Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos may have acquired the next Tom Henke at this week's winter meetings in Dallas, but he was also reminded that he's expected to be the next Pat Gillick.
And for the first time, the charismatic GM seemed testy with the media after he finally conceded he was operating under "payroll parameters."
It should be a good omen that www.baseballreference.com indicates that Henke is the pitcher most similar to newly acquired closer Sergio Santos (through age 27). But fan reaction to the trade for the hard-throwing reliever has been lukewarm.
Anthopoulos's policy of not commenting on specific free agents resulted in his club being linked to almost every big-name free agent. One wacky report even tabbed the Jays as the frontrunner for Prince Fielder.
This "no comment" policy, combined with the fact that until Tuesday Anthopoulos hadn't spoken of any payroll restrictions, fuelled the idea that the team has boatloads of money to spend. So while Santos is indeed an excellent acquisition, some fans were underwhelmed.
They were hoping the Blue Jays would add a certified game-changer like Fielder or, even Albert Pujols, this off-season. Heading into a season in which a new wild card spot will likely be added and the Jays' American League East rivals seem vulnerable, fans have grown frustrated watching other teams like the Los Angeles Angels open up their wallets for free agents like Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson.
But while his honeymoon period may be over, Anthopoulos - if you take a deep breath and think about it - registered another strong performance at this year's winter meetings. Before the week began, the 34-year-old GM addressed his club's need for a backup catcher by swapping soft-tossing left-hander Brad Mills to the Angels for defensive specialist Jeff Mathis.
When he arrived in Texas on Sunday, Anthopoulos was shopping for a closer, second baseman and starting pitcher. And when he left Dallas Thursday, he had secured a closer who compares favourably with Henke and retained the best free-agent second basemen on the market (Kelly Johnson). He also has the Jays in the mix for a number of starting pitchers, including Yu Darvish.
Major league teams have until 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 14 to make bids for the right to negotiate with the Japanese phenom.
Here's a rundown and more of my thoughts on the Jays' transactions at the winter meetings:
After being linked to virtually every free-agent closer, Anthopoulos acquired Santos from the White Sox in exchange for prized pitching prospect Nestor Molina. A shortstop who was converted into a pitcher in 2009, the 28-year-old Santos fanned 92 batters in 63 1/3 innings and recorded 30 saves last season. His cost-effective contract ($7.5 million US over the next three years, with three additional club options) should provide the Jays with ninth inning stability for the foreseeable future. The only knock against Santos is that he can be wild (4.1 walks per nine innings in 2011),
It was difficult for Anthopoulos to part with Molina, a 22-year-old right-hander who recorded 12 wins and a 2.21 earned-run average in single-A and AA last season. But some scouts project the Venezuelan right-hander to be a No. 3 starter or a reliever, and the Jays boast several superior pitching prospects.
Speaking of closers, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco - two men the Jays used in that role in 2011 - have signed with the New York Mets. The Jays will receive a supplemental pick after the first round in next June's draft for each of them. The Jays are still looking to add a left-handed specialist to their bullpen.
In a surprise move on Wednesday, Kelly Johnson accepted the Jays' salary arbitration offer. With the dearth of free-agent second basemen, most expected Johnson to decline the offer and land a multi-year deal with another club. This would've netted the Jays a 2012 first-round pick, as well as a supplemental pick following the first round.
After batting just .222 in 2011, Johnson will be motivated to recapture the form that saw him hit .284 with 26 homers in 2010. The soon-to-be 30-year-old will likely command a salary around $7.5 million in 2012. Anthopoulos has also indicated that Johnson could play some left field next season, but the infielder said yesterday that he hadn't been informed of these plans.
The Jays were linked to several starting pitchers at the winter meetings:
The Nippon-Ham Fighters posted the heralded 25-year-old right-hander on Thursday. Anthopoulos has scouted Darvish, but reports vary on how heavily the Jays will pursue the Japanese hurler, who scouts feel has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. But given the "payroll parameters" mentioned this week by Anthopoulos, the Jays may make a bid, but their offer will likely fall short of the estimated $50 million it will take just to secure bargaining rights.
The 26-year-old Gonzalez recorded 16 wins and a 3.12 ERA in 2011 and he won't be eligible for free agency until 2016. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the Jays are among the 12 teams that have expressed interest in the all-star southpaw. According to the report, the A's would ask for two of the Jays' top four prospects, as well some middle-level minor leaguers. Though Anthopoulos has been a frequent trade partner with A's GM Billy Beane, the price for Gonzalez seems too steep at this time.
The Mets are shopping their 25-year-old southpaw who won 11 games and fanned 138 batters in 157 1/3 innings in 2011. The Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies are also interested. The Mets are reportedly looking for a catcher and the Jays have a surplus of promising catching prospects. Carlos Perez, who spent last season with single-A Lansing, might pique the Mets' interest.
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