TORONTO – Though the Toronto Blue Jays are said to be all out of payroll room this winter, even if Darren Oliver forgoes his $3 million to retire, general manager Alex Anthopoulos might still be able to free up some dollars for some relief help with a little creativity.
The signing of veteran catcher Henry Blanco to a $750,000, non-guaranteed contract last week flew largely under the radar, but could save the team in the neighbourhood of $500,000 should he displace the arbitration-eligible Josh Thole as backup to J.P. Arencibia.
Thole is expected to earn $1.2 million this season, according to a projection by mlbtraderumors.com, and he has options left. Though his experience with R.A. Dickey is important, Blanco caught the knuckleballer in 2010 and has a tremendous reputation for his defence and clubhouse presence, making the 41-year-old the odds-on favourite to make the team provided he shows well in spring training.
By taking the difference in salaries there, and combining it with the savings of optioning a displaced 0-3 year player to the minors, Anthopoulos could potentially scrounge up close to a $1 million to offer a veteran reliever.
Oliver’s $3 million is not available to the team if he walks away.
That leaves the Blue Jays with a potential $1 million to perhaps lure someone lingering on the market such as (and in no particular order) Matt Capps, Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Juan Carlos Oviedo, and Francisco Rodriguez.
Whether that’s enough money to sign one of them is uncertain, and each comes with no guarantees about what they bring to the table.
As things stand now, the Blue Jays will have some decisions to make in the bullpen this spring with or without Oliver.
J.A. Happ, Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos – each of whom is returning from surgery – are locks as long as they’re healthy as expected, with Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln pretty close to being sure things as well. Esmil Rogers, Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress are all out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without exposure to waivers, while Aaron Loup does have options but impressed as a rookie last year.
Already that’s nine relievers for seven spots, and Oliver’s return, unlikely as it seems now, would only stiffen the competition.
Lefty Luis Perez is recovering from Tommy John surgery and might be ready as early as the all-star break, while prospects Chad Jenkins, Evan Crawford and Sam Dyson each saw big-league time last year and may factor into 2013, too.
So the Blue Jays do have some depth for the bullpen, although another arm, especially a somewhat proven one, never hurts.
Their payroll commitments for 2013 are in the neighbourhood of $127 million when you factor in salaries for players expected to start the year on the disabled list such as Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Perez, plus Oliver.
Given that they were in the area of $85 million in 2012, it’s reasonable to believe those who insist the club is all tapped out.
But with a little bit of juggling, Anthopoulos may very well be able to find enough cash for one more minor move.