Double Play: Jays face many off-season questions

Daan De Kerpel -
10/26/2010 11:39:15 AM
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Now that the Toronto Blue Jays' exhaustive search for their next manager has landed them John Farrell, general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the management team have a bigger task going forward - building the on-field team for next season and beyond.
The Jays are in the fortunate position that following their unexpected 85-win season, they have a great deal of their core group either locked up with contracts - Adam Lind, Ricky Romero, Aaron Hill, or a number of players under team control because they have yet to amass six years of major league experience - Brandon Morrow, Shaun Marcum, Yunel Escobar and Jesse Litsch to name a few.
The club isn't without roster questions though.
The team needs to address the long-term status of the major league home run leader Jose Bautista, their corner infield positions, as well as their bullpen.
The Bautista Predicament:
It's safe to say that Bautista shocked everyone with his breakout campaign in 2010, now the Jays have to use this off-season time to set the tone regarding the long-term future of the 30-year-old in Toronto.
All indications are that the club would like to work out a mid-length deal with the versatile player that would see him stay in Toronto for three or four years at a reasonable amount. 
With that said, Bautista has a measure of control in this scenario as well.  If he believes that he's blossomed into a legitimate power threat, he could opt for a one-year deal or take what the arbitrator gives, should it get to that.
The contract issue will in a way boil down to whether both sides can agree on a number in both years and term that will land Bautista less than a 54-home run guy would normally be worth, but a lot more than a 17 home run-a-year player will make.
If either side balks, then his tenure in Toronto could be limited.
Either way, it's all but a certainty at this point that Bautista will be with the Jays heading into 2011 - the only issue is what position he'll play.  The fact that he can handle a corner outfield spot, as well as play on both corners of the infield will give the Jays a great deal of flexibility as they go forward in the off-season.
Backed into a Corner?
The Jays have some questions at the corners of their infield.  At first base, Lyle Overbay is a free agent, and is coming off a disappointing season.  While the Jays are lacking an internal option at the position - especially if they are not sold at committing to putting Adam Lind there - the free agent class at first base is deep with players like Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena and Aubrey Huff all maybe hitting the market.
While the Jays don't seem to be in a position at this point to sign any player to a huge long-term deal, a possibility exists that a few players on that list like Berkman could accept a short term, make-good contract - to prove that 2010 was a down year.  To be fair, the Jays won't be the only team bargain shopping in this respect, but it would only make sense for the club to kick the tires.
The other thought is that Lind should be given a legitimate chance at the position - he only played in 11 games there last season.  Either way, it appears doubtful that the 33-year old Overbay will return at this point.
At the other side of the diamond, is Edwin Encarnacion.  The Jays hold arbitration rights over him, but the club could elect to walk away from the soon-to-be 28 year old, despite the fact that he hit 21 home runs. 
Encarnacion is not known for his defence, and it's unclear if the club would be willing to pay him over $4 million in arbitration, especially since they sent him down to Triple-A twice last season.
The issue with letting Encarnacion walk would be that the club would then essentially either be handing the everyday job to Bautista, or letting a prospect like Brad Emaus have a shot at the job in the spring.  Outside of Adrian Beltre, the available free agent options at third look thin.
Rebuilding the Bullpen?
The Jays 'Big 3' from last season, Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs and Jason Frasor, all have question marks surrounding their potential return.
According to Cot's contracts un-official Elias Rankings, both Downs and Frasor would be 'Type-A' free agents - meaning that teams that sign them would give up their first round selection to Toronto, and the Jays would get a sandwich pick between the first and second round in the draft from MLB.  Gregg projects to be a 'Type-B' player, meaning that the Jays would only receive the sandwich pick.
Both Downs and Frasor will need to be offered arbitration for the compensation to be awarded, so it's almost a lock that that will occur.  The bigger issue is whether each player accepts the offer - thereby agreeing to a one-year deal with the club - or walks away - allowing them to become a free agent.
Of the two, Downs is almost a lock to turn arbitration down in order to become a free agent. He's a left-hander which increases his value on the open market, and he's proven to be a solid late inning reliever that can close if need be.  While it used to be unusual for teams to give up a draft pick for a relief pitcher, there are enough teams that have World Series aspirations that need help in the bullpen going forward - the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to name two - that Downs will more than likely receive an offer.
Frasor might be in a different situation.  He's coming off an unspectacular season in which he struggled as a closer earlier in the season and lost the job.  It's unclear what market there would be for him - especially if signing him costs a draft pick.  For that reason, it wouldn't be surprising to see him with the Jays again next season.
Gregg is in the unique position that the Jays hold two options on his services.  They can sign him for $4.5 million for 2011 or lock him up for 2011 and 2012 which would cost the club $8.75 million over the two seasons.
Gregg did save 37 games last season, but isn't the prototypical fire-baller that a lot of teams prefer to use to end games.  With that said though, until the Jays either sign or develop a closer in waiting, it's hard to imagine the club at least not picking up one of the options.
How Anthopoulos deals with these issues along with figuring out if the club can re-sign free agent All-Star catcher John Buck, finding a fifth starter behind the foursome of Marcum, Romero, Morrow and Brett Cecil, as well as rounding out the bench will go a long way to seeing if the club is ready to build off of its surprising 2010 season.

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