Lind deal one piece of a developing puzzle

Adam Lind was dealt to the Brewers on Saturday for pitcher Marco Estrada. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

TORONTO – To understand why the Toronto Blue Jays sent Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for Marco Estrada, you have to sift through the layers of machinations that led to the trade.

Yes, in large measure, it’s about money, with GM Alex Anthopoulos looking to reallocate the $7.5 million due to the club’s longest-tenured position player, whose option would have been declined if a deal had not been found.

But the swap is also about addressing a flawed roster that too often tied manager John Gibbons’ hands, changing the mix in the clubhouse, building up the pitching depth to protect against injury, and make trading someone like J.A. Happ, who’s been generating lots of interest, possible.

That’s why the Lind deal can’t be judged in isolation – like the waiver-wire pickups of Justin Smoak and Andy Dirks, this move is more about creating opportunities during the off-season rather than putting together the lineup for 2015. Free agency opens Tuesday and Anthopoulos already has his targets set.

How he fares on both fronts in filling the substantial void in the middle of the batting order created by Lind’s departure while also plugging two holes in the outfield, adding an everyday infielder and repairing a bullpen increasingly taking the blame for 2014’s shortcomings will ultimately decide the merits of this deal.

For now, it’s one piece of a developing puzzle.

“We have some ideas, we have some players we want to pursue both in trades and free agency, but we can’t even talk dollars with anybody until Tuesday, it’s impossible for me to get any sense of what the chances are of doing some of those things,” Anthopoulos said during a conference call Saturday. “The fact that (Edwin Encarnacion) can (play at first base or DH) gives us the flexibility, the fact that Estrada can (pitch as a starter or reliever) gives us the flexibility, the fact that (Aaron) Sanchez can (pitch as a starter or reliever) gives us the flexibility because we don’t know ultimately what we’ll come away with.

“But we at least will be able to pursue those players without restrictions or being blocked.”

The Blue Jays also exercised the 2015 options on Happ ($6.7 million) and Josh Thole ($1.75 million) on Saturday while declining those on Brandon Morrow ($10 million), Sergio Santos ($6 million), Dustin McGowan ($4 million) and Justin Smoak ($3.65 million, but he remains under club control).

The end result leaves the Blue Jays at about $120.4 million for 18 players, including Ricky Romero and projected salaries for their eight arbitration-eligible players. If their payroll remains around $140 million, that gives Anthopoulos roughly $20 million to work with to plug holes and cover 0-3 service time players.

Non-tendering some of their arbitration players – perhaps Juan Francisco ($2.2 million projected) and Danny Valencia ($1.7 million projected) – could free up an additional $4 million for Anthopoulos, and moving Happ would really create some flexibility.

Estrada could certainly help the bullpen, but he also provides protection in the event of a Happ deal that promotes Sanchez into the rotation. With a projected arbitration salary of $4.7 million, he’s also cheaper than Happ, and it’s clear that for whatever Anthopoulos has planned, every dollar counts.

Melky Cabrera figures prominently in that equation, as the GM described what sounded like a significant difference of opinion on a fair price for the free-agent outfielder, and that doesn’t bode well with only right-fielder Jose Bautista in place for 2015.

Dirks, if healthy, and John Mayberry Jr., could form a reasonable platoon for left field if Cabrera isn’t re-signed and they can’t get an upgrade, while Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar are the internal options in centre if the Blue Jays can’t do better.

Minus Lind, Colby Rasmus and potentially the switch-hitting Cabrera, an offence that finished fourth in the American League in runs and second in OPS won’t be the same. Another concern is that switch-hitter Dioner Navarro is the closest thing to an impact left-handed bat remaining on the roster.

“I’m not overly concerned with the left-right,” said Anthopoulos. “Sure you’d love to have that balanced lineup to make it easier for your manager, you’d love to split left-right, but if we were going to have (Jose) Bautista and Encarnacion one through nine, I’d be happy with a full right-handed lineup at that point. It does come down to the quality of the player and so on.

“The more significant thing is we’re certainly going to lose a good offensive player and we acknowledge that, we certainly recognize that. How we fill that gap, what we ultimately do, it’s too early to tell right now. We have some ideas and some things we’re going to try to accomplish, and hopefully we’ll be successful.”

By trading Lind, the Blue Jays are clearly counting on getting at least a few things done.

While issues caused both Lind and Encarnacion needing significant DH time are erased (the Blue Jays would also like to ideally be able to split DH time amongst multiple players to build in some easier days for regulars), in their place is another item to the to-do list.

One possibility is that Anthopoulos may be looking to diversify his lineup with more contact hitters adept at creating offence around the power duo of Bautista and Encarnacion, while simultaneously boosting the team’s pitching and defence.

Or maybe is he’s got some surprises coming.

Either way, all Saturday’s moves did was set the stage for the real show to come.