* Moving Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for RHP Marco Estrada was the highlight of six transactions the Blue Jays made since the conclusion of the 110th World Series. Lind, left, shown here with Jose Reyes, played 953 games with the Blue Jays. ….
By Andrew Hendriks
Save for the acquisition of Dioner Navarro and a few select minor league options, the 2013-14 off-season was a relatively quiet one for the Blue Jays, leading many to believe that the club was hamstrung by payroll restrictions and the state of last winter’s free agent market.
With questions mounting, team management continually stated the club could compete with the same cast of individuals that finished an injury riddled 2013 campaign 14 games below .500 and in last place in the American League East.
Much to the surprise of their critics, they did that, holding on to top spot from May 22nd to July 3rd while having as big of a lead as six games over their competition before inconsistencies and injuries caught up with the club following a tough mid-summer series with the St Louis Cardinals at Rogers Center.
Although they would play scrappy ball down the stretch, Toronto wound up 13 games behind Baltimore in the East, and five back of Oakland for the final wild card spot, finishing what once appeared to be a sure-fire play off season with an 83-79 record.
Perhaps agreeing that it was time to shake things up, the front office staff at One Blue Jays Way wasted no time getting back to the drawing board as they look to re-work Toronto’s roster ahead of the 2015 season.
Since the last pitch of the World Series on Wednesday night, the Blue Jays have made six individual transactions, parting ways with some long-time players while bringing in new talent to supplement a roster that appeared in need of a few tweaks this winter.
It started with Justin Smoak, a one time first round draft pick of the Texas Rangers who was claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday afternoon. Smoak, like most first round picks, has always been viewed as a high ceiling type talent however, has yet to find his foot hole in the majors and the Blue Jays hope that he can do exactly that, playing in the hitter friendly confines of Rogers Center over the next couple of seasons in Toronto.
Two day later, Toronto flipped long time Blue Jays farmhand, Santiago Nessy, 21, to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for right handed pitcher, Liam Hendriks who, along with Erik Kratz, was traded from the Jays’ to the Royals in exchange for infielder, DannyValencia prior to the deadline this July.
Doing the lion’s share of his work with triple-A Buffalo in 2014, Hendriks, 25, appeared in nine games in the majors last season, going 1-2 over six starts with an ERA of 5.23. He joins the Blue Jays on a minor league deal that comes with an invite to spring training, where the Australia native will compete for a job as the clubs swing man in 2015.
On Halloween, the Jays’ made a pair of transactions, plucking Andy Dirks of waivers from Detroit while also inking Vancouver born Jeff Francis to a minor-league deal.
Dirks, 27, a corner outfielder, played in only a handful of minor league games in 2014 as the one time eighth round draft pick was recovering from surgery to repair a lower back ailment. In parts of three seasons in the majors, Dirks has slashed .276/.332/.413, knocking 24 home runs in just under 300 MLB contests
It’s worth noting that the Kansas native joins the Blue Jays with a history of both back and hamstring issues meaning that playing on the turf at Rogers Center may be far from ideal for the former Tiger. That said, if he’s 100% in 2015, Dirks can provide Toronto with a back up plan should the club fail to re-sign Melky Cabrera, who was recently handed a qualifying offer of $15.3 million.
Francis, 33, joins Toronto having played in a total of 10 major-league seasons, going 71-80 with an ERA north of four in 240 big league contests. One time ace of the Colorado Rockies, the former first round pick (ninth overall, 2002) is a soft-tossing lefty who like Mark Buehrle, relies on control and pitch variation in order to keep opposing batters at bay.
In 2014, The University of British Columbia standout pitched for three separate organizations, doing the majority of his work with Cincinnati’s triple-A affiliate the Louisville Bats of the International League. In eight games with the Bats, Francis allowed a respectable ERA of 3.33 while posting a WHIP of 1.315 in 48 2/3 innings. Although he signed with an invite to spring training, the veteran hurler will likely serve as starting depth for Toronto in 2015.
He made one start with the Reds, worked out of the bullpen nine times for the Oakland A’s and finished the season with the New York Yankees appearing in two games. For the season, Francis was 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA in 12 games walking three and striking out 15 in 20 innings.
On Nov. 1, the Jays exercised Adam Lind’s one year, $7.5 million option and then proceeded to trade the left handed swinging first baseman to Milwaukee in exchange for Marco Estrada, a 31 year old right handed starter, who’s tendency to serve up the long ball may be cause for concern in Toronto.
Breaking in with the Blue Jays in 2006, Lind appeared in 953 games over the course of his nine-year tenure and although the Indiana native put up some solid numbers overall, he was never able to replicate the type of success that saw the one time third round draft pick set career highs in plate appearances, home runs and slugging percentage in 2009.
Predominately appearing in the heart of the Jays’ order, Lind hit .273/.327/.466 as a whole, yet struggled against left handed pitching and had recently seen his playing time relegated to that of a platoon type player.
With his walk year approaching in 2016 and Smoak, another left handed hitting first baseman, welcomed into the fold earlier this week, Jays management opted to extract what value they could out of Lind’s contract, flipping him to the DH’less National League for another arm.
Estrada, a veteran of 154 big league contests, owns a career ERA of 4.23 and is in his second year of arbitration, with free agency on the horizon after the 2015 season. At $3.33M, the Sonora, Mexico native is owed half of what Lind is set to make next year and will likely throw his name into the mix as Toronto looks to set their five-man rotation next spring.
That said, Estrada could also be used as another bargaining chip as, with starting pitching a current organizational strength, Toronto may attempt to build a trade package with the intentions of addressing other team needs this winter.
In other roster related news, the Blue Jays exercised club options on JA Happ ($6.7M) and Josh Thole ($1.67M) while declining those on Brandon Morrow, Sergio Santos and Dustin McGowan, rendering the trio as current free agents.
As expected, the club also declined Smoak’s $3.56M terms, opting to go into the arbitration process and work out a new deal with the Goose Creek, S.C. native.
Brett Lawrie, Maicer Izturis and Chad Jenkins were also activated from the 60-day disabled list, effectively filling the current 40 man roster.
For now, the roster is set. But it’s a long four months before pitchers and catchers report down south and if this past weeks transactions list is any type of indicator, its going to be a busy off-season in Toronto as they look to compliment a strong core of talent and find their way back to the postseason for the first time since 1993.