Blue Jays have plenty of decisions to make this off-season
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
If the Blue Jays' braintrust folks could, they would loft Troy Tulowitzki's contract on another team this off-season.
It might be a difficult task but they will try despite his big salary still owing through 2020 with a team option for 2021. Tulowitzki's lowly OPS this season of .678 was his lowest since his big-league entry .609 in 2006. Could the Jays buy him out his final three years?
If the Blue Jays' braintrust folks could, they would also try to trade Kendrys Morales to another team that needs a designated hitter and get a full-time second baseman in return.
Who knows, the Jays may have Tulowitzki and Morales on their roster next season but it promises to be an off-season of action.
The Jays need a second baseman not named Devon Travis or Ryan Goins. Travis is injury-prone. Goins is a tremendous backup player but he isn't sufficiently good to be a full-timer. The team also needs a full-time left fielder, who can drive in 100 runs each season. Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera and Canadian Michael Saunders don't fill the bill.
What to do with superstar Josh Donaldson? You try to sign him to a contract extension that will span four or five years. He told reporters Sunday that he would be "tickled pink'' if he can stay with the Jays for a long time. That contract offer would have to be for about $25-30 million per season. One doubts if management would go beyond a five-year deal which is what they did with Russell Martin a few years ago.
The Jays need to deal with franchise great José Bautista. He apparently has already been told the club will not pick up the $17-million option on his 2018 contract but the Jays may still try to work out some other deal with Bautista at a much lesser price tag in a lesser role. The Jays may already have their replacement for Bautista in rookie Teoscar Hernandez, the steal in the Francisco Liriano trade with Houston. Hernandez sure made a statement and case for 2018 after being called up from the minors.
Brett Anderson, Miguel Montero and Saunders are free agents, too, but they are backburner cases at this point. They are not priority items by any means for management. We would think Anderson might be the only one of the three to be kept around by the Jays. Saunders' career has sadly reached a fork in the road and gone downhill.
What is more pressing this winter for the Jays is the fact that there are no less than 11 players, including Donaldson, eligible for salary arbitration but several of them may not be tendered a contract by the deadline in early December. The other arbitration eligibles are Travis, Goins, Carrera, Marcus Stroman, Darwin Barney, Aaron Sanchez, Kevin Pillar, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Loup and Tom Koehler, who was acquired in an August trade from the Marlins.
Koehler is an interesting case. He spent most of his four-plus seasons with Miami as a starter but was used almost strictly in relief this past season by the Marlins and Jays. He earned $5.75-million in 2017 and may be one player non-tendered because of his price point. If retained, he would earn over $6-million in 2018. To his advantage is that 2.65 ERA he fashioned for Toronto in 17 innings of work.
It's estimated that the cost of retaining all 11 arbitration-eligible players could be $50-million or more so there are decisions to be made about who should not get tendered. Trades could be in the works to cut the 11 down to a more workable number.
Sometime this winter, it would seem fait accompli that the Jays will pick up the cheap $6-million option on Justin Smoak's contract for 2019. It's surprising the Jays haven't done this already. Smoak was an offensive threat most of this renaissance season of his but tailed off in the last month to finish with a .270 average, 38 homers and 90 RBI.
Should we talk about the coaching staff? It's not certain all coaches will return. We hope that bench coach Demarlo Hale is gone to be a manager somewhere. He should be considered for any managerial openings, including those with the Mets, Tigers and Phillies. He's due for a managerial job after serving faithfully the last few seasons as a coach.
And should we assume that John Gibbons will be back as the Jays' manager? Like him or not, he will likely return, although there has been no official statement from president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins.