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The free agent frenzy continues for the Blue Jays, who today announced the signing of 30-year-old journeyman OF Bruce Aven and 25-year-old righty Josh Towers to minor-league deals, with invitations to spring training. Aven has bounced around several organizations; his best year was 1999 with the Marlins, when he appeared in 137 games (more than half his career big-league total) and hit a solid .289-12-70 with an OPS of .814. It's hard to imagine him displacing a Toronto regular, but he should add to the depth in AAA and the spring competition for jobs.

Towers, more of a finesse guy than a thrower, had a frightening 7.90 ERA and gave up 11 HR in just 27.1 IP for Baltimore in the first few weeks of the 2002 season, and his AAA numbers weren't much better. On the other hand, he ran into seven innings of 1-hit ball by Derek Lowe in his debut, a Mark Buehrle 2-hitter through 7 IP in his next outing, and faced a sharp El Duque, who allowed just one run, in his third (and last) 2002 start. In a 15-3 pounding by the Red Sox May 1, Towers was hung out to dry, absorbing 10 earned runs in a 5-inning relief stint, then demoted. The 165-pounder did have a respectable 2001 with the Orioles, going 8-10 as a rookie with a 4.49 ERA in 24 games, 20 of them starts, so maybe he can recapture that form with a new organization. Don't hold your breath; neither of these acquisitions by the surprisingly active Jays will have an impact anywhere but Syracuse.
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_dp - Friday, November 08 2002 @ 07:22 PM EST (#102379) #
Avan would make an adequate part time OF if Cruz is moved, and hopefully after a solid rebound 1st half, Cruz can be flipped for a decent starter.

Towers I like as much as Prokopec. It seems like these moves are pretty good- BP a couple of years ago wrote that the Jays failed b/c they assembled all the big-time talent, but lacked the supporting cast, and that seemed like very much part of the problem last year, not just with the pitching, but on the bench as well- any club that has to use Tom Wilson and Dave Berg at DH has some serious depth issues.
Coach - Saturday, November 09 2002 @ 12:55 PM EST (#102380) #
You're right about Wilson at DH being a problem; there were games last May and June when Wilson, Huckaby and Lawrence turned a third of the order into a black hole, and it wasn't like Cruz, Mondesi or Lopez were contributing much at the time.

Wilson -- for a catcher -- is the better hitter, but doesn't handle pitchers nearly as well as Huckaby, either game-calling or receiving, so his days are numbered. At best, he can give Huck a couple days off each week until Kevin Cash is ready for a permanent promotion. If Phelps is even adequate with the padded glove in the spring, I'd hand him the backup C assignment, and an occasional start at 1B, to get other hot bats in as DH once in a while, and enjoy the increased bench flexibility. Three righty-hitting C, one who never plays, isn't the best plan.

It's impossible to predict which, if any, of Aven, Howie Clark, Rob Ryan, Mike Moriarty, or similar longshots not yet acquired, will make the Jays in Dunedin. Collectively, they improve the odds of having a deeper, more productive 25-man roster, and having options means Werth and/or Wise don't have to fill roles they may not be ready for.

It's the same on the pitching side. Anyone who can pick the winner(s) of a spring competition that already includes Walker, Linton, Thomas, Towers and two guys named Miller has a better crystal ball than me. (It's not like Hendrickson is a sure thing, but I think he'll make the rotation.) You know they are not even finished retooling; at this week's GM convention, and next month's winter meetings, potential trades will be explored, and other FA possibilities remain.

No matter how it turns out, we won't have to endure the likes of Carpenter and Prokopec stoically (foolishly?) pitching hurt, or deer-in-the-headlights rookies like Mike Smith and Justin Miller (April version) getting knocked around. And when the inevitable poor starts occur next year, Tosca won't be forced to bring in other greenhorns like Cassidy or Thurman from the bullpen.

It's hard to identify one newcomer who's certain to make a difference in 2003 (I'll nominate Linton as "most likely") but this inexpensive, almost risk-free strategy is brilliant -- deeper depth is just what the Jays needed. The pre-emptive aggressiveness in signing players J.P. thinks can help is also smart; they've made "their" new guys feel wanted, instead of like afterthoughts, and avoided any last-minute FA bidding wars.

Could there actually be a 3-way race in the AL East next season? It depends on whether Ricciardi can parlay his strengths (corner OF, 1B) into a #2 starter. That shouldn't be rushed, as it's more probable this team will not be legitimate condenders until 2004 and beyond, but if the right opportunity presents itself, these Jays won't hesitate to seize it.
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