When former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was being introduced to the Toronto media after being named the Blue Jays' new manager this fall, he uttered this line: "At the right time, there's an ability to sign free agents to augment the roster that's currently in place. We know we're not going to be at the level of New York, per se. At the same time, there's going to be the ability to compete. At the right time, there is going to be the opportunity to support a very strong payroll and one that will allow us to compete at the highest level."
Farrell said these words when asked about the interview process with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, citing a selling point on the part of the GM. Promised that there would be a day when the Blue Jays' limited payroll (at $62.7 million on Opening Day last year, it ranked last in the American League) could compete with the Red Sox and Yankees for top free agents, Farrell was on board.
Anthopoulos wasn't just blowing smoke. Toronto's ownership group, Rogers Communications, shuffled some TV money around last year, part of an effort to keep its finances in order. And before Farrell even manages a single game, his roster has undergone a radical alteration, with several moves designed to make financial gains.
It was labeled "Mission Impossible." Anthopoulos would have no chance to unload Vernon Wells, a productive but woefully overpaid outfielder with four years and $86 million remaining on his contract. By doing so in a trade for Anaheim's Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, Anthopoulos accomplished that mission and received two solid bats in return. His timing is excellent.
Toronto has less than $20 million in payroll obligations for 2012, when a free-agent class could be pretty loaded. In addition, it has several high draft picks. The Blue Jays might have the money to extend slugging right fielder Jose Bautista, pay for potential free agents such as Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson (that's just an example of a potential offseason haul, not a declaration that they will get any of them) and offer up appropriate bonuses for their bevy of draft choices, which will be joining an already-solid farm system.
Wells' departure comes just over a year after Anthopoulos was able to rid the team of Alex Rios, whose contract wasn't much better than that of Wells, in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. The club will save $140.7 million through 2014 by jettisoning the two outfielders once considered building blocks.
Consider some of the other moves this offseason. The club dropped first baseman Lyle Overbay, the second-highest paid player on the team last year, from the books and traded Shaun Marcum, who would get many millions in his arbitration years, for top prospect Brett Lawrie. Money, money, money.
Despite the roster renewal, it's not as if Farrell has nothing to work with. The cupboard isn't bare. It does have plenty of room, however, for a few shiny pieces down the road, perhaps pieces that will also be pursued by Boston and New York.
The starting rotation is young, cheap and has the potential to be pretty good. The bullpen is experienced, cheap and has depth. Although Farrell will need to see more out of Adam Lind, Travis Snider and Aaron Hill in 2011, his offense should at least be less one-dimensional than it was last season. At least, that was his stated intent.
And, if Anthopoulos keeps his promise, there will be plenty of help coming in the next few years. Some people may perceive this as a "win later" mentality, but at least it's honest, and so far it has been executed to a tee.
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