Jays off season plans and free agents.
10/15/2003 5:20 PM ET
Jays not planning major overhaul
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
What you see is largely what you'll get. The Blue Jays may be poised to add some players via trades and free agency, but they won't be losing much to the open market. Toronto is set to shed just five regular contributors as free agents, and a few of those might still be convinced to return.
First, let's turn to the pitching staff. Three hurlers are set for free agency, but the Jays are really only intent on reclaiming one of them. Kelvim Escobar has said several times that he'd like to return to Toronto, but Cory Lidle and Tanyon Sturtze are safe bets to wear another uniform next season. So is Escobar, actually, but only because he may command a salary that's beyond the team's budget.
Kelvim Escobar / P
Blue Jays site
Lidle and Sturtze were both one-year auditions who misfired. Lidle (12-15, 5.75 ERA) was paid like a front-line starter, but he had an erratic season that didn't meet Toronto's modest expectations. Meanwhile, Sturtze (7-6, 5.94) was a low-cost and low-risk veteran. He didn't pitch well enough to stay in the rotation, but the team can cut line and cast again.
Between the two, that's approximately $6 million in salary freed up for other goals. That may not sound like a lot, but this may put things in perspective -- next year, the Jays are planning on a $50 million payroll. There is room in there for a modest raise for Escobar, but Toronto won't be able to keep up if the talks go into auction mode.
The right-hander, who has never played for another organization, flashed intriguing potential as a starter last year. He went 12-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 26 starts, and he averaged more than six innings an outing. That makes him seem like an important fit for the Jays, but equally so to several other teams.
Roy Halladay / P
Blue Jays site
If all three flee, who will pitch for the Jays next season? Of course, there's Roy Halladay, followed in some form by Mark Hendrickson and Josh Towers. There's also Justin Miller, who missed a year because of injury, and Pete Walker, who seems to be a better fit in the bullpen.
Toronto's general manager, J.P. Ricciardi, is already scouring the market for other viable options. One thing is certain: There are no alternatives in the minor league system, at least as far as finished products. Both Corey Thurman and Jason Arnold may help the Jays at some point during the season, but they're long shots to make the team out of Spring Training.
As far as position players go, there are only two free agents: Greg Myers and Mike Bordick, two veterans who played extremely well for Toronto. Bordick, who was the team's starting shortstop at season's end, is currently considering retirement. Actually, Bordick used language significantly stronger than that -- on the last day of the season, he said he was "99.9 percent sure" that he had played his last game.
If that last bit of ambivalence wins out, he'd be heartily welcomed back to Toronto. Ricciardi, Toronto manager Carlos Tosca and several of Bordick's teammates raved about his presence in the clubhouse, saying that he made everyone around him better. Otherwise, Chris Woodward will move back into the starting lineup and Toronto will tab a younger player to handle the utilityman role.
Myers, on the other hand, seems likely to return. The catcher, who had a career year at the age of 37, is tabbed as one of Ricciardi's top offseason priorities. The left-handed hitter would be a perfect platoon mate for Kevin Cash, Toronto's top catching prospect. Myers, who started his career with Toronto, might be more than happy to finish things up there. He'll be 38 by mid-April, so two more years might be perfect for both parties. If not, Tom Wilson is still on hand to share time with Cash.
It may be a small group of departing free agents, but the Blue Jays will still be busy with trades and non-tendered players. Ricciardi snagged several players last winter, including Frank Catalanotto, Sturtze, Lidle, Bordick and Myers.
Who's next? Keep your ears open during the hot stove season, which will commence shortly after the World Series ends.