There is turmoil in Boston with the Red Sox following their September on-field implosion that allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to steal away with the American League wild-card playoff spot.
And the New York Yankees aren’t getting any younger.
If ever the Toronto Blue Jays needed added incentive to make a splash in the current free-agent market, now might be the time with so much uncertainty surrounding two of the perennial contenders in the AL East.
The Blue Jays were among the lower third in terms of payroll in 2011 among major-league teams, spending about $62.5-million (U.S.) on a club that finished 81-81, 16 games back of the front-running Yankees.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos has insisted all along that club owner Rogers Communications Inc. will increase spending when he decides the time is right.
And while the GM says the Blue Jays will be aggressive trying to add pieces to improve the team, Anthopoulos said he prefers trades to free agency to try to upgrade.
That would seem to take the Blue Jays out of the running for such players as Albert Pujols and David Ortiz, two of the top free-agent bats on the open market, or C.J. Wilson, considered the top available starting pitcher.
Anthopoulos said he won’t be pressured into making any kind of a deal if it detracts from his long-range plan of turning the Blue Jays into a team that has the capability of challenging for the playoffs on a yearly basis. “I can’t really handicap right now the likelihood of us making trades, things like that,” Anthopoulos said, adding that things can change quickly.
Here is a look at where the Blue Jays need to improve for next season.
Beyond Ricky Romero, the state of Toronto’s rotation is a question mark.
The Blue Jays like to crow about all the depth they have in young starters, but the team still finished 25th overall this past season with a 4.55 team earned-run average, hardly the stuff that playoff dreams are made of.
Brandon Morrow (11-11, 4.72 ERA) was hit and miss much of the year and Brett Cecil was a disaster (4-11, 4.73). Henderson Alvarez, at 21, showed in his 10 starts that he has the potential to be a solid contributor.
With Kyle Drabek and perhaps Dustin McGowan hoping to jump into the rotation in 2012, the Blue Jays could really use another proven arm, but there is not that much available on the open market this winter.
While Wilson is probably out of the Blue Jays’ price range, what about Mark Buehrle?
As an innings-eater, Buehrle is an all-star, extending his streak of seasons with at least 30 starts to 11 in 2011 with the Chicago White Sox. He’s also won at least 13 games for the past four years.
The in-season departures of Marc Rzepczynski, Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel has left the Blue Jays’ bullpen threadbare. With 25 blown saves a year ago, it is one area that needs a facelift.
The Jays announced on Tuesday that Pete Walker will take over as their new bullpen coach, replacing Pat Hentgen who is stepping down for “family reasons.”
Walker served as the pitching coach last year for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate.
Jon Rauch is a free agent, as is Frank Francisco, so it remains to be seen what arms Walker will have at his disposal.
Casey Janssen will be back and Jesse Litsch, the former starter, can expect the majority of his work will be in relief.
Jose Bautista has been one of the game’s top power hitters the past two seasons, a pretty good accomplishment considering the right fielder had little in the way of protection hitting behind him in the batting order.
It was the reason why Bautista was far and away the major-league leader in walks (132) and intentional walks (24).
Who knows what heights Bautista and the Blue Jays could achieve with another big bopper in the lineup?