There were lots of questions this week about whether the Blue Jays will make a run at potential free agents Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder at the end of the season. Those inquiries likely were fueled by the recent comments from club president Paul Beeston, who stated he could envision Toronto eventually being able to sustain a payroll in the $140-million to $150-million range.
It's worth noting that Beeston didn't put a timeline on his prediction, and it seems unlikely the Blue Jays would be able to afford that type of budget until attendance starts increasing at Rogers Centre. A more likely scenario would be for the club to remain patient in its approach to adding payroll. When the current group of young players is ready to contend for a spot in the playoffs, then more money could be added to keep the core intact and fill the missing pieces through free agency.
Now on to this week's questions.
Do you think the Blue Jays would make a run at Pujols if he hits the free-agent market next year, since they finally got Vernon Wells' contract off the books?
-- Brian C., Kitchener, Ontario
The Blue Jays are fully committed to seeing how Adam Lind develops at first base. If the 27-year-old establishes himself as an everyday player at the position, then it seems very unlikely the club would make a serious run at an established first baseman. Lind will be able to use the 2011 campaign to improve his defense, and once his sample size is large enough, Toronto can evaluate whether he is a long-term solution or a future full-time DH.
A more realistic scenario would be Toronto adding a veteran DH following the 2011 campaign. This year, designated hitters Jim Thome ($3 million), Manny Ramirez ($2 million) and Hideki Matsui ($4.25 million) all signed reasonably priced contracts, while veteran Vladimir Guerrero is still unsigned with just a couple of weeks remaining until Spring Training officially opens. It's the same type of strategy that worked in the early 1990s, when general manager Pat Gillick stuck with John Olerud at first and signed veteran hitters such as Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor to short-term deals.
I'm not sure I understand the Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco trade. The Jays are going into the season with young options at first base and catcher, Napoli provided a veteran option for both positions and also filled the void that Wells left in terms of power.
-- Alex B., Whitby, Ontario
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The Blue Jays enter the 2011 season looking to take another step forward in their rebuilding process. That means creating the opportunity for Lind and rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia to earn as many starts as possible. It's clear that Napoli would have provided a reliable insurance policy at both positions, but the club would prefer to allow its two young players go through growing pains this season in order to figure out whether they fit long term.
Arencibia will split time with Jose Molina, who will be able to provide the club with a veteran presence behind the plate. At first base, Lind will share duties with Edwin Encarnacion, who gained experience at the position while playing for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League.
Napoli, a five-year veteran who hit 20 or more home runs in each of the past three seasons, likely would be looking for more playing time than he would have received in Toronto.
With Napoli being traded four days after requiring him in the Wells trade, do you think the Blue Jays will keep Molina or try to get another catcher via free agency or a trade?
-- Dan P., Niagara Falls, Ontario
Toronto appears pretty set behind the plate with Arencibia and Molina. The 35-year-old Molina will help mentor Arencibia as he embarks on what is expected to be his first full season in the Major Leagues.
Molina doesn't provide much offense, as he has hit just .236 with 26 home runs and 148 RBIs over his 11-year career. He is solid defensively, though, and that will be the area that Arencibia needs to improve the most this season. With the club wanting to develop its young rookie, there does not appear to be a need for another catcher to be added to the mix.
If either player gets injured, then 25-year-old Brian Jeroloman will get the call from Triple-A Las Vegas. He hit .265 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs with Double-A New Hampshire and Las Vegas last season.
I have been wondering how the batting lineup would look if Opening Day were today. I feel that Jose Bautista would be a lock for the No. 4 spot and Rajai Davis as the leadoff man, but it seems fuzzy after these two. -- Matt, Barrie, Ontario
Manager John Farrell recently stated that he envisions the lineup starting with Davis, Yunel Escobar, Jose Bautista and Lind. That could change before Opening Day, depending on how the players perform in Spring Training, but at the moment, that appears to be the most likely scenario.
If Farrell does opt to go with those hitters in the first four spots of the order, that would leave either Encarnacion or second baseman Aaron Hill to fill the No. 5 spot in the order. Based on Farrell's early analysis, I would expect the Opening Day lineup to be: Davis, Escobar, Bautista, Lind, Hill, Travis Snider, Encarnacion, Juan Rivera, Arencibia.
On the surface, hitting Snider in the No. 6 spot appears to be a little low. But if Lind begins the year as the cleanup hitter, the Blue Jays would appear likely to drop Snider to at least sixth, which would break up the only two left-handed hitters in the lineup.
Do you think it would be worth consideration to have three closers instead of only one? With so many talented arms in the back end of the bullpen, it could be of some benefit to have three closers who all have 15-17 saves.
-- Paul E., St. Catharines, Ontario
Farrell likes to have players on his roster with clearly defined roles. That means when the season begins, he likely will name an official closer and will let the rest of the bullpen know what type of situations they can be expected to pitch in.
As you mentioned, though, the Blue Jays have three potential options at closer with Francisco, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel. Francisco has the most proven track record of the three and would appear to be the early favorite to win the job. Last year, he held left-handers to just a .205 batting average, and because of a very effective split-finger fastball, he is comfortable facing batters on both sides of the plate.
Whichever reliever wins the job could be on a relatively short leash to start the season. With so many potential candidates, it's doubtful that Farrell would stick with his first choice if that player struggles for an extended period of time. That means it's very possible you will see a couple of pitchers in Toronto's bullpen with multiple saves before the year is over.
Which Blue Jays players are out of options?
-- Joel M., Moncton, New Brunswick
The Blue Jays have seven players who are out of options: Davis, John McDonald, Molina, Dotel, Dustin McGowan, Shawn Camp and David Purcey. Those players must be placed on the 25-man active roster -- if healthy -- or the club risks losing them to another team.
There appears to be very little doubt that Davis, McDonald, Molina, Camp and Purcey will all be on the Opening Day roster. McGowan, who is coming off shoulder surgery, is expected to begin the season on the disabled list, which buys the team more time before it is forced to make a decision on his future.
That leaves Reyes as the only pitcher in jeopardy of losing his spot in Toronto's organization. Reyes will enter Spring Training with a chance to compete for a job in the 'pen, where he will face stiff competition from right-handers Casey Janssen, Carlos Villanueva and Josh Roenicke and left-hander Jesse Carlson.
Given the recent trades, who makes the team as a backup in center field?
-- Jeff K., Sacramento, Calif.
Veteran Corey Patterson is the favorite to win the role of fourth outfielder. He has the ability to play all three outfield positions and also bats left-handed, which is something the Blue Jays lack. The 31-year-old veteran signed a Minor League contract with an invite to Spring Training, so Toronto will have to make room for him on the 40-man roster if he is able to make the roster. Last season in Baltimore, Patterson hit .269 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs.
With the young talent on the team at the MLB level this year -- Kyle Drabek, Arencibia, and to some extent Travis Snider -- wouldn't it be wise to let Brett Lawrie learn at third in 2011 rather than bring him up in '12 or '13?
-- Jon B., Guelph, Ontario
Lawrie just turned 21 and only has two seasons of experience in the Minor Leagues. By comparison, Snider spent almost three full seasons in the Minors before getting a chance to make his Major League debut. There's no need to rush a player like Lawrie, especially considering he has never played third base during his professional career.
In all likelihood, the Blue Jays will start Lawrie at Triple-A, where he can learn the new position and continue to develop his power at the plate. It's possible he will make his debut at some point in 2011, but his overall performance will dictate when that promotion occurs.