Now that Mark DeRosa has announced his retirement, will the Blue Jays be in the market for another player to platoon with Adam Lind at designated hitter? Do they need to bring in another veteran for leadership?
-- Michael K., Burlington, Ontario
The biggest beneficiary of DeRosa's retirement could be outfielder Moises Sierra. The 25-year-old outfielder has been taking ground balls at first base in the Dominican Winter League as the club attempts to increase Sierra's overall versatility, and it's possible he'll be in the mix for a spot on the bench.
Sierra is out of options and must pass through waivers before he can be sent to the Minor Leagues. It seems unlikely that Sierra would go unclaimed, so the original belief was that he was a candidate to be traded, but now there's an increased chance of a reserve role.
The only way Sierra can seriously be considered for a spot on the roster is to prove he's capable of playing first at least in emergency situations. Sierra came up through Toronto's system as an outfielder, but he's somewhat erratic defensively and doesn't seem capable of playing center field. That would seem to rule out a job as a fourth outfielder, but there could be a spot for him as Lind's platoon partner while receiving occasional starts at first and the corner outfield spots.
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In terms of leadership, there isn't as much of a need for that as in years past. This isn't exactly a young team, and there are plenty of veterans who should be able to step up and fill the void from DeRosa. He'll be sorely missed in the clubhouse, but he does have a skill set that should be rather easily replaced.
What are the odds that Toronto will target Masahiro Tanaka? Before Yu Darvish came over, there were rumors that Toronto put in the highest bid. However, once it was revealed that Texas landed him instead, there were cries of disappointment. Now with starting pitching being a need again, and money seeming to be not so much of an issue as it was in years past, do you think it is a possibility?
-- Michael A., Colonie, N.Y.
Tanaka is one of the more intriguing options available on the market, but he certainly comes with a lot of risk. Contrary to Darvish, Tanaka doesn't record a lot of strikeouts, and there are some red flags about the number of innings he has thrown in Japan over the past couple of years.
One thing that could work in the Blue Jays' favor is if the posting system remains relatively unchanged. The process over the past several seasons involved teams making blind bids, with the organization which made the highest offer then receiving exclusive negotiating rights to sign the player.
Major League Baseball is attempting to negotiate a new posting agreement, but the way the system was set up in the past is an advantage to the Blue Jays. If the player had the ability to choose any team, there would be a stronger likelihood that he would pick a big-market organization like the Yankees.
I'd still think it's more probable that the Blue Jays will make another starter one of their primary targets instead of waiting around to see if/when Tanaka becomes available. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is an intriguing option, while Ervin Santana is also a possibility if his reported asking price of $100 million drops. The early favorite to sign Tanaka would have to be the Yanks, especially considering the posting fee would not count against the luxury tax.
This past season, John Farrell made a remark about the Blue Jays' organization being a "scouting-based" organization and not a "player development-based" organization. Will his remark have any effect on the organization's approach to developing its prospects?
-- Skyler G., Peace River, Alberta
The Blue Jays won't change their approach simply because Farrell decided to speak out against his former organization. It has become clear over time that Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn't exactly see eye to eye on a lot of issues, and Farrell's comments this summer can be considered another betrayal of trust.
That being said, Toronto is in the process of evaluating its player development strategy, and it would appear as though some changes are needed especially when it comes to pitchers. The Blue Jays have gone out of their way to limit the number of innings their pitchers throw at the lower levels, and it's up for debate whether that was the right decision.
Farrell didn't agree with the approach, but he's not the only one. There's a belief the "piggy back" system of using two starters in the same game isn't necessarily the right way to develop pitchers. Having them throw more innings does increase the risk of their arms breaking down over time, but it also builds up more endurance and provides more experience before arriving at the big league level.
Toronto has yet to make any announcements about its future plans, but injuries have been a major cause for concern in each of the past two years. That means everything is being looked at: the development of Minor Leaguers, the way players prepare during Spring Training and in-season workout programs. Expect this to be a story that continues to develop when the club makes its intentions known.
What's the latest on Brandon Morrow? Last I heard a month ago, he was about to start throwing again.
-- George N., Deep Brook, Nova Scotia
Morrow resumed throwing in late October and has begun the process of getting ready for Spring Training. He has been long tossing three days a week and playing light catch on the remaining two weekdays. According to a report on Sportsnet, Morrow also threw off a mound last week, which is another big step in his return from injury.
The 29-year-old had his season end May 28 because of an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm. The belief is that he should be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training and will be pitching without any kind of limitations. That will be an absolute necessity for a Blue Jays team that is in desperate need of upgrading its rotation.
There's no debating that Morrow's 2013 season was a major disappointment, but he remains a key to Toronto's success. It's sometimes easy to forget that Morrow turned a corner in 2012 and appeared well on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in the American League. That progress will need to continue, and if he's able to stay healthy, Morrow could become the front-line starter the Blue Jays are looking for on the open market.
What are the chances of Dustin McGowan getting back into the starting rotation? He had some excellent innings last season in relief.
-- Richard S., Redcliff, Alberta
McGowan has openly talked about his desire to get back into the rotation, and it would appear likely that he'll be given the opportunity by being stretched out during Spring Training. That would at least give him a chance to compete for the No. 5 starter's job, but his chances of securing the role entirely depend on what other moves Toronto makes this offseason.
My bet would still be on McGowan starting the year out of the bullpen. He settled into that job last season and provided the club with yet another hard-throwing righty who could be used in late-inning situations. His ability to record a high number of strikeouts can be especially valuable with runners on base, and his overall workload is easily monitored.
There's still plenty of upside there, but before McGowan can be relied upon for an increased role, he needs to prove he can stay healthy. The weighted ball program appeared to do wonders for his overall health last season, but this is someone who has made just 29 appearances in the big leagues since 2008. My opinion could change depending on how he looks in Spring Training, but it would be a stretch to say he has any role locked down at this point.
Chatter in the office is that it will be a mistake if the Jays pass on Josh Johnson. What are the chances the Jays bring him back?
-- Grant T., Sackville, New Brunswick
Johnson's days in Toronto appear over after the club declined to make a qualifying offer. Technically, the Blue Jays could still sign Johnson to a contract, but if that was the intent, then it likely would have happened before he hit free agency.
There hasn't been any progress made in contract negotiations between the sides. In fact, there isn't even an indication that the Blue Jays have continued to have an ongoing dialogue with Johnson's agent, Matt Sosnick. Johnson reportedly is seeking upwards of $10 million on a one-year deal, and if Toronto was willing to go that high, the club likely would have gone a step further by making the $14.1 million qualifying offer.
Expect Johnson to make his return to the National League in an attempt to rebuild his value following a disastrous 2013 season. He'll likely choose a pitcher-friendly ballpark, and his numbers would look a lot better by avoiding the DH.