even with a 2.45 ERA and 37 saves in 2011, it’s hard to ignore declining strikeout numbers (from 7.3 per nine innings to 5.4 last season) and an inability to pitch to lefties (.243/.302/.435 vs. lefties compared to .159/.245/.220 against righties).

While no one is perfect and even those flaws can be cast aside during a good season, you have to figure it’s a lot more comforting to control that player at a cost savings rather than paying him $4.5 million for a non-closer. There’s something downright unsettling about handing Oliver and Cordero a combined $8.5 million for this year.

I mean, sure they are late inning hurlers coming off big seasons, but $8.5 million is a big gamble for aging players you’re hoping can match their 2011 outputs. On top of that, you’re also gambling that Cordero accepts a set-up role behind Sergio Santos, who doesn’t yet boast the same decorated closer resume as does Cordero.

Cordero’s addition also brings about questions of how the rest of the bullpen shakes down. Santos is the closer, with Cordero and Oliver looking like the late inning set-up options. Where Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen fit into the mix is unclear, although they should certainly have spots cemented. That likely leaves two remaining spots open to a group that includes Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch, Luis Perez (a distinct possibility as a left-hander who is out of minor league options) and any minor leaguers that can make a strong impression this spring.

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