What are the Blue Jays' options in left field? Will it be Travis Snider or Eric Thames? Or will Toronto look to make a trade?
-- Calvin S., Smiths Falls, Ontario
The Blue Jays say there will be an open competition for the starting job in left field when Spring Training begins in February. Snider and Thames are the front-runners, while speedster Rajai Davis likely will find himself in a reserve role at the start of the year.
Both Snider and Thames have options on their contracts, and whoever doesn't win the starting job likely will have to begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas. It wouldn't make much sense to have either player slotted into a reserve role unless regular plate appearances could be guaranteed.
An offseason trade also is a possibility, but that could require the Blue Jays to sell low on Snider. The former first-round pick is still just 23 years old and has yet to appear in more than 82 games in a big league season because of injuries and personnel moves.
Have a question about the Blue Jays?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Blue Jays beat reporter Gregor Chisholm for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Snider appears to be the type of player that general manager Alex Anthopoulos would target if he played for another team, as he's a former high pick who is still young but has yet to figure things out for a full season in the Majors. Toronto has to determine whether he will become a long-term fit.
Last year, the Blue Jays' starting pitchers struggled after being a strong point in 2010. Which front-of-the-rotation starter do you think Toronto needs to target?
Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell both pointed to the starting rotation as an area for improvement in 2012. The starters' ERA was a disappointing 4.55, and Ricky Romero was the lone member of the Opening Day staff who took a noticeable step forward in 2011.
That's why Toronto likely will be at least in the mix for any big-name pitcher that becomes available through trade, while Japanese sensation Yu Darvish also could be a possible target in free agency.
If Toronto is unable to find a top starter, then it likely will stick with the status quo this offseason. A front-line starter would be a clear upgrade, but a back-end guy could complicate an already competitive race for a starting job.
At the moment, it would appear that Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez have guaranteed jobs in 2012. Dustin McGowan is out of options on his contract and likely will be given every opportunity to break camp as a starter.
Brett Cecil then would become the early favorite to win the No. 5 starting job, while Kyle Drabek will also be in the mix. That's an appropriate amount of depth for a club that also has prospects such as Deck McGuire, Nestor Molina, Drew Hutchinson and Chad Jenkins knocking on the door in 2012.
Starting pitching was a problem in 2011, and the team would like to add another proven commodity, but depth has never been the issue here. There are a lot of suitable candidates to fill in the back end of the staff.
Why would teams be willing to spend over $100 million on a player from Japan like Darvish when there are so many examples of why not to do it. Wouldn't the more obvious thing be to spend on a proven guy like C.J. Wilson?
-- Kris D, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
There are lots of examples of Japanese pitchers coming to the Major Leagues and not being able to find much success in the transition. But just because it hasn't happened a lot in the past doesn't mean it won't in the future, and by all accounts Darvish is a highly touted player that scouts across baseball have been raving about for years.
It's also worth noting that there are a lot of differences between Darvish and Japanese players who previously made the jump to the big leagues. Darvish's workload in Japan has been monitored more closely than most of the pitchers before him, and there's a lot less mileage on his arm.
The 25-year-old also has very good command with his fastball, which is a key to any pitcher having success in the Majors. The same thing couldn't be said for Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, who arrived with a lot of different pitches but questionable command of his fastball.
Darvish might come with more risk than Wilson, but he also has a higher upside. Wilson is expected to be heavily pursued by the Yankees, and his price tag could skyrocket this offseason while also costing a Draft pick to whichever team signs him.
This could be a nice year to fill a need, so would it be better for the Blue Jays to sign a Type-A free agent and lose one first rounder as compensation, or should they stay the course with two first-round picks this coming Draft?
-- Terry H., Cartwright, Newfoundland
Teams with a top-15 pick have their first-round pick protected in the June First-Year Player Draft. That means those organizations can sign a Type-A free agent without giving up their first-round pick as compensation.
Toronto's 81-81 record in 2011 was the 17th worst record in the big leagues, so they will not have that luxury this offseason. This appeared to be a major concern for some fans near the end of the year, but in reality it shouldn't make that much of a difference. It's hard to envision Anthopoulos coveting a top free agent enough to part with a second-round pick pick but not a first-rounder for his services.
The Blue Jays also have the luxury of an additional pick in the first round because they were unable to sign top pick Tyler Beede in 2011. That would give Anthopoulos the type of depth to part with a pick as compensation without mortgaging the future.
Toronto's GM will evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis. He likely won't want to part with a Draft pick, but if it's the missing piece, it's not something that would stop him from making the move.
Will Brett Lawrie still qualify as a rookie next year?
-- Graham, Stratford, Ontario
No, qualified rookies must have less than 150 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of service time in the Major Leagues. Lawrie finished the year with 150 at-bats, which eliminates him from consideration for next year's Rookie of the Year Award.
That may be discouraging for some fans, but Lawrie's time in Toronto this year should help his production in 2012. Lawrie heads into Spring Training knowing exactly what to expect, and will be able to work on elements of his offense based on how opposing pitchers attacked him this year.
Is it possible that Adeiny Hechavarria starts the year in the big leagues as a second baseman? Or would they move Yunel Escobar over to second?
-- Trevor V., St. Catharines, Ontario
Anthopoulos has stated on multiple occasions that the club has no interest in moving either Escobar or Hechavarria from their natural position at shortstop. Escobar provides well-above-average defense at the position, while Hechavarria has been tabbed as one of the best defensive prospects in the game.
Toronto eventually will have to pick between the two players -- or switch their positions -- but that is not expected to happen for another year. Barring an unforeseen trade, Hechavarria will begin the year playing for Triple-A Las Vegas, while Escobar gets the starting job in Toronto and will once again be in the mix at the leadoff spot.
For now, both players have more value at shortstop than they do at any other position on the field. At the very least, it keeps their trade value strong and it will be a nice problem to have when the Blue Jays do eventually have to pick one player for shortstop in 2013.
I have seen rumors on the Internet about Farrell being linked to the managerial opening in Boston and assistant general manager Tony LaCava to the GM opening in Baltimore. Is there any truth to this?
-- Josh G., Halifax, Nova Scotia
I highly doubt there is any truth behind the rumor of Farrell going back to Boston, where he used to be pitching coach. As per club policy, the Blue Jays did not release the terms of Farrell's contract, but it's believed the 49-year-old is locked up for the next two years.
The Blue Jays are not required to let him speak with other organizations, and if he were to depart, the club could ask for a lot of compensation in return. Anthopoulos seemed very content with the job Farrell did this season, and there's no reason to believe he won't be in the Blue Jays' dugout in 2012.
LaCava interviewed for the general manager position in Baltimore last week. He is a highly respected front-office executive and should be given strong consideration for the job. Anthopoulos has said in the past that he would hate to lose LaCava to another organization but will not get in the way of a departure if it means his colleague gets a promotion.
The Terry Francona fiasco in Boston has made a good manager available. Farrell has former managers all around him on his coaching staff. What would the odds be of Francona being one of them?
-- Barbara T., Burlington, Ontario
Slim to none. Francona's track record with the Red Sox should allow him to manage again in the near future. He'll likely be linked to several teams this offseason, but it's also possible that Francona will want to take a break after working for eight years in the pressure-packed Boston market.
Francona did some work as a broadcaster during the postseason, and if he wants a breather from duties on the bench then that could be an attractive career for the short term. It's very unlikely he would want to jump right back into the fold with another team in any role but the one found in the manager's office.
Toronto also has the highly capable Don Wakamatsu as its bench coach. Wakamatsu brings valuable experience to the coaching staff and spends a lot of time working with the catchers. Unless Wakamatsu is offered a manager's job this offseason, expect to see him back beside Farrell in 2012.