Value of Jays’ relievers could be on the rise

The Toronto Blue Jays have designated relief pitcher Esmil Rogers for assignment.

The wait for transactions of consequence by the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season may drag into next month’s winter meetings, as GM Alex Anthopoulos’s quest for roster upgrades remain stalled in a market that continues to develop slowly.

Neither the blockbuster Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade between the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, nor the David Freese-Peter Bourjos swap by the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels, nor the signings of Brian McCann, Jason Vargas and Carlos Ruiz opened the floodgates the way some had hoped.

Instead, teams and agents continue to gather information and map out possibilities, many apparently willing to wait for the negotiating pressure that the Dec. 9–12 gathering at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., will present.

The Blue Jays did enjoy one important development Wednesday when Rogers Media president Keith Pelley, who heads the division of Rogers Communications Inc. responsible for the team, said the company’s $5.2-billion rights deal with the NHL won’t impact the ball club.

“Under no circumstance would we all of a sudden say, ‘Ahh, we’ve spent all this money on hockey, we’re not going to invest in the Toronto Blue Jays,’” Pelley told Sportsnet 590 The FAN. “We are committed to the Blue Jays, continue to be committed, and our goal is simple, we want to win the World Series…

“It does not affect the Blue Jays payroll in any way whatsoever.”

The Blue Jays are expected to have a payroll of $145–$150 million in 2014, and based on their current contractual commitments and salary projections for other players under club control, have a total of roughly $134 million already in place.

WHY THE WAIT?: Given the amount of money flooding into Major League Baseball next year when the new national broadcast deals with Fox, ESPN and TBS kick in, a common question in baseball circles is why teams are taking so long to make their moves.

One explanation is that many clubs are caught between trading to plug holes and solving roster problems through free agency.

The scarcity of pitching on the free agent market is driving up the asking prices on both fronts, and while the $32-million, four-year deal Jason Vargas signed with the Kansas City Royals last week was significant, it will likely be up to premier options Ervin Santana or Matt Garza to really set the market.

In turn, teams looking to move starters (potentially the Tampa Bay Rays with David Price and Chicago Cubs with Jeff Samardzija, among others) have incentive to wait for the free agents to sign, thereby raising demand for their players as quality inventory diminishes.

The Blue Jays are taking that approach with their glut of relievers/swingmen/back-end starters, with GM Alex Anthopoulos saying recently that, “My early sense of the relief market is that it could be a very lucrative one for the players, and I think the value of our players and our relievers is actually going to climb.”

“I could be wrong,” he added, “but I kind of see it (that) the longer the off-season goes along, their value is going to climb just because of the control and some of the contracts these guys are under, as well.”

The $13 million over three years that the San Francisco Giants handed to lefty Javier Lopez (for his age 36–38 seasons) and the $15.75 million for three years the Angels committed to righty set-up man Joe Smith demonstrate how costly relievers are on the open market.

Teams that don’t want to spend that kind of money on the most disposable big-league assets may try to bargain-hunt with the Blue Jays, who have at least five relievers/swingmen without defined roles who will be out of options next spring (Luis Perez, Jeremy Jeffress, Brad Lincoln, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers).

The Blue Jays also have excess within their closing and set-up group of Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan, Aaron Loup and Neil Wagner, while one or two of J.A. Happ, Redmond, Rogers and Chad Jenkins can serve as a long-man type who can jump into the rotation as needed, if not start.

Though there appears to be some risk in waiting too long and having potential trade partners find their solutions somewhere else, Anthopoulos doesn’t see it that way.

“We’re not in a position where we have to do something,” he said. “We have some flexibility in that some of those guys have options. That’s not to say we want to option (them), but if we were really in a tough spot and everyone was that good that we really couldn’t afford to lose them through a (waiver) claim, we can create room for those guys.”

ROMERO REFRESH: Ricky Romero has made two claim-free trips through waivers and, with no apparent interest in him from other teams this winter, the former all-star ace appears destined to report for duty with the Blue Jays in February.

Asked whether there was anything new with the left-hander, Anthopoulos said there isn’t. “Hopefully (he can) come into spring training with a clean slate, compete and try to make the team.”

While a fresh start somewhere else might do Romero some good, the Blue Jays right now have no incentive to give him one. They owe him $16.1 million through the next two seasons, and there’s no point in buying him out so he can try to rebuild himself with another club.

It’s on Romero now to pull himself out of the mess, according to Anthopoulos.

“I say that because he knows what’s best for him,” he explained. “If we knew what the solution was we would have had it addressed. He’s flashed (his previous ability), we all saw it in the minor leagues last year, he’d have starts where he was dominant and he’d have starts where he’d get hit. We know the work ethic and the stuff is still there, at any time it can click again, but he knows what he needs to do and what’s going to get him back on track.”

TV DIAL: One other tidbit of note from Keith Pelley’s appearance on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 on Wednesday was that some Blue Jays games in 2015 could end up on City TV or CBC should broadcast scheduling conflicts arise on Sportsnet as a result of the new NHL rights deal.

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