TORONTO -- The Blue Jays always seem to focus a lot of their attention on roster flexibility, but next spring the challenge will become rather daunting, with nine players out of options on the 40-man roster.
Players who don't have any options remaining on their contracts must pass through waivers before they can be sent to the Minor Leagues. That creates the risk of another team swooping in and taking that talent away without any compensation.
There are plenty of examples over the years of players making the club out of Spring Training because of their contract status. Jo-Jo Reyes cracked the rotation in 2011, lefty Luis Perez headed north the following year, and last season it was right-handed reliever Jeremy Jeffress who broke camp.
When the Blue Jays were rebuilding, the strategy made plenty of sense. Toronto didn't want to give away a player who could potentially become a valuable commodity down the road. With the overall win-loss record not necessarily being that important, there was an ability to be more patient in the development of a player.
Those days are clearly over, as general manager Alex Anthopoulos has put an emphasis on winning in the immediate future. The chances of a player making the team just based on his lack of options isn't as prevalent as it once was, but that doesn't mean it will be entirely ignored next spring.
Here's a closer look at which players are out of options and how that could impact plans this offseason, future trade talks and next year's roster decisions:
Dustin McGowan: The oft-injured McGowan hasn't been able to pitch a full season since 2007, but he finally started to prove his worth late in 2013. McGowan showed he still had something left by posting an impressive 2.45 ERA while striking out 26 over 25 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.
There has been some talk that McGowan will be stretched out as a starter during Spring Training. The probability of him cracking the staff entirely depends on how many starters Anthopoulos adds this offseason, but in theory, McGowan will compete for a job. A more realistic scenario would see McGowan resume his role in middle relief, where his ability to avoid contact has proven crucial. Either way, McGowan doesn't seem at risk of not making the team, as Toronto has remained by his side since 2008, and that's unlikely to change any time soon.
Esmil Rogers: Despite struggling during Spring Training earlier this year, Rogers was never at risk of not making the team because of his contract status. He began the year in long relief and ultimately found his way into the rotation following a series of injuries to Toronto's staff. It seems unlikely that Rogers will be in a similar role next year, but he's an early favorite to win the long reliever's job for a second consecutive year. He also could be used as trade bait, but it would have to be as a complementary piece because Rogers wouldn't have that much value on his own.
Todd Redmond: The 27-year-old exceeded expectations by making 14 starts, emerging as one of the feel-good stories in 2013. He was originally signed to help provide depth in the Minor Leagues, but a series of injuries and subpar results at the Major League level opened the door for a greater role. Anthopoulos' main priority this offseason is to upgrade the rotation, and that doesn't bode well for Redmond's future. Unless there is a trade this offseason, Redmond will head to Spring Training without a guaranteed job, and the club likely would take its chances by trying to sneak him through waivers.
Sergio Santos: After battling injuries during his first year and a half with the Blue Jays, he finally showed what he can do late in 2013. Santos finished the year with a sparkling 1.75 ERA while striking out 28 in 25 2/3 innings. He has a guaranteed job in middle relief and could become a candidate to close if the Blue Jays explore the possibility of trading right-hander Casey Janssen this winter. Either way, Santos' spot on the team is secure, and he has the potential to become one of the most dominant relievers in the game because of an overpowering fastball and a wipe-out slider.
Jeffress: The hard-throwing righty made last year's team out of Spring Training, but he was essentially written off just one week into the season because of an inability to command his pitches. Any team in baseball could have claimed him, but Jeffress cleared waivers and was sent to the Minor Leagues. Once there, he overhauled his mechanics and also received treatment for juvenile epilepsy.
That allowed Jeffress to come back in September as a seemingly different pitcher on the mound. The upper-90s velocity was still there, but the command had drastically improved, and all of a sudden, Jeffress looked like he belonged. Despite all of that, he's currently caught up in a numbers game and faces an uphill challenge to make the team. If Anthopoulos moves some relievers this offseason, Jeffress' prospects will improve, but until then, he'll face stiff competition from Rogers and Perez for the final spot in the bullpen.
Brad Lincoln: The veteran reliever was expected to become an integral part of the bullpen following a midseason trade with Pittsburgh in 2012. Unfortunately for Lincoln, things haven't really worked out, as he spent the entire 2013 campaign bouncing back and forth between the Majors and Minors. Lincoln's biggest problem at the big league level was his 22 walks in just 31 2/3 innings. As of now, he doesn't seem to have much of a chance to make the team, but he could be included as a secondary piece in one of Anthopoulos' trades this offseason.
Brett Cecil: He's now an All-Star, but back in March, there was some doubt about whether Cecil would even make the team. The left-hander competed with Jeffress in a battle of pitchers who were out of options, but it didn't take Cecil long to secure his spot for the present and the future. His season was eventually cut short because of an injury, but Cecil has proven to be lethal against lefties and will enter the year as Toronto's primary left-handed reliever.
Perez: Two years ago, Perez became one of former manager John Farrell's favorite relievers. He was relied upon to record key outs vs. left-handers and also throw multiple innings when needed. Perez's overall versatility proved extremely valuable, but the development then came to an end when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. He returned late in 2013 and will need a strong Spring Training to secure his spot in the organization. Unless he really struggles, there would appear to be very little chance Perez could pass through waivers. Either way, Perez should be in the Majors next year.
Moises Sierra: The 25-year-old outfielder seems like a prime candidate to be shopped this offseason. Toronto currently has Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista locked in at the three outfield spots. There is at least one spot open on the bench, but Sierra doesn't fit the mold of a reserve outfielder because of his erratic defense and inability to play center field. That will likely increase the odds of Anthopoulos trying to include him as part of a bigger deal. On the surface, Sierra wouldn't appear to have a lot of value. But keep in mind, it wasn't that long ago that Anthopoulos was able to turn mediocre outfielder Eric Thames into right-hander Steve Delabar.