Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez?
-- Tim K., Ottawa, Ontario
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The odds of the Blue Jays signing either Santana or Jimenez seem to be increasing with each passing day. The asking price for both pitchers reportedly has substantially dropped over the past couple of months and could be coming more in line with what Toronto would be willing to offer.
Santana, in particular, was seeking upwards of five years and $80 million earlier in the offseason, but recent media reports have suggested he is now looking for just a three-year deal. That is a lot more manageable for the Blue Jays, and the fact that the club wouldn't have to part with a first-round Draft pick in order to sign him only helps to further strengthen its cause.
Of the two, Santana would appear to be the better fit. There are some concerns about the high number of home runs he has allowed over the course of his career and how that would impact his performance at hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, but the addition of a sinker to his repertoire has at least helped alleviate some of those issues. Santana still gave up 26 homers in 2013, but his groundball-to-flyball ratio of 0.93 was the best of his career.
Santana also has a fairly strong track record as he posted a sub-4.00 ERA and 200-plus innings in three of the past four seasons. Personally, I'd take that certainty over a pitcher like Jimenez, who struggled in 2012 and didn't really excel last year until the second half, when the competition left a lot to be desired.
How does A.J. Burnett change the free-agent landscape? Would the Blue Jays have any interest in signing him to a one-year deal, and would he have any interest in returning to Toronto?
-- Garth F., Grande Prairie, Alberta
Burnett would probably be the best fit for the Blue Jays when compared to the rest of the remaining free-agent pitchers. He is only looking for a short-term deal and is coming off back-to-back dominating seasons in Pittsburgh. There was some early talk about possible retirement, but all signs now point to Burnett coming back for at least one more year.
But getting Burnett to sign on the dotted line likely will be a lot easier said than done. He already has a comfortable spot on a competitive team in the Pirates, and the recent talk about signing elsewhere could be a ploy by his agent more than anything else. Burnett resides in the Maryland area, and with all things being equal, he would prefer to play close to home. That would give either the Pirates or Orioles the inside track and presents an uphill battle that Toronto would be forced to overcome.
Money often talks, though, and it's still certainly possible the Blue Jays could come in with an offer that's too hard for him to refuse. By all accounts, Burnett enjoyed his time in Toronto from 2006-08, and his presence would go a long way in helping the Blue Jays compete in the American League East, but it won't be easy for general manager Alex Anthopoulos to get something done. Santana or Jimenez both seem more likely at this point.
I keep hearing Santana and Jimenez being the best free-agent signings that the Blue Jays could make. Why is Bronson Arroyo's name not in the mix? He has shown consistency in innings pitched and ERA over the last nine years and is only looking for a three-year contract. Is it cost?
-- Tracy B., The Pas, Manitoba
Arroyo shares your disbelief that he hasn't received more interest on the open market this offseason. The veteran right-hander recently spoke to ESPN and complained about unproven pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka receiving almost blank cheques while Arroyo continues to wait for a reasonable offer.
The biggest strength of Arroyo is his ability to remain healthy and eat up a lot of innings. He has thrown at least 199 innings in each of the past nine years, and in four of the past five Arroyo has posted an ERA below 4.00. At least when it comes to the Blue Jays, though, there would be some concerns about how his success would translate to the AL.
The vast majority of Arroyo's success has come in the National League, and moving to another league at the age of 37 would be less than ideal. There were rumors linking him to the Twins earlier in the offseason, but a deal never materialized, and it's very possible he'll have to wait for Santana, Jimenez and Burnett to sign before a solid offer surfaces. Arroyo deserves better, but he's stuck in a wait-and-see approach.
I wouldn't completely rule out Arroyo to Toronto, but it would appear as though he is farther down on the club's wish list than some of the other upper-level pitchers that are still available on the open market.
Would it not be good for the Blue Jays to be talking with Nelson Cruz right now? He is one outfielder who would give us a great 3,4,5 in the batting order. Would it also open up the possibility of trading extra outfielders, with Adam Lind, to maybe pick up Kendrys Morales?
-- James S., St. Catharines, Ontario
Cruz would be an upgrade, but there isn't really any room for him on the Blue Jays' roster. The starting three in the outfield for Toronto are basically locked down with Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista. It's true that Cabrera is coming off a tough season, but the club truly believes a tumor located in his spine was the main culprit for the low numbers and lack of mobility.
The only real spot for Cruz would be at designated hitter, and Toronto already has Lind under contract for the upcoming season. If the Blue Jays wanted to make a change there, it likely would have already happened. Instead of looking for a regular starter, Toronto is more interested in a platoon partner for Lind, and that type of platoon role wouldn't sit well with someone who has a proven track record like Cruz. Expect him to sign elsewhere.
When looking to the Minors for their outfield options, what about Ricardo Nanita? He hits for great average in the Minors and hasn't been given as many chances as Moises Sierra and Anthony Gose. Why is that? What do you think will happen with his career, and does it sound like he may be a part of Toronto's outfield or another position?
-- Justin C., Clark's Harbour, Nova Scotia
Nanita was brought back this offseason with a Minor League deal, but his role in the organization remains unchanged. He's behind Gose, Sierra and Kevin Pillar on the depth chart for reserve outfielders, and it would take an awful lot of health issues for Nanita to get a chance at the big league level.
Bautista is one of Nanita's bigger fans, and I remember a few years ago when Toronto's right fielder went out of his way to praise Nanita and his future in baseball. An opportunity never really presented itself, though, and Nanita has found himself stuck with the stigma of being a career Minor Leaguer. He's turning 33 years old later this summer, and it would appear as though a legitimate shot at playing in the big leagues isn't going to happen any time soon.
There's simply too much upside in Gose and Sierra to justify moving Nanita ahead of them on the depth chart. The Minors also seem to be where Nanita belongs after an injury-plagued year in 2013 that saw him hit just .258 with a .688 OPS in 74 games between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo.
Why didn't the Blue Jays go for Tanaka? They keep saying that they need pitching. They made a bid for Yu Darvish. Are they once again settling for leftovers?
-- Jim O., Sarasota, Fla.
Despite reports to the contrary, the Blue Jays never made a serious move toward signing Tanaka. They did their due diligence on the Japanese right-hander, but the terms weren't something the Blue Jays could live with. There was some initial dialogue, but the negotiations never became all that in depth, and according to the National Post, Toronto bowed out as soon as it learned Tanaka's asking price would include a term longer than five years.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Anthopoulos has yet to go beyond five years on any player, and while there might be an exception at some point in the future, it certainly wasn't going to happen this offseason. Even if Tanaka was only after five years, his annual salary per year also likely would have been prohibitive for a Blue Jays organization that appears to be working under limited available funds this offseason.
As for the comparison with Darvish, it's a natural one to make, but there are a lot more question marks surrounding Tanaka. Darvish came over with the reputation of being a legitimate frontline starting pitcher who could strike out a high number of batters, while Tanaka isn't quite as sure of a thing. Time will tell how it all plays out, but either way, there won't be a lot of regret from Toronto's end, because this is something that was never going to happen.