Friday, December 6, 2013

Alex Anthopoulos' Aversion to Free Agent Pitchers


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Would you believe me if I told you that Alex Anthopoulos has never signed a free agent starting pitcher to a Major League contract? It's true. For whatever reason, AA seemingly has an aversion to inking starting pitchers to contracts.

Over the course of his four year tenure as General Manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos has never signed a free agent starting pitcher. In fact, it's been nearly seven years. Think back to 2007 when Tomo Ohka inked a $1.5 million dollar contract.

There are still a few notable elite arms out on the market like Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, but as the days and weeks pass, it's increasingly unlikely the Blue Jays will sign a free agent pitcher at all. 

Earlier this week, Alex Anthopoulos spoke with the Toronto Star's Brendan Kennedy and shed some light on how the free agent landscape looks for the Blue Jays:
"As the prices in free agency sit today, I’m not optimistic. But that could change. We’re definitely having dialogue in trade. I wouldn’t say that we’re necessarily close, but we’re having active dialogue."
Not surprisingly, Alex is leaning more towards trading for starting pitching rather than signing a free agent. And courtesy of his chat with Brendan Kennedy, we've now learned the reason why AA is leading towards trade is predominantly because of the price.

After middle-tier starters like Ricky Nolasco signed for 4 years and $49 million, and Jason Vargas signed for 4 years and $32 million, that unequivocally set the bar for upper-tier starters such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana.

If someone like Nolasco can command an AAV of $12 million, then just imagine what Jimenez and Santana could fetch; probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of $16-$17 million a season and at least five or six guaranteed years.

So at that price, one can understand why Alex Anthopoulos would prefer to go the trade route. You may not necessarily agree that's the way for the Blue Jays to go this offseason (I don't), but at least there's rationale behind it.

Is it a reluctance to overpay free agents to come to Toronto? Or is it a refusal to let the top remaining free agents set their own price?

Trading away players would obviously cost prospects or big league players, but from an outsider's perspective, signing a free agent pitcher would be the easiest way to fix the starting rotation without giving up anything more than just cash.

It's perplexing that a team with close to a $135 million dollar payroll for 2014 is suddenly pinching pennies when it comes to starting pitchers. They have no issue paying Mark Buehrle $18 million dollars a season, but are reluctant to sign someone like Ubaldo Jimenez for a similar amount.

The Blue Jays could likely find a starting pitcher through trade that comes at a reasonable salary, but they'd still be paying in the way of prospects. And these days, prospects are valued like the Holy Grail.

So whether it's in the way of cash or prospects, the Blue Jays would be paying to upgrade their starting rotation ... one way or another. The currency is the exact same.

Frankly, after Jimenez and Santana, the free agent starting pitchers aren't all that intriguing anyway. There's the middle-tier of Bartolo Colon and Matt Garza, but after those arms, the quality of starting pitchers drops off significantly.

So if the Blue Jays aren't going to sign either Ubaldo or Santana or one of the remaining middle-tier starters, they may as well not even bother dipping into the free agent pool at all. The lower-tier starters are a dime a dozen, and internal candidates are a plenty.

Speaking of which, maybe one of the reasons why Anthopoulos has less of a sense of urgency to upgrade the starting rotation because some of the young prospects like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are further along than originally predicted.

Anthopoulos also seems very confident that Brandon Morrow will be a mainstay in the rotation in 2014. He's noted that Morrow is throwing at 100% with no discomfort, which certainly is encouraging news, but Opening Day is still four months away.

Perhaps the state of the Blue Jays starting rotation isn't quite as dire as they were at season's end. As it currently sits, the Blue Jays starting rotation is at least six arms deep, and could potentially be as deep as 14 starting pitchers.

But this particular scenario is quantity over quality. It's not like the Blue Jays have 14 dependable starting pitchers at their disposal; many of them are guys coming back from significant injuries, players without options, and relievers that may or may not transition into the starting rotation.

Is Alex Anthopoulos convinced a starting rotation comprised of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and maybe Marcus Stroman or Todd Redmond is championship worthy? I really have a tough time believing those guys will lead the Blue Jays back to the playoffs.

But then again, I've been wrong before ... just think back to last year. Most people thought the Blue Jays had a championship calibre starting rotation, and it was anything but.

Instead of overpromise/underdeliver, perhaps this year's motto for the starting rotation will be underpromise/overdeliver. And if they don't end up signing any free agent pitchers, that adage will likely ring true for 2014.

Image courtesy of The Star

6 comments:

  1. Fair enough. One thing is that we don't know 100% of what goes on. Someone could write an article headlined the opposite: "No free agents have signed with Toronto while AA has been GM". It is 2 ways. Also, with the case of many of the free agent pitchers, there is a cost in prospects as a 1st round pick would often have to be surrendered. Also, think about Pierzynski's latest comments regarding signing with the Red Sox about joining a winner and heading to a true traditional baseball city. The cards are stacked against the Jays this way.

    That said, this does seem the time that a good FA pitcher signing could benefit the Jays.

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    1. I believe the Jays pick is protected since they finished in the bottom 10 of the standings, which is one reason they can afford to go after a top starter. I think they'd have a tough time selling Toronto as a destination unless they can offer more years and more dollars than the competition. And unfortunately that five-year policy is going to be a huge roadblock.

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  2. I don't think I'd put Santana up as the top tier level of current FA pitchers. Maybe 5 years ago....

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    1. With his overall body of work? I wouldn't say so either, but this past season he was pretty good - aside from Tanaka, he'll probably fetch the biggest starting pitcher contract.

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  3. All the top FA pitchers will command contracts that will become burdens, imo. I'd like to see a trade for Kyle Lohse, because his contract fits our "window" and is much better than most, and he'll probably command lesser/fewer prospects than Samardzija. He'd probably have to learn to pitch in the Dome, but having Dickey and Buehrle around would likely help a lot, they having gone through it last year. Going with a group of command based, experienced, smart pitchers is the best bet we can afford while still allowing us to improve 2nd base. Young guys would be more apt to crumble in the playoffs, if we even make it.

    If there is a SP signed, I think it should be an affordable ground ball pitcher for the #5 spot. I have nothing really against Happ, he'd be fine, but I would think he'd have more value for teams with bigger parks. Point is, it would free up depth to trade for a 2nd baseman. What's your thoughts on Howie Kendrick for Drabek and Happ? Has Drabek's stock fallen too much? Include a reliever? It would take ~5mil off of LAA's payroll, so they could sign a top FA, while giving them exactly the depth they need.

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    1. Kendrick would be great, but I'd be afraid to give up 2 starters for him. That would put them down 2 arms in the depth chart, and you'd think Happ would be earmarked for a least one spot. Unless Hutchison is fine to come back and Stroman cracks the rotation, I probably wouldn't do that deal in particular ... but again, Kendrick would be a nice piece to have.

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