Although Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos won't outright say it, his focus, with 46 games remaining, seems to have shifted to 2013.
And you can't blame him.
After losing pitchers at a near-record rate, the Jays' injury epidemic has spread to their position players and the club has dropped 12 of its last 16 contests through Aug. 15 to fall eight games back of the final American League wild-card spot.
But even before the club's recent skid, Anthopoulos appeared to be looking beyond 2012. Rather than acquire an elite, soon-to-be free-agent starter like Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the 35-year-old GM landed four hurlers - J.A. Happ, David Carpenter, Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar - that will be under team control for multiple seasons.
The Jays have also been extremely cautious in bringing back right-fielder Jose Bautista and starting pitcher Brandon Morrow from injuries. You'd have to think that if the club felt they had a legitimate chance at a playoff spot, they be would finding ways to expedite the returns of two of their most important players, even if they were only 70 or 80 per cent.
Prior to an Aug. 12 game against the New York Yankees, Anthopoulos raised eyebrows when he told reporters that his current club boasts a "championship-calibre" bullpen and offence and that the starting rotation is the only area he needs to address in the off-season. He also hinted that he might have more money to spend on free agents.
But before Anthopoulos delves into the free agent market this off-season, he has seven potential free agents (not including former Texas Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba who was signed to minor-league deal on Tuesday) of his own to be concerned about.
He took care of one potential free agent on Tuesday when he inked backup catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $3-million US extension (with a $1.5-million team option for 2015).
Under the new collective bargaining agreement rules, it's highly unlikely Anthopoulos will net any compensatory draft picks if one of his free agents signs elsewhere. To receive compensation for a free agent, the Jays will have to make a one-year qualifying offer to the player equivalent to the average of baseball's top 125 salaries.
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, this will work out to be between $13.3 and $13.4 million. The Jays don't have any potential free agents that will merit this kind of offer.
Here's a look at the Jays' remaining potential free agents and what I think the club should do:
Pick up their option
At 41 years old, this ageless left-hander has enjoyed the best season of his 19-year career. In 46 games, he has posted career-bests in earned-run average (1.27) and hits per nine innings (6.1). He's reportedly considering retirement, but if he decides to play, the Jays have a one-year, $3-million option on him that they should exercise.
2. Rajai Davis
Davis's incredible leaping catch in the seventh inning of Sunday's game may have been the greatest catch in Jays history. But that inning was a microcosm of Davis's career. Five batters after the catch, a ball hit by Mark Teixeira scooted by Davis that shouldn't have.
But the frustrating left-fielder has belted a career-high six homers this season and leads the team in stolen bases. Unfortunately, he also tops the Jays in brain cramps and missed cutoff men. Still, with rookie Anthony Gose's bat not ready for the big leagues, Davis can serve as a useful stopgap in 2013 and the Jays should exercise their $3-million option on him for next season.
1. Jason Frasor
Lincoln, Delabar, Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos are under team control and will be part of the Jays bullpen next season. And if Oliver doesn't retire, he'll return as the go-to lefty, with impressive rookie Aaron Loup likely to be the second southpaw in the 'pen. So it appears that six bullpen spots are already spoken for in 2013.
But the usually reliable Frasor can probably be retained at a contract in the same $3.75-million range he's making in 2012. Before his forearm injury, he had recorded a career-best 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings this season.
One of the team's most productive players in the season's opening months, Johnson has slumped since the start of June. The second baseman, who's making $6.375 million this season, strikes out far too frequently for his home run output (13). Though strong at turning double plays, he possesses little range, and if the Jays can unload him in August, they will. Otherwise, they should let him walk as a free agent and convert Yunel Escobar or Adeiny Hechavarria into their 2013 second baseman.
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