Why are the Blue Jays receiving extra Draft picks next year? I thought the new Collective Bargaining Agreement changed the way compensation works?
-- Matthew P., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
The vast majority of the changes to compensation for free agents under the new CBA don't take effect until 2012. The Blue Jays are still eligible to receive compensatory picks in next year's First-Year Player Draft, and as a result, Toronto could have as many as eight picks in the first two rounds in 2012.
Toronto already possesses three selections -- a first- and second-round pick, plus an extra first rounder as compensation for not signing top pick Tyler Beede in 2011. Type A free agent Kelly Johnson could net an additional two picks, while Type B free agents Jose Molina, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco would provide one pick each between the first and second round if they depart for another organization.
This is the final year compensation will be offered for these type of players. In future seasons, clubs must present a qualifying offer that is equivalent to the average salary of the top 125 paid ballplayers in order to receive a compensatory pick.
What's the point of having all these extra picks in next year's Draft if the Blue Jays only have so much money to spend? Won't that just mean there will be more guys who don't get offered a contract or receive the money they are looking for?
-- Jason S., Hamilton, Ontario
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The amount of money each team has to spend in the Draft depends on where the club picks and how many selections it has. Each pick in the Draft comes with a slot recommendation from Major League Baseball, and that is taken into consideration when the soft salary cap is provided to the club.
Toronto will not be punished for potentially having eight picks in the first two rounds. Its overall cap will be higher than rival clubs, but the Blue Jays still will be subject to harsh penalties if they overspend.
Clubs that exceed their signing bonus pools by 0-5 percent will face a 75 percent tax on overage. Teams that exceed by 5-10 percent will face a similar tax, but it also will suffer the loss of a first-round pick. Teams that go over by 10-15 percent face a 100 percent tax and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Exceeding by 15 percent will result in a 100 percent tax and loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
Those stiff penalties should be enough to convince almost every team to operate within the set budget.
I have heard that this CBA is not ideal for Toronto. I can see how the new Draft salary cap works against what general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been doing, but all teams have the same restrictions. If anything, I would think that teams with good scouting would have an advantage over teams that don't. Is there a reason Toronto is at a greater disadvantage with this deal?
-- Mark V., Toronto, Ontario
The Blue Jays have consistently spent a large sum of money in the First-Year Player Draft under the direction of Anthopoulos. The club did not hesitate to go over slot to sign high-end talent and frequently took advantage of the compensation provided for the departure of free agents to stockpile as many picks as possible.
That's something the club will no longer be able to do. Toronto will not be allowed to set aside unlimited funds for the Draft and will instead be forced to work within the guidelines set by Major League Baseball or risk facing harsh penalties.
That could be viewed as disappointing news to the organization and the fan base. But the Blue Jays already possess one of the best Minor League systems in baseball and appear to be in an ideal situation for the coming years. Toronto protected itself further by being even more aggressive than normal in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft and selected several players who were considered "unsignable" by many experts.
The Blue Jays failed to sign Beede, but they did get eight of their first nine selections under contract. Toronto also reportedly possesses one of the largest scouting departments in baseball, and that type of system could help the club discover some hidden talent in future years to further bolster its farm system. The Draft reform means the Blue Jays have to change the way they have done things in the past, but when compared to other organizations, they are in a very good position.
With the announcement of an additional Wild Card spot coming as soon as next season, will it alter Anthopoulos' approach and timeline for his team?
-- Neil E., Gravenhurst
The addition of a second Wild Card to the American League is not expected to change how Anthopoulos approaches the 2012 season. Anthopoulos said last week that his goal is to build a team that can compete for the World Series -- not just the Wild Card.
Adding another team to the postseason should provide a lot of benefits to the organization, but there is arguably even more motivation to win the division than under the previous format. The two Wild Card teams will have to play in a single-elimination game at the end of the year to determine which club advances to the AL Division Series. A one-game playoff is better than nothing, but every team will attempt to avoid that scenario by winning the division and immediately advancing to a best-of-five series.
That will be a daunting task for Toronto to accomplish against the likes of New York and Boston, but the Blue Jays remain focused on their long-term plans. That likely means there will not be any short-term fixes unless players can be acquired at a reasonable cost with minimal risk for the long term.
What was the thinking in not offering Molina a contract? He is the perfect backup catcher. How can losing him be anything but a bad move?
-- Barry P., Riverside, Calif.
Molina, a Type B free agent, netted the Blue Jays a compensation pick in the 2012 Draft after signing a one-year deal with the Rays on Monday. The Blue Jays offered Molina salary arbitration, but they did not make a strong push to bring him back into the fold. Anthopoulos took advantage of the system by utilizing Molina to acquire that extra pick to further bolster an already strong farm system.
Molina did provide strong veteran leadership behind the plate, and in 2011 also exceeded expectations in the batter's box. It's a type of skill set that should be easy to fill via free agency, though, as backup catchers are relatively easy to come by. Anthopoulos did well to secure a top pick for that type of player.
Did Anthopoulos acquire Luis Valbuena to be to the new starting second baseman? If not, what will his role be?
-- Jeff C., Moncton, New Brunswick
If the season started tomorrow, then maybe Valbuena would start at second base, but it doesn't and there's no reason to believe the Blue Jays feel that Valbuena will be a long-term fix at second base.
This was simply the type of low-risk, high-reward move that Anthopoulos loves to make. In 229 career Major League games, Valbuena has a .226 average with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. But while playing for Triple-A Columbus in 2011, he batted .302 with a .372 on-base percentage, 17 homers, 22 doubles and 75 RBIs.
The 26-year-old has the ability to play second base and shortstop, and at the very least, he provides for depth for the organization. If Toronto is unable to secure a superior second baseman via trade or the free-agent market, then Valbuena could be considered for the role. As of right now, it would appear as though he will compete against Mike McCoy for a utility spot on the roster.
Could you explain how the Blue Jays can claim a guy like Cole Kimball and then lose him three days later?
-- Larry E., Kamloops, British Columbia
The Blue Jays claimed Kimball off waivers from the Nationals on Nov. 16 because they liked the 26-year-old's potential as a power right-handed reliever.
Toronto made the move knowing Kimball was coming off right shoulder surgery, but it wasn't until team doctors were able to take a look at his medical records that the extent of the injury was revealed. The Blue Jays realized Kimball would not be ready for the Majors until at least midseason, and as a result could not afford to reserve a spot on their 40-man roster.
Toronto put Kimball through waivers only to watch as he was claimed by Washington. It's the type of move where nothing was lost and nothing was gained.
Is there reason to worry about Jose Bautista's second-half struggles? Do you think there will be any carryover next season?
-- Abdul S., Toronto, Ontario
To suggest Bautista struggled in the second half of the year is a bit of an exaggeration. Bautista might not have put up the MVP-caliber numbers that he displayed the previous year-and-a-half, but he still managed to post a .419 on-base percentage with a .896 OPS after the All-Star break.
It was unrealistic to think Bautista could maintain his stats from the first half of the year. The Dominican native consistently told reporters throughout the year that he did not expect the performance to continue at that pace, but he would ride the wave for as long as he could. The season eventually tapered off, but it was still enough to win the Hank Aaron Award as the AL's best offensive player.
Bautista does not like to make excuses, but there's little doubt that his overall health played a factor in the second half. A nagging neck injury kept Bautista out of the weight room and contributed to some weight loss as the long and grueling year unfolded. He also was bothered by a sprained ankle that took longer to heal than expected and led to some problems in the field.
Bautista recently said that his body feels like it's back to 100 percent, which can only mean good things for the Blue Jays as they once again look to build a team around their superstar player.