What does the signing of Jeff Mathis to a two-year deal mean for the future of catchers J.P. Arencibia and Travis d'Arnaud?
-- Joe M., Brantford, Ontario
Mathis' extension won't have a direct impact on Arencibia or d'Arnaud, but it does put more attention on general manager Alex Anthopoulos' plan for the offseason. At least publicly, Anthopoulos is saying that the Blue Jays are open to the idea of having d'Arnaud receive a lot at-bats out of the designated-hitter spot.
d'Arnaud does appear to have the type of offensive tools that could translate well to DH, but his defense is also frequently praised. Shielding him from those responsibilities would be a disservice to his overall skill set. In theory, another option would be having d'Arnaud begin next season with Triple-A Las Vegas, but Anthopoulos all but ruled that out last week by suggesting his top prospect is ready for the next level.
That ultimately means Anthopoulos is going to have to pick between the two young catchers this offseason. Expect one to be dangled via trade, because both Arencibia and d'Arnaud hold far more value behind the plate than they do at any other position on the diamond. It's a good problem to have -- especially at a position that is relatively weak around the league.
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Mathis' new deal doesn't affect any of that, though. He was signed to be a backup, while both Arencibia and d'Arnaud need regular time behind the plate to continue their development. Mathis will once again serve in a key reserve role and provide guidance to whichever of the two young catchers is back with the organization next spring.
Henderson Alvarez started off so strong for the Blue Jays but really seems to be getting hit around of late. What does the club plan on doing with him in the future?
-- Michael B., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
There's no question that Alvarez has suffered through an inconsistent, and at times disappointing, 2012 campaign. He began the year in fine fashion, posting a 2.62 ERA and seven quality starts in his first eight outings. Since then, though, things haven't gone nearly as smoothly, as he's 4-8 with a 6.16 ERA in his last 16 starts.
The positive news is that Alvarez has found a way to stay healthy in a Blue Jays season that has derailed because of constant injury woes. The negative news is that Alvarez hasn't enjoyed consistent downward action on his sinker, and a third pitch to complement his fastball/changeup combination is still very much a work in progress.
Toronto's goal this season was to get Alvarez to the 180-inning plateau. He's 33 innings short of that mark, and therefore he isn't necessarily in danger of being shut down like some of his fellow starters in recent years. But Alvarez has unfortunately fallen into a disturbing trend where he'll have one strong start followed by one where he gets hit all around the ballpark.
Aggressive teams have taken advantage of Alvarez's lack of a breaking ball by sitting on the sinker early in counts. He needs to use the changeup on a more regular basis to combat opposing teams' plan of attack, but he will also need to refine his slider if he hopes to earn a starting nod next year, which is far from being a guarantee at this point.
Since the Blue Jays have so many injuries, do you think it could be a conditioning or training issue, or just bad luck?
-- Hitesh P., Brampton, Ontario
Lots of questions this year about all of the injuries, which should come as no surprise considering Toronto's prolonged string of bad luck. It's easy to point the finger at the club's developmental system or training staff as the source of problems, but doing so would be completely off base.
The Blue Jays might be one of the most hard-hit clubs when it comes to injuries, but they are far from the only victims. A quick look at what has gone on this season in both Boston and New York provides another perspective.
According to a report in USA Today, Major League teams have used the disabled list 539 times this year, through the beginning of last week. That includes 118 players on the 60-day DL, which represents a 28 percent increase in serious injuries and a 55 percent increase since 2010. Overall, it's the highest total since the league started keeping tabs back in 2002.
The numbers are staggering, but it means there are multiple teams suffering through these type of issues -- not just the Blue Jays. For his part, Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays are evaluating all levels of their Minor League system to identity any potential problems with the development of prospects.
Maybe they will eventually find a couple of areas that can be improved upon, but the fact remains Toronto hasn't altered its approach since Anthopoulos took over in the fall of 2009, and this is the first season where injuries have really begun to take their toll. Expect some minor adjustments, but more than anything, this will be racked up to an unfortunate season and will put even more of an emphasis for Anthopoulos to build depth in the offseason.
With Travis Snider and Eric Thames gone, are the Blue Jays content with Rajai Davis as their full-time starting left fielder? If not, what options might they consider for next season?
-- Scott W., Waterloo, Ontario
If things remain relatively unchanged between now and Spring Training, Davis would enter camp as the favorite to win everyday duties in left field. Much like Thames last season, Davis will finish the year as the regular starter, and barring an unforeseen upgrade, he would be given every opportunity to win the job.
Davis would also receive competition from rookies Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose. Sierra celebrated his surprise callup late last month by hitting .318 with two homers and five RBIs in 15 games. Gose, 22, hasn't experienced as much success, hitting just .205 while striking out 31 times in just 74 at-bats. He likely could use further seasoning in Triple-A.
Toronto owns a $3 million club option on Davis for the 2013 season. It seems like a foregone conclusion the Blue Jays will take advantage of that by bringing him back, and even if Toronto is able to find an upgrade, the speedy Davis would serve in a key role as a backup outfielder and late-game pinch-runner.
I wasn't a fan at all about trading away Snider for a reliever. I could say the same thing about Thames, even though I wasn't as high on him. Why is Anthopoulos paying such a high price for relievers who usually come cheap in the offseason?
-- Josh G., Fredericton, New Brunswick
Anthopoulos clearly has changed his philosophy with regards to the bullpen. Each of the past three seasons, Toronto's GM has more or less patched together his relief corps during the offseason. In 2010, he added the likes of Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel, either through trade or free agency. Last offseason, it was the additions of Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero.
The idea seemed to be that putting together a solid bullpen was something that could easily be done during the offseason. In the past, it was also put together with the idea of adding pending ranked free agents who could possibly net the club a compensation pick in the First-Year Player Draft the following season.
Since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement eliminated that type of compensation, there is less benefit to adding pitchers like Francisco and Rauch. That's left Anthopoulos switching gears and looking to acquire controllable hard-throwing relievers who will be with the club for the long-term rather than the short-term.
It remains to be seen whether the recent additions of Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar pan out, but Anthopoulos goes into the offseason with a full contingent of relievers already in place, which is something he hasn't been able to say since taking the GM job in 2009.
Will Yan Gomes be back next season, and if so, what role will he be in?
-- Aaron N., Ottawa, Ontario
Gomes should be expected to fill a similar role in 2013 to the one he held this year. That likely will involve multiple trips back and forth between the Majors and Minors, but there's no question that his overall versatility will play a role at some point.
The 25-year-old is a key depth player because of his ability to catch, play first, third and also left field. That has made him a favorite of manager John Farrell, but the native of Brazil also is still figuring out how to be effective as a part-time player.
That's a common problem for younger players to have when faced with not having regular at-bats. Gomes' mechanics at the plate tend to falter a little bit with the extended breaks between at-bats, and as a result, his timing suffers. It's something he'll need to continue to work on in order to secure a full-time bench position in the future.