By any objective measure, the Toronto Blue Jays did not live up to expectations in 2012, finishing in fourth place in the American League East with a 73-89 record.
Better times may be on the immediate horizon, however, as Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made it clear he has no doubt that Jays ownership will spend more on player salaries in 2013. Along with trying to acquire new players via free agency and trades, Anthopoulos will also have to make decisions with respect to which of the club's free agents he wants to bring back for another season.
Here are those players and a recommendation for what Anthopoulos should do with them:
1. Carlos Villanueva: Villanueva was both a starter and reliever for the Jays in 2012, with 16 starts in 38 overall appearances. He was generally more effective as a reliever in the first half of the season, appearing in 24 games with a 3-0 record and 3.04 ERA in 44.1 innings. After the all-star break, however, he started 14 games and went 4-7 with a 4.78 ERA. Although Villanueva may come cheap compared to other pitchers on the market, it would not be wise for the Jays to either tie up a long-term spot in the backend of the rotation or spend considerable resources on a long reliever by re-signing Villanueva, as he would fit one of those two roles in 2013. Therefore, the Jays should move on and let him go.
1. Darren Oliver ($3 million club option): At first glance it may not be apparent why the Jays should be in a rush to bring back a 41-year-old journeyman reliever in Oliver. When you consider Oliver's 2012, however, it is clear that he is by far the most desirable player on this short list of free agents. The lefty finished the season with a 2.06 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in more than 56 innings. While Oliver is unsure whether or not he will retire, if he chooses to continue the Jays would be foolish if they chose not to exercise their $3 million club option. Worst-case scenario, given the every-year need for left-handed pitching, Oliver would be a prime trade candidate in July in the unlikely event the Jays are not competitive.
2. Jason Frasor: Frasor has been a consistent fixture in the Jays' bullpen for the better part of
nine seasons, compiling a 3.77 career major league ERA. He made just under $4 million in 2012 and probably would not be in for too great of a raise after a so-so 2012. Notwithstanding this, it would probably be wise for the Jays to let Frasor go unless he could be brought back at a discount, as the money would be better spent elsewhere. No knock on the right-hander, but the bullpen is one of the biggest areas of strength for the Jays going into 2013 with Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos set up to anchor the unit.
3. Brandon Lyon: Lyon was acquired from Houston during the season as a part of a multi-player trade. He had a solid 2012 in the two bullpens, combining for a 3.10 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Lyon also has some closing experience, tallying 26 saves in 2008 and 20 in 2010. That being said, Toronto should not work hard to bring Lyon back in 2013. The Jays already have Janssen and Santos to close out games, and could always retain Frasor for cheaper if additional depth is needed. As a result, the $6 million or so it might take to re-sign Lyon is better served elsewhere.
1. Rajai Davis ($3 million club option): Whether the Jays decide to exercise the club option on Davis will depend on the team's other plans this offseason. Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista are locked in the starting lineup in center and right field, respectively. That leaves left field open, currently for some combination of Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra and, if brought back, Davis. Rajai racked up 46 stolen bases in 2012 and would continue to provide decent defense and great base running if brought back. Assuming the Jays cannot make a bigger splash by bringing in a new outfielder from outside the organization, the team should exercise Davis' option and platoon him in left field with one or both of the young prospects.
1. Kelly Johnson: Johnson has been the Jays' every day starting second baseman since being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 in a trade involving Aaron Hill. Johnson has not equaled the productivity Hill has enjoyed in Arizona, hitting just .225 with 16 home runs in a disappointing 2012 campaign. With Johnson coming off a season making $6.4 million in 2012, and the Jays having acquired utility man Mike Aviles from the Boston Red Sox, it is a near certainty that Toronto will not bring Johnson back in 2013. Considering everything, this is the right choice.
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Del Pearson has been a big Blue Jays fan since seeing the team's best prospects come through Auburn and Syracuse as a child. You can follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.
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