The Blue Jays are in on Sandoval, but that's not their biggest need
Insider reports are telling us that it is not just the Red Sox and Giants who are vying for free-agent 3B Pablo Sandoval's services -- the Toronto Blue Jays now are in the mix. The question I have is ... why?
The Jays already made some noise this winter with their five-year, $82 million signing of catcher Russell Martin. I discussed here what Toronto was paying for in Russell. Their next-biggest need, though, is not a third baseman, but rather a starting pitcher.
Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey sat at the top of the rotation in 2014 for the Jays and turned in very respectable seasons. They threw 200-plus innings and won 13 and 14 games, respectfully. Dickey has a $12 million option for 2016 (his age 41 season), and Buehrle, who will be 36 on opening day, is a free agent after the 2015 season.
The back end of the rotation has lots of upside but will be looking for consistency from young arms like Drew Hutchison (24) and Marcus Stroman (23). Aaron Sanchez (22), the team's No. 2 prospect who made his debut in the bullpen in 2014, could be part of the rotation at some point in 2015.
There is no better time for the Blue Jays, who have their eyes on competing in 2015 and beyond, to lock in a mid-to-upper-tier starter for a few years. Someone like Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Jason Hammel or James Shields would all be a nice piece for the Blue Jays' rotation. Shields is the only one of the group who will command big money, potentially four to five years at $75-95 million. The rest could likely be had for three- or four-year deals in the range of $30-45 million.
The middle of Toronto's lineup, specifically Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, is guaranteed to be around only through 2016. Each slugger has a reasonable team option for that season before heading into free agency.
A starting pitcher is more important than Pablo Sandoval at this point for the Jays. If they can do both, great, but indications from the front office tell us only one more big move is likely. That move should be in the rotation if the Jays want to be contenders in 2015 and 2016.