Spring training questions: Toronto Blue Jays

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Just how many starting pitchers will the Jays go through with Roy Halladay gone?
Even with Halladay throwing 239 innings at the top of the rotation last year, the Blue Jays had 12 different pitchers make multiple starts. This year, they have Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum and Brandon Morrow likely assured rotation spots, with Mark Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brian Tallet, David Purcey, Dustin McGowan and Dana Eveland also in the mix. In-season alternatives could include Jesse Litsch, Shawn Hill, Kyle Drabek, Scott Richmond, Robert Ray, Brad Mills, Zach Stewart and Reider Gonzalez. It’s a rotation that could be in constant flux unless the Jays catch some breaks.
2. Is Jose Bautista really going to open the season as the regular right fielder and leadoff hitter?
With plenty of outfielders available at bargain rates, it’s hard to believe the Jays haven’t added a potential regular to challenge Bautista and Travis Snider in the corners. They do have the option of going with Adam Lind in left and Snider in right, with Randy Ruiz occupying the DH role, but that’d leave them with maybe baseball worst defensive outfield and nothing close to resembling a leadoff man.
Of course, Bautista is far from an ideal option there. He posted a respectable .235/.349/.408 line in 336 at-bats last season, but that was all because he tore up lefties. He’s a career .227/.316/.366 hitter against righties, and he came in at .202/.331/.333 last year. As a platoon outfielder, Bautista is fine. But he’s someone who should be in the lineup 30-40 percent of the time.
3. Who will win the closer battle between Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor and Scott Downs?
In the grand scheme of things, it hardly figures to matter; the Jays are a fourth- of fifth-place team and it’s quite possible that none of the three will still be around in 2011. Fantasy leaguers, though, may feel differently.
Manager Cito Gaston had made it pretty clear that he wasn’t very comfortable with either Frasor or Downs in the closer’s role, necessitating an offseason addition. Gregg was viewed as a proven alternative, even though he blew seven saves last season and nine in 2008. Frasor and Downs are superior pitchers, but both have more experience setting up than they do closing. Odds are that Gregg will be handed most of the save chances initially. Of course, that was also the case the last two years and he went on to lose the job both times.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.