TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays host their annual state of the franchise event for season-ticket holders next week, and an anthem to capture the mood of fans right now may very well be the title track from The Strokes’ 2001 debut album, “Is This It?”
No word yet if it’s on the playlist.
The question “is this it” certainly fits an off-season that so far includes only one significant addition – the signing of free-agent catcher Dioner Navarro – and with spring training due to open in weeks rather than months, portions of the faithful are understandably restive.
Some of their frustration surfaced this week when the New York Yankees landed Masahiro Tanaka on a $155 million, seven-year deal (plus a $20 million posting fee), and word filtered out that the Blue Jays bailed on the bidding once the contract length exceeded five years. Let’s be real about it, the Japanese sensation signing in Toronto was always going to be a longshot, but some of the disappointment may have been rooted in the club’s failure to at least bid competitively after months of perceived inactivity.
When three months have passed with so few transactions while a division rival drops nearly half-a-billion dollars on bolstering its on-field product, the optics aren’t good. And it also doesn’t look good that Matt Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a $52-million, four-year deal that’s still pending – a $13 million annual-average value that would seem to be right in the Blue Jays’ wheelhouse.
One possible theory on that front is that the right-hander’s past arm issues may have scared off not only the Blue Jays but several other teams, as Garza’s price came in well below what some had predicted for him. Regardless, general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s free-agent pitching targets are now pretty much down to Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, and he appears to be betting that the compensatory picks attached to each of them will drag their prices into a similar range to that of Garza.
The stare-down there continues between the sides.
Landing one of the right-handers would certainly change the outlook on the off-season for the Blue Jays – it’s no slam dunk and other teams may be waiting in the weeds, too – but largely flying under the radar is how lacking they are on the bench.
The assumption is that either Moises Sierra, who is out of options, or Anthony Gose will break camp as the fourth outfielder, leaving one bench spot open alongside the backup catcher (Josh Thole or Erik Kratz) and Maicer Izturis, who will share time at second with rookie Ryan Goins.
The obvious need is for a right-handed bat who can spell Adam Lind against left-handed pitchers, but also play first and third base to provide protection if there’s an injury to Lind, Edwin Encarnacion or Brett Lawrie. At the moment Izturis is the likeliest candidate to fill in at the hot corner, while non-roster invitee Dan Johnson is the next first baseman on the depth chart behind Lind and Encarnacion.
Michael Young, Jeff Baker and Ty Wigginton have all been discussed internally, and each fits the bill. Non-roster invitees Munenori Kawasaki, Chris Getz and Steve Tolleson simply won’t cut it, but at this point the Blue Jays appear no closer to shoring up their bench than bolstering their starting staff.
Anthopoulos is playing the long game with everyone.
Trades remain a possibility to fill in all the roster cracks, but given the remarkable spike in pitching prices, hanging on to young pitchers and trying to find an ace or two in the rough becomes more and more important. Unless a team is willing to blow $175 million for the likes of Tanaka, or plunder their farm system to make a trade, there’s no way to land a premium starter other than drafting and developing him, as Anthopoulos knows all too well.
Jimenez or Santana may not be the ideal free agents for the Blue Jays to ante up for, but they’re the best of what’s left. Signing them and sticking them in the rotation will buy some time for top pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin to further develop, rather than get thrown to the wolves. That approach would also give Anthopoulos another asset to work with, opening the door to more moves or depth down the line.
Fans, meanwhile, must keep waiting and hoping Anthopoulos has the market read just right, and will eventually give them reason to stop wondering, “Is This It?”