Reviewing the Toronto Blue Jays Start to the Off-Season


Reviewing the Toronto Blue Jays Start to the Off-Season

Following a disappointing season, a shake up to the Toronto Blue Jays roster seemed inevitable. Well, to say general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been busy this off-season would be an understatement, as he has made a total of 11 transactions, as well as having five players elect for free agency.

Although Anthopoulos is not finished trying to improve the Blue Jays, the flurry of roster moves has created quite the buzz around Toronto.

While everybody speculates what the Blue Jays’ next move might be, let’s review the roster changes the Blue Jays have made thus far.

New Additions to the Roster:

Russell Martin, Catcher

Without a doubt, the biggest signing of the early off-season is Russell Martin. At $82 million over the next five seasons, the Blue Jays are heavily invested into Martin.

Nov 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin smiles as he is introduced at a press conference at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

While the signing of Martin is debatable among the Blue Jays’ fan base, the defensive upgrade he brings to Toronto is undeniable.

According to, Martin only allowed three passed balls over 940.2 innings last season and threw out 38.5 percent of base runners attempting to steal on him. Even further than those two metrics, Martin ranked as the best catcher in baseball last season for runs saved (12), and ranked as the third best pitch framer according to Baseball Prospectus.

It is no secret that a defensive catcher is a valuable asset in baseball, but for a pitching staff loaded with young arms, a player like Martin is a perfect fit in my mind.

Yes, they overpaid for Martin. But given the market catchers of Martin’s stature are getting paid on the open market, it is unfortunately right around the league norm now.

Is he worth more than Yadier Molina? Probably not. But in a scarce catching market, the Blue Jays upgraded a key position on their roster.

Add in the fact that the team does not have much payroll after next season and you can see AA’s logic in pursing Martin. When you see the progression of pitchers like Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton of the Pirates, you have to think that Martin will create some sort of impact on the Blue Jays’ young pitching staff like he did in Pittsburgh.

Devon Travis, Second Base

Rated the Detroit Tigers No. 1 prospect by Baseball America, Travis is a quick second basemen that hits for contact, sees a lot of pitches, runs the bases well and possesses average to above average fielding skills.

March 19, 2013; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Devon Travis (3) rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run during the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

While some see him as the Blue Jays answer at second base, I think being patient with Travis is a much more realistic approach. In three minor league seasons, Travis has posted a .298 batting average, as well as a .876 OPS. Both very respectable numbers. But as many evaluators such as Keith Law have pointed out, Travis has flaws in his swing that could lead to potential struggles at the next level.

For a player that has never played an inning at the AAA level, Travis has his work cut out for him still. A quality showing at spring training, supplemented by a strong start at AAA Buffalo could propel Travis on to the big league club, but that is a big if.

In the meantime, the Jays have another middle infielder full of potential in their system as Dawel Lugo, Franklin Barreto and Devon Travis make up a nice trio of quality middle infielders in the Jays’ farm system.

Marco Estrada, Starting Pithcer/Relief Pitcher

A few weeks back I took a look at the curious case of Marco Estrada, where I explored not only Estrada’s pitching repertoire, but also how he might have performed if he pitched in the Rogers Centre last year.

As many might have suspected, Estrada’s issues with the long ball would have been a problem in the Rogers Centre as well. But more interesting than Estrada’s perplexing body of work, is whether or not the Blue Jays will even keep Estrada on the roster.

Right now Estrada is expected to either be a fifth starter, or a swing man out of the bullpen. But given the fact that Anthopoulos has stated his lukewarm feelings on paying a relief pitcher like Estrada $4 million a season, it is debatable whether he will even be on the roster come spring training.

Justin Smoak, First Base

May 3, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak (17) makes an out against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Seattle defeated Toronto 4-0. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

With Adam Lind no longer on the team, the signing of Smoak makes a bit more sense since he is a switch-hitting first basemen that has big league experience.

The problem with Smoak?

His career production indicates that he is not a viable replacement to Lind.

In five major league seasons, Smoak has never lived up to his first round selection as he has never posted an average higher than .240, or hit more than 20 home runs in a season.

For a player described as having raw power, Smoak has posted disappointing power numbers throughout his career. Maybe a change of scenery to Toronto is what Smoak needs to finally live up to his potential.

Liam Hendriks, Starting Pithcer/Relief Pitcher

After being traded from Toronto earlier in the season as part of the Danny Valencia deal, the Blue Jays reacquired Hendriks the day after the World Series ended.

At 25 years old, Hendriks is a fly-ball pitcher that has accumulated over 395 innings pitched at the AAA level as a starting pitcher. Although he will more than likely be used as a relief pitcher, his experience as a starter gives the Jays another potential swing man in their bullpen.

Jeff Francis, Starting Pithcer/Relief Pitcher

In 12 major-league games with the New York Yankees, Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds last season, Francis posted a 1-2 record with a 5.85 ERA.

Francis, a native of Vancouver, has struggled to live up to his first-round pick selection, as he has played for five different teams following shoulder surgery in 2009. The Blue Jays signed the 33-year-old left-hander to a minor league contract that includes an invite to spring training.

Although Francis will fight to make the Blue Jays’ roster this spring, he is a low-risk, high-reward signing that could turn out to become a nice Canadian comeback story.

More from Toronto Blue Jays

Andy Dirks, Outfielder

Dirks played in just 14 minor league games last season, as back and hamstring injuries derailed his 2014 season. Prior to his injuries, Dirks was a struggling corner outfielder that never lived up to the expectations the Tigers had for him.

At 28, Dirks is a career .276 hitter with a .745 OPS in 297 games. At the very worst he could pan out to become a platoon player for the Jays, but in all likelihood, Dirks will have to fight for a roster spot this spring – if the Jays decide to keep him around until then.

Much like Francis, Dirks is a low-risk, high-reward signing that the Jays could easily part ways with if it does not work out.

Departed the Roster:

Juan Francisco, Third Basemen/Designated Hitter

High strike out rate, runners left on base and the occasional home run sums up Francisco in a nut shell. While he did provide Blue Jays’ fans with moments of excitement, he was a wildly inconsistent player that the team could easily replace in my opinion.

Anthony Gose, Outfielder

Aug 3, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose (8) bats against the Houston Astros during the game at Minute Maid Park. The Astros defeated the Blue Jays 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A terrific athlete, Gose struggled to generate consistent offence while in a Blue Jays uniform. Whether he can resolve this problems in Detroit is a mystery, but with Dalton Pompey’s arrival in September, the decision to trade Gose was not overly surprising, but still a somewhat mild surprise to Jays’ fans.

By the looks of things, the Jays’ brass feel very confident that Dalton Pompey is ready to take over the everyday centre fielder role. Or, maybe the Blue Jays would consider moving Melky Cabrera back to centre field – if he re-signs with the team.

Adam Lind, First Base/Designated Hitter

Lind, the longest serving member of the Blue Jays, was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers this off-season. In a move described as “reconfiguring the roster” by Alex Anthopoulos, Lind’s departure gave the Blue Jays payroll flexibility, as the team avoids paying Lind $7.5 million this upcoming season.

Although Lind has been firmly entrenched in the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup, his inability to hit left-handed pitching and to stay healthy made him an expendable piece that, quite frankly, we could afford to depart with.

Sergio Santos, Relief Pitcher

As I’m sure many Jays fans remember, Santos was dubbed the Blue Jays “closer of the future” not too long ago. Unfortunately, Santos never lived up to that title.

Oozing with potential, the former shortstop was just never able to put it all together consistently. Sure there was moments of brilliance, but let’s be real, a lot of pitchers show moments of brilliance at one point or another during their career.

Sadly, Santos was defined as somebody who had so much potential, but delivered such little results for Toronto.

Fair or not, it’s a fitting description for how Santos’ career in Toronto worked out.

Brandon Morrow, Starting Pitcher

Plagued by injuries the past two seasons, Morrow was only able to make 16 starts between 2013 and 2014. After showing flashes of promise from 2010 to 2012, the lack of output the past two seasons made the decision of declining Morrow’s $10 million option an easy one.

Although injuries were arguably the main reason why Morrow did not deliver these past two seasons, the team could not afford to pay somebody $10 million for 8 starts a year.

Dustin McGowan, Starting Pitcher/Relief Pitcher

Sep 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Dustin McGowan (36) delivers a pitch against Seattle Mariners at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

So much potential.

How many times have you heard that phrase about Dustin McGowan? One too many I’m sure.

Much like Brandon Morrow, injuries have hampered much of McGowan’s career, as both former first round picks have struggled to stay healthy.

In McGowan’s case, he did have success this season out of the bullpen. But, as mentioned above with Marco Estrada, Anthopoulos made it clear that he prefers to not spend $4 million or more on a relief pitcher that is not a closer. Maybe McGowan takes a slight pay cut and returns to the Blue Jays, but in the meantime he is a free agent.

Colby Rasmus, Outfielder

After losing his starting job to rookie Dalton Pompey this past September, it was clear that the Blue Jays had no desire in bringing back Rasmus.

Ever since his days in St. Louis, Rasmus has been a tantalizing player that always seems to pose the question of “what if he put it all together?”.

Unfortunately for Toronto, they are left asking themselves the same question.

Casey Janssen, Relief Pitcher

After eight seasons in Toronto, Janssen is a free agent for the first time in his career.

On the field, Janssen was a steady figure in the Blue Jays’ bullpen prior to his late season struggles. Although his late season struggles are what some fans remember Janssen for, he was actually a very steady pitcher out of the bullpen, as he gave the Jays an abundance of quality innings over the last few seasons.

Janssen’s future is a precarious situation that more than likely does not involve Toronto. But, for the team Janssen goes to next, they know what they are getting with him as he has been a consistent pitcher over the past couple seasons.

On the Bubble:

Dioner Navarro, Catcher

Sep 3, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro (30) hits a 2-run home run during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the signing of Russell Martin, the trade rumours surrounding incumbent catcher Dioner Navarro have circulated at a rapid pace. Staff writer Braydon Holmyard took a look at three potential teams who could be interested in Navarro’s services.

Although a trade has not happened yet, it looks to be a matter of when, and not if Navarro is traded. With Martin firmly entrenched as the Jays’ catcher, it makes sense for the team to try and fill a need by dealing Navarro.

Josh Thole, Catcher

If it wasn’t for Thole being R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher, he would more than likely not be on this roster right now. But, because he is Dickey’s catcher, he remains on the roster.

So unless Martin or Navarro can catch Dickey’s knuckleball, Thole looks like he will remain on this roster for another season.

J.A. Happ, Starting Pitcher

The Blue Jays picked up Happ’s $6.7 million option this off-season, as the 32-year-old left-hander will compete for a spot in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation this spring. Although trade rumours have popped up involving Happ, he does provide the Jays with great value as a fifth starter.

What do you think of the Toronto Blue Jays start to the off-season so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.