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With several more expected to declare before the November 12 deadline, here's the free agent list so far. No tears will be shed in Toronto to see the last of Heredia or Loaiza, and few of us will miss Steve Parris. Obviously, the Jays won't be shopping for the high-ticket items (Jim Thome, Pudge Rodriguez, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and the Big Pain, I mean Hurt.) But J.P. has suggested he's targeting a few guys, so let's speculate.

Pitching is at the extremes of supply and demand. Not only will the Braves have to dig deep just to maintain their aging staus quo, somebody is sure to give the likes of Ismael Valdes, Omar Daal, Jimmy Haynes and Paul Byrd long-term, guaranteed deals. Not that any of them wouldn't be an improvement over Mike Smith, but why overpay or over-commit? I would at least talk to Byrd, whose 3.90 ERA and 7 complete games were probably not a fluke, just a matter of arm soundness. Ramiro Mendoza is an intriguing possibility for a team willing to risk converting him to a starter, and won't be as expensive.

Outfielders aren't as likely to break the bank, so I would invite a guy like Orlando Palmiero to town. As a fourth OF, lefty pinch-hitter, occasional DH and potential starter, he's worth a million-five. DeWayne Wise may fill that role, or turn out to be a 5-tool AAA guy who never hits or slugs enough in the bigs.

I am assuming that Cruz and Stewart are being actively shopped, and one (or both) will not return. While I agree that 2003 is an ideal year to give Jayson Werth his opportunity to become a regular, some concerns linger about his bat speed on the high, tight ones, and it would be nice to have more depth in the corners, with the option of more time in Syracuse for Werth and/or Wise. Palmiero, three years younger than the otherwise similar John Vander Wal, could be promised more AB than he's likely to get in Anaheim, and a better opportunity to start. Tyler Houston (born to DH but serviceable at 1B, 3B and in a dire emergency, C) is another lefty bat, only 31 and more of a slugger, who might be affordable.

At the risk of being ridiculed, I would also recruit Rey Sanchez. A 35-year-old defensive whiz who is content to be a backup at both middle infield positions is better for clubhouse chemistry than a pouting, inconsistent 22-year-old, and my fears about Chris Woodward's durability just won't go away. Rey (at a million, tops) allows the Jays to give Felipe Lopez more AAA experience, or include him in a trade package, and keeps them reasonably competitive if Woody gets hurt.

If I thought the Jays were legitimate playoff contenders, I would consider lefty reliever Alan Embree, ageless Jamie Moyer, and others who could offer short-term help in a playoff race. But for now, it remains more logical to have a two-year plan, and spending big bucks on immediate upgrades isn't a priority. All that could change if a genuine #2 starter arrives sooner than expected.
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Jordan - Monday, November 04 2002 @ 12:06 PM EST (#102499) #
Intriguing selections, Kent. I think Orlando Palmeiro is quite a good choice and would be a very attractive commodity to JP, because he has remarkable plate discipline. His career BB/K ratio is 178/132, which is amazing for a guy who (1) probably pressures himself to perform whenever he's given the chance, and (2) has Mickey Hatcher as a batting coach. He can hit -- .281 lifetime BA -- get on base -- .361 OBP -- and play any outfield position well. What he can't do is hit for power or run the bases well, making his value as a bench bat questionable. More problematically, he already makes a million a year and will want a raise, maybe even a part-time or full-time position. I'm not sure JP likes the idea of a $1.5M backup outfielder on the roster. I'd happily take him on board for $750,000 as a fourth outfielder who gets about 200 PA over the course of the season, but that may not be in anyone's cards. Still, he would be a good fit.

My nomination for an outfield free agent would be Matt Stairs. Like Palmeiro, he's got terrific plate discipline, but he also brings power to the plate (16 HR in 270 AB last year). The Blue Jays have not had a truly dangerous bat on the bench in several years, and with potential lightweights at catcher and maybe shortstop, they will need someone who can clear the fence with one swing. He also made just $500,000 last season, and probably won't be in a position to seek a raise. And hey, he's Canadian! The downsides, of course, are that he's about as dextrous and flexible an outfielder as I am, and he cannot touch lefthanders. It would be nice if they could sign Stairs and Palmeiro both, but I daresay budget concerns would rule that out. DeWayne Wise showed little in his first go-round last year, but he's cheap and may yet grow into the role. Pedro Swann might get a few more PAs as well. Or they might go the six-year free-agent route if another team has given up on the next Erubiel Durazo somewhere.

Tyler Houston would be valuable for his bat and his positional flexibility: it would be great to have a true corner infielder available to spell Delgado or Hinske, or even whoever's catching that day. But his numbers will probably not please Ricciardi: a very poor BB/K ratio, and a real inconsistency in his production levels. At more than a million five, he probably won't be in the team's fiscal neighbourhood, and would doubtless like to get back to full-time duty after spending the last half-season as the burr under Adrian Beltre's saddle. But youneverknow.

My nominee for an infield free agent would be Greg Colbrunn (1.004 OPS in 171 AB last year). He could be a little pricey -- he was paid $1.8 M by the drunken sailors in Arizona last year -- but if he could be snatched up for $1.5M or less, he could be a great acquisition. He's learned the strike zone (a 68/78 BB/K ratio over the last three years), he has good power (of his 57 hits last year, 28 were for extra bases), he's equally adept as a spot starter or pinch-hitter, he's accustomed to a bench role, and can play first or (in a pinch) third. He's also a right-handed bat, which the Jays are a little short on. He'd be my first choice, if the dollars were right.

Finally, in terms of pitching, I like your Paul Byrd idea. From what I could tell, last season wasn't a fluky, Kent Bottenfieldesque performance: Byrd really has become a dependable innings-eater who'll keep your team reasonably close; with this offence, that may be a ticket to a 15-win season. Mendoza would also be a nifty pickup, though I've always harboured doubts about his ability to start; I might be inclined to let another team run that risk. The pickin's are otherwise slim out there: I'd be inclined to look into guys like Brian Anderson, Robert Person, Dave Burba and even Shane Reynolds, but only in the way you'd flip through the big box of leftover cassettes at the local HMV: they're all high-risk, high-payroll specialists. I think JP's route with the Doug Lintons of the world is the preferred approach this off-season. Tell you what, though: I'd give Ismael Valdes a one-year deal with options in a split-second.
Jordan - Monday, November 04 2002 @ 07:39 PM EST (#102500) #
Can someone point me in the right direction: do you know of a Web page that provides the Blue Jays' contract status? I got to wondering about Shannon Stewart: he signed a one-year deal in January, so I would presume he's now a free agent, but he's not listed among the eligibles in the link above. I assume I'm missing something fairly basic, as per usual, so if anyone can shed some light on my confusion, I'd be mightily appreciative.
Coach - Tuesday, November 05 2002 @ 01:30 PM EST (#102501) #
Off the top of my head, Stewart and Cruz are arbitration-eligible this year and free agents after the season. There is a guy in the U.K. (of all places) who maintains a pretty good contract-status page; it's not complete or official (for example, it omits Stewart) but it's useful.
_Jordan - Tuesday, November 05 2002 @ 03:23 PM EST (#102502) #
Thanks, Kent. It's a neat site, and it's too bad he's not able to maintain it more religiously. I suppose they'll reach another one-year deal with Stewart, or maybe a multi-year if they want to lock in his salary and make him more attractive to a trade partner. They invariably manage to avoid arbitration, so I don't think it'll get that far.

I wonder what they'll do with Halladay? I'd like to see one more fine season out of him before they settle on something like $45M over five or six years. Even if he wins the Cy Young in '03, I don't think his value is going to go tremendously higher than it is after his great '02. It could be the contract that sets the franchise's tone for the decade.
_dp - Wednesday, November 06 2002 @ 05:22 PM EST (#102503) #
I don't see the Jays nabbing anyone decent for the bench unless it comes with the expectation of dealing Stewart or Cruz- maybe then they get Palmeiro. It seems like the attitude of management now is that the extra couple of wins a million dollar bench guy would bring isn't worth the cash, though I'm hoping that has changed now that some payroll is clear.

As far as the pitching goes, I'm of the belief that they should just stay what the course has been so far this off-season, kind of like what Texas did last spring training with about 60 NRI starters (hopefully with better results).

If they have some cash to throw around, you'd like to see them save it until there's better talent available. I think there's going to be a lot of dumb contracts handed out this season.
_Jordan - Wednesday, November 06 2002 @ 05:45 PM EST (#102504) #
dp, I think that's just what they have in mind. I think they're throwing around the pocket change now and keeping the dollars for the pretty good players who 'll be left without a chair when the music stops next spring, like Kenny Lofton circa March 2001.

Ricciardi looks like he's picking up the best of the six-year FAs now at good prices to fill a lot of the holes, so that he's not overpaying for these guys in February. These minor-league signings will help to varying degrees, but I think Jeff Tam will turn out to be a huge bargain. I still think there's a Palmeiro- or a Stairs-type bat to come, though.

I agree there's dumb contracts on the way, but I actually don't think there'll be too many after the first wave. I think Glavine and Thome will set the initial tone over the next few weeks, but I can see that compelling some agents to drive up their clients' prices beyond what the post-CBA market will bear. All the better for Toronto if a lot of these guys are still looking for work come spring training. This should be a really interesting off-season.
Coach - Wednesday, November 06 2002 @ 06:40 PM EST (#102505) #
J.P. hates to stand still, but it's not like he's prone to taking huge risks, either. What they do with Halladay will provide the first hint of his long-term philosophy. Doc's arbitration-eligible for 2003 and could test the free-agent waters after that. (He's a Colorado boy with a great sinker, maybe he dreams of being a Rockie, who knows?)

With only one great season under his belt, Ricciardi could probably lock him up in the $45M/6 year range Jordan suggests. But I don't think he can wait too long. If his offer is too low, too short, or too late, Roy will accept $4.5M or so for one year, and have another spectacular season. Then there will be a bidding war among teams far wealthier than the Jays, and they could lose him. I'm no proponent of handing out long-term contracts to just anyone, but Doc is an exception; you want him opening playoff series when the kiddie corps matures.
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