Blue Jays not apt to rebuild in 2014 | Baseball | CBC Sports

MLBBlue Jays not apt to rebuild in 2014

Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 | 12:11 PM

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Ryan Goins impressed enough in 38 games to find himself playing regularly as the Blue Jays try to pick themselves up in 2014. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Ryan Goins impressed enough in 38 games to find himself playing regularly as the Blue Jays try to pick themselves up in 2014. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

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The Toronto Blue Jays plan not to rebuild, but rather make just enough changes and additions to become the legitimate contenders they had hoped to be in what was a disappointing 2013.

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons leaned back in his office chair last Friday afternoon, Coca-Cola cup at the ready to catch the spit from his chaw and started "Manager's Availability No. 160" of the long, disappointing season.

The topic turned quickly to the off-season and what he was hoping for in the winter that could end the discontent surrounding a team that never came close to meeting expectations of the now distant spring.

"It's not a rebuild," he said of the job ahead. "We need to add to some spots to get younger."

Not to mention better. And healthier.

Alex Anthopolous, the previously youthful general manager who must have aged 10 years this summer, was on a similar tack as he navigated through the same kind of questions just before game No. 162 on Sunday.

Not a rebuild. Make a change here, an addition there, and head for spring training to take another try at the magical 90-win mark that should, in most years, make the playoffs.

Never above offering help to those who don't really want it, here is a personal run down of what should or might happen this winter, barring trades we know nothing about.

Please feel free to debate below, but it will be mid-summer 2014 before anyone knows anything:

Catcher

J.P. Arencibia has got to go.

It's not just his atrocious offensive stats (.194 AVG, .227 OBS, .592 OPS) or his poor defence, though that did improve somewhat near the end of the year once roving instructor Sal Fasano began working with him regularly.

Battles with some in the Toronto media, troubles on Twitter and a loss of confidence by many of the fans adds up to another place to play. Do not be surprised if he finds his rhythm somewhere else, by the way. These things happen.

Josh Thole, who hit .175, could be back to caddy for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, but the best solution is to find someone who can catch every day and run down the knuckler before it makes it to the backstop.

Watch for A.J. Jiminez, who is a good defensive receiver and can hit some, in spring training as the youngster is given a long look.

First Base/Designated Hitter

There are few classier guys around the locker room than Adam Lind, but below average defensive skills and inability to hit lefties -- .208 compared to an excellent .309 versus righties -- means it may be the end of the line because he'll be 31 years-old next July. That would be a shame.

Edwin Encarnacion (36 HR, 104 RBI) is a lock, stock and barrel-chested star and finding a solid backup for him in the mid-range free-agent pile shouldn't be that difficult if the club moves on from Lind.

Second Base/Shortstop

This is the most intriguing of the off-season decisions for Anthopoulos.

Obviously, Jose Reyes is back to play shortstop, but after that, the GM's facing a key question: is Ryan Goins ready to be the everyday second baseman?

Goins, who hit .252 in 34 major-league games, was handled well by the organization, left in Buffalo to develop when Reyes went down last April instead of rushed into the breech. Since coming up to Toronto on Aug. 23, he has shown strong defensive skills and hit better than expected.

If Goins is deemed not ready, he goes back for another year with the Bisons and someone likely comes in by trade or free agency, as Anthopoulos hinted more than once on Sunday.

Either way, Munenori Kawasaki will have his option picked up and will either back up in Toronto or wait in Buffalo for an injury call -- not, by the way, because he's cute or the players love him or he's Japanese.

Kawasaki is reliable, a solid though not spectacular fielder with strong mechanics who can bunt and move runners up. Baseball is running out of those.

Third Base

Brett Lawrie, who batted a strong .295 after coming back in August from two trips to the disabled list, is ready to be an all-star on the corner. He might not be voted there any time soon, thanks to Manny Machado (Baltimore) and Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay), but he'll be a regular manager's addition from here on in.

Your correspondent tried all September to get Lawrie to talk about how much he's grown in the latter part of the year, but he wants to let his play speak for itself. That shows how much he's maturing.

A little more heads up on the bases there, Brett.

Outfield

Starting next year, it should be Jose Bautista in right field, Anthony Gose in centre and Colby Rasmus in left.

I just can't understand the hurry to run Bautista out of town because of his injury troubles and "he isn't a winner." Nuts to that. He hits. He plays defence. He has a cannon arm.

And who is going to protect Encarnacion in the lineup? Finding a No. 3 hitter with Bautista's numbers (28 HR, 73 RBI in 188 games with an excellent .856 OPS) isn't easy. Get Bautista a decent backup for the times he is inevitably out of the lineup.

Kevin Pillar or Moises Sierra can do that.

Rasmus, who may be among the most private pro athletes I've met, is a far better player than critics give him credit for. Judged only against other American League centre-fielders, he comes out strongly.

Rasmus needs to work on throwing accuracy, but four errors in 308 chances shows he can pick it. And check out his OPS (.840) and slugging (.501) -- better than all but Encarnacion on the team. 

Gose was not on this list as a keeper at mid-season, but he's played his way onto the radar. You can't teach speed, but you can teach proper defence, throwing to the right base, not running out of innings, laying down bunts, hitting behind the runner, and on and on.

The lessons seem to be hitting home now for the talented outfielder and it's time to run him out there regularly.

Say good bye and thank you for what you've done to Mark DeRosa, Rajai Davis, Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis.

Relief Pitching

The question in the bullpen is not how to find seven or eight guys to do the job, but how you find jobs for the dozen or more guys who deserve them.

Intriguing will be how Anthopoulos handles the closer's role. Casey Janssen, with 34 saves in 36 opportunities, pitched well enough to keep the job, but Sergio Santos (1.75 ERA in 25.2 innings), brought in as the closer in 2012 and then hit with injuries, came back strong in the late going.

They could set up each other depending on the situation, harking back to Tom Henke and Dwayne Ward, though perhaps not with quite that success.

Watch for the emergence of Jeremy Jeffress in spring training.

Starting pitching

Your correspondent is going to take a lot of heat for this, but the staff is not as bad as critics suggest.

One front-end starter is certainly needed (Masahiro Tanaka and his 26 straight wins in Japan anyone?), but the Blue Jays, with some luck on the injury front, don't have to sell the farm (again) for two.

Mark Buehrle (12-10, 4.15 ERA, 203.2 innings) and Dickey (14-13, 4.21, 224.2 innings) are fine as two of the top-three starters.

Todd Redmond has earned himself a shot in the spring at the No. 5 and J.A. Happ also must get another look for the same job following an unlucky year that included taking a ball to the head.

Beyond that, it gets tricky.

Can Brandon Morrow stay consistently healthy? No, it says here.

Can Esmil Rogers pitch well enough to stay in the rotation? Probably not, but he'd look great in the bullpen.

Can Ricky Romero ever bounce back? Not in this organization.

Would you take a chance on the ever-injured Josh Johnson again? Please don't. Super-nice guy, though.

Will Kyle Drabek or Drew Hutchinson come back from Tommy John surgery to be starters again? No way to tell.

What about Thad Weber or Sean Nolin?

Somewhere in there has to be a No. 4 starter.

Keep an eye in spring training on young Marcus Stroman, who may be tagged eventually as a stopper.

This will be an interesting winter, certainly, but the Blue Jays are closer to being a 90-win team than many think.

Now if everyone would stop from picking them for last in the American League East next January, the way they picked them to win the World Series with snow still on the ground last January, that would be helpful.

Follow Malcolm Kelly on Twitter @sportsnag

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