It may be hard to believe, but this marks the sixth offseason for Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. Since 2009, each offseason for the Blue Jays has been quite different … but not as atypical as the offseason thus far.
When Alex Anthopoulos took over the reins as GM in late 2009, he was immediately met with a difficult task; trade franchise figurehead Roy Halladay.
Given the Blue Jays were in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, they managed to receive a decent return for Roy Halladay; an elite pitcher who only had one year left on his contract.
In 2010, it was more of the same as Anthopoulos dealt the Blue Jays’ top pitcher Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers for third base prospect, Brett Lawrie. Again, a move indicative of a team that was rebuilding or retooling.
The penultimate moment of the 2011 Blue Jays offseason saw the team unload the remainder of Vernon Wells’ $126 million dollar contract to the Los Angeles Angels. That coupled with a five-year/$64 million dollar contract extension for Jose Bautista signaled the team was on the precipice of contention.
And then 2012 happened; arguably the busiest offseason in franchise history for the Blue Jays as they made a myriad of trades and signings. Of course, there was the fire sale from the Marlins which netted them Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio.
Just days later, Anthopoulos followed that up by signing Melky Cabrera to a two-year contract. And then the piece de resistance was the acquisition of Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey.
The 2013 offseason was a stark contrast to the splashy moves the Toronto Blue Jays made just one year prior. Last year, the Blue Jays did virtually nothing; aside from non-tendering J.P. Arencibia and signing Dioner Navarro to a modest two-year/$8 million dollar contract, it was an extremely quiet winter.
That’s what makes this offseason so different from all of the rest during Alex Anthopoulos’ reign as Blue Jays General Manager.
First of all, the Blue Jays went out and signed a premiere free agent, which is something they haven’t done since 2005. Not only that, but they signed Russell Martin to a very sizable contract, which was the biggest free agent deal in club history and the second largest Blue Jays contract overall.
Then Anthopoulos went out and acquired arguably the best third baseman in baseball Josh Donaldson, when the Blue Jays already had a fairly promising player at the hot corner in Brett Lawrie.
Although the Blue Jays drastically improved their club with these two moves, the club still has several holes to fill on the roster; left field, second base and the bullpen to name a few. But even if they don’t address those areas, the team is arguably in better shape now than it was at season’s end.
That’s why I’m really impressed with the strategy Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays have taken this offseason. Instead of being pigeonholed into getting a typical second baseman, a left fielder, and some premiere relievers, they have taken a rather unorthodox approach to improve the team.
True to his word, Anthopoulos has gone out and gotten the best players available.
Here’s the inherent problem with signing one of the best available free agent second baseman for example; sure, adding that player to the roster would improve the team. But would it improve the team just as much if there was another player available at a different position?
If Alex Anthopoulos simply targeted particular positions that the club “needed”, it would immediately rule out a great deal of prospective free agents and trade targets that could make the club much better.
Say the Blue Jays only went out and plugged the holes on their roster this offseason by re-signing Melky Cabrera to play left field and signing Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base. Does that really make the team better than signing Russell Martin (and immediately moving Dioner Navarro into a DH role) and trading for Josh Donaldson?
Looking at the Blue Jays roster, catcher and third base may not have seemed like an immediate need for the Blue Jays. Dioner Navarro and Brett Lawrie appeared to be serviceable players at their respective positions. But if the opportunity arose to upgrade those positions, didn’t it behoove the Jays to go ahead and do it?
Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson may have been more of a want than an immediate need, but by making these moves, the club can enjoy a surplus at certain positions on the diamond.
Anthopoulos may choose to keep that surplus or he may choose to parlay it into filling another need on the roster. But the great thing here is the Blue Jays don’t necessarily need to trade Dioner Navarro and they don’t need to trade R.A. Dickey or J.A. Happ.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt to hang onto those guys, as depth at certain positions has been an issue that’s plagued the Blue Jays in the past. But if an offer suddenly comes along that fills another need for the Blue Jays, then they can make that deal and not feel pressured to do so.
If the currently constructed roster is the final version that rolls out on Opening Day, it’s definitely one that still has some weaknesses. By all accounts, Alex Anthopoulos has stated the team isn’t done … and it’s still early in December.
There is absolutely a lot of room for improvement for the Blue Jays; but by upgrading at catcher, third base, and even DH, the Blue Jays might not have to make any more moves to be better than they were last year.
Image courtesy of AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette