It came down to the final hours, but in the end, the streak lives on for the Toronto Blue Jays.
After coming to terms with center fielder Colby Rasmus earlier this week, the team announced today that none of the remaining arbitration-eligible trio on the squad will be headed there. General manager Alex Anthopoulos was able to work out deals with each of J.A. Happ, Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Thole, keeping the team’s 13-year arbitration-free run intact.
Of the three, only Thole received a multi-year contract. The Blue Jays will commit $2.5 million to the 26-year-old over the next two years. The deal includes a third year as a team option worth $1.75 million and is not too dissimilar to the two-year extension that Jeff Mathis signed back in the summer of ’12. Thole, who will go into the season as J.P. Arencibia‘s backup (unless Henry Blanco really has something to say about it), gives the team value as one of the few catchers who have caught R.A. Dickey and he could find himself as the knuckleballer’s personal catcher to start the season.
That said, even at just $1.25 million, Thole will have his work cut out for him to exceed the value of the contract with pure production. He was a non-factor at the plate last season, putting up a paltry .584 OPS over 354 PA, and he was an essentially replacement-level 0.1 fWAR player. He does not feature a particular strong defensive set of skills behind the plate and none of his splits give any indication that the move to Rogers Centre will help him out offensively, so Thole will have to make that Dickey connection worth the team’s while this season. The two-year deal is no indication that his job in Toronto is secure and the defensive-minded A.J. Jiminez looms in the minors.
Bonifacio, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. Signed to a one-year, $2.6 million deal, Bonifacio is in a favourable environment to succeed in Toronto. In terms of value, he would only have to repeat his below-average 0.6 fWAR season last year to play up to his contract dollars. Just one year removed from a 40-steal, 3.3 fWAR season that saw him hit .296/.360 with a full season of at-bats, Bonifacio will be given the opportunity to earn himself a bigger payday as the team’s starting second baseman.
Because of his ability to play the outfield, the team will have an easier time getting Bonifacio consistent at-bats, and the fact that he happens to be a dynamic speed demon who can do a little bit of everything should quickly make him a fan-favourite in Toronto. If I had to pick one guy who is going to be first to get an extension in ’13, it’s him.
At $3.7 million for one year, Happ is making more money than his formerly arbitration-eligible brethren, but also has the most to lose. At 30 years old, the lefty has long shed his former top prospect label and will have to compete for a bullpen in Spring Training despite posting arguably the best numbers of his career in ’12 (if you look beyond ERA, anyway). The lefty threw 144.2 innings with a career-best 8.96 K/9 and 2.57 K/BB between two teams, and his excellent 2.80 FIP as a member of the Blue Jays suggests that his 4.69 ERA belies his true talent. In fact, he may very well be a better option for the #5 spot in the rotation than Ricky Romero.
That said, Romero’s only one year removed from an All-Star season and his track record gives him the first look at the job. Happ could end up winning a job as a long reliever/sixth starter in the team’s bullpen, but working against him in the fact that he still has a minor league option, while his competitors, like Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress, do not.
As a result, you could end up seeing Happ start the season in AA Buffalo, but he will be the first in line if/when the injury bug strike the Blue Jays rotation in ’13.