Five burning questions for the Blue Jays
General manager Anthopoulos approaching Hot Stove season with patience
TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos' patience was tested on a regular basis during a tumultuous 2013 campaign, but it's likely paid off with his required approach this offseason.
Almost everyone in baseball has required a lot of restraint over the past couple of weeks. The market has been slow to develop, with only a handful of free agents reaching agreements and a lack of any significant trades.
The calendar is slowly inching toward the end of November and the Blue Jays still have a series of issues that need to be resolved. Here's a look at five burning questions the club must answer:
5. Will the Blue Jays be able to rely on Melky Cabrera to play left field on an everyday basis in 2014?
There's so much attention being paid to second base, behind the plate and on the mound that the situation in left field has flown a little bit under the radar. The job appears to firmly belong to Cabrera, but a lot of that depends on how well he rehabs this offseason.
Cabrera dealt with major discomfort for most of the year, but it wasn't until late August that a tumor was discovered in his lower back. He had it removed in early September, then began to rehab after a period of rest. Anthopoulos was recently quoted as saying the recovery process has been going well, and the former All-Star appears as though he'll be ready for Spring Training.
That will be crucial, because the Blue Jays would really like to avoid having to bring in another starting left fielder. Cabrera is under contract for one more year at $8 million, and he would be a rather difficult person to trade after recording just 20 extra-base hits and a disappointing .682 OPS in 2013.
The big question Anthopoulos must answer this offseason is whether the tumor was the main reason behind Cabrera's struggles at the plate and lack of mobility in the field. If there's any doubt surrounding that issue, then he'll have to add more depth in the outfield, but for now, it appears as though the club will put its trust in Cabrera while Anthony Gose or Moises Sierra serve as insurance policies.
4. Has Ryan Goins proven himself as a Major League second baseman? Or do the Blue Jays need to acquire another infielder?
The Blue Jays were believed to be in the market for a starting second baseman, but Anthopoulos recently tried to downplay those rumors by suggesting the club was content with a platoon of Goins and veteran Maicer Izturis. Anthopoulos likely was trying to keep his cards close to his vest, but it's clear that second base has at least dropped down a few notches on the list of priorities.
Goins deserves most of the credit for the club's new stance after he impressed during his 34 games with the Blue Jays late in the year. The problem is that even in the small sample size, Goins managed to hit just .252 with a .609 OPS in 119 at-bats. There are a lot of question marks surrounding his ability to consistently produce at the big league level and his limited upside at the plate.
Defense is a different story, though, and that's where Goins impressed the most. Toronto's infield was a major weakness in 2013, but Goins helped solidify that with some dazzling plays and impressive range up the middle. If there's enough offense at other positions, then it's possible Goins could realistically be given regular playing time at second.
But it's still hard to believe the club wouldn't at least attempt to upgrade in this area. Free agent Omar Infante would be a clear upgrade and there are some big names available via trade, including Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips. A move might not be as big of a priority as it once was, but an upgrade still can't be completely ruled out.
3. Has J.P. Arencibia played his last game in a Blue Jays uniform? And will the club look elsewhere for its Opening Day catcher in 2014?
There have been no shortage of rumors surrounding Arencibia and the Blue Jays' apparent need to find another starting catcher. The club was linked to Carlos Ruiz, who re-signed with Philadelphia earlier in the week, while other reported interests have included free agents A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Rumored trade targets have included Houston's Jason Castro and Cincinnati's Ryan Hanigan.
All signs point to the Blue Jays going with a change behind the plate in 2014. There's a firm belief that Arencibia should recover from a frustrating 2013 season and revert back to his previous form, but that might not be enough to satisfy Toronto's needs. Arencibia is arguably more active in the community than anyone else on the roster, but most of the headlines he received this year were related to his sub-.200 average and spars with the media.
It's important to note that Arencibia has played at least 100 games in each of the last three years. He has proven to be very durable behind the plate, and his ability to hit a high number of home runs will undoubtedly catch the attention of another team. But in Toronto, Anthopoulos and the rest of his staff have done little to put the rumors of an upgrade to rest. The Blue Jays GM hasn't come out and directly said that Arencibia won't be back, but it certainly appears as though the club is doing everything it can to make a change.
2. Should Toronto trade right fielder Jose Bautista in order to fill some of the other holes on its roster?
The Blue Jays became the talk of the recent General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., when a rumored deal of Bautista to the Phillies for outfielder Domonic Brown first surfaced. Anthopoulos rarely comments on reports in the media, but this one appeared to strike a nerve as he lashed out at the "ridiculous" and "fabricated" story.
The first rumor has been shot down, but it's very possible this storyline will linger until next month's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Toronto must decide whether to keep its franchise player on a reasonable contract for the foreseeable future or opt to make another move to fill an area of need.
Realistically, the only way a trade for Bautista can be seriously considered is if the deal sends an elite starting pitcher to the Blue Jays. That would fill a definite area of need, but trading Bautista for position players would create yet another hole while not taking care of the club's biggest problem.
Bautista might never top 50 home runs again in one single season, but he remains one of the game's elite power hitters. On top of the talent, Bautista is owed just $28 million over the next two years, which is still a lot of cash but arguably below market value for a player of his ilk. Bautista might be frequently mentioned, but he won't be traded unless Anthopoulos gets a really enticing offer he can't refuse.
1. How will the Blue Jays upgrade their rotation? And do they need to acquire one or two starters?
There's no question that Anthopoulos needs to acquire an impact arm this offseason, but there is plenty of debate about how it should be done. Toronto could opt to use some of its available funds on a free agent like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka.
The other line of thinking is that all of the aforementioned pitchers are going to be signed to well-above market value deals. The league appears to be flush with cash this offseason, and the price for just about everyone is expected to soar. A big signing might provide an immediate upgrade, but it also could come with ramifications down the road if the overall cost is too much.
The Blue Jays could instead opt to go via the trade route. Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija is a reported target and other names are likely to surface closer to the Winter Meetings. The issue here is that the upper levels of Toronto's Minor League system are relatively bare, with the exception of a few prized assets the club might be better off holding.
Anthopoulos' final decision likely will depend on how much money he has to spend. If his budget doesn't exceed $150 million next year, he likely won't be able to sign more than one starter, but if that number gets a boost, then the organization could fill most of its holes by simply opening up the chequebook and keeping the top prospects as part of the franchise's future.