The biggest addition the Blue Jays hope to land for the 2008 season is a clean bill of health. Over the past few years, injuries throughout the pitching staff and lineup have significantly cost Toronto a chance at meeting its goal of reaching the playoffs.
With a considerable cast of players using these winter months to fully recover from an assortment of ailments, the Jays are clinging to the hope that an injury-free roster can put the club in contention for the American League East crown. So, instead of overhauling the team, Toronto plans on only plugging a few holes to prepare for next season.
"Right now, everyone's doing well and feeling well," said Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, recently discussing his recovering roster. "There's been no setbacks and there's been nothing to make anyone say, 'Hey, we can't run these guys.' So, we're very optimistic going into Spring Training right now."
Heading into the offseason, the Jays' main priorities were to re-sign veteran Matt Stairs, add a versatile utility man to strengthen the bench, find a backup catcher and potentially acquire more pitching depth. So far, the first two goals have been met, and the others will be the primary objectives for Toronto at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Toronto re-signed Stairs to a two-year contract worth $3.25 million to add depth in the outfield, at first base and in the designated-hitter role. The Jays then acquired super-sub Marco Scutaro from the A's in exchange for a pair of pitching prospects. Scutaro can help fill in around the infield and in the outfield, if needed.
Now, Toronto is searching for a No. 2 catcher to slot in behind Gregg Zaun. One of the Jays' own free agents, Sal Fasano, is one option that the club is considering. Toronto doesn't want to get tied into a multi-year contract with a catcher, because the team has catching prospects Curtis Thigpen and Robinzon Diaz rising fast through the farm system.
"I just don't see us going forward right now with a multi-year commitment to someone, based on what we think we have coming," said Ricciardi, shooting down recent rumors that had the Jays vying for the services of free-agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
Besides finding a backup catcher, the Jays may also be in the market for some inexpensive arms to add to the mix for the fifth spot in the rotation. Toronto has been tied to free-agent starter Matt Clement, who is coming back from a serious shoulder injury, and that's the kind of pitcher the Jays will likely pursue.
"We're looking at pitching all the time," Ricciardi said. "I think we're looking at pitching, whether it's via a trade or a reclamation project. I don't really see us getting involved with what's out there on the free-agent market. We've dipped our toes in the water on a couple things, and we'll just try to see how things play out."
The Jays have eight players -- Scutaro, Alex Rios, Reed Johnson, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Gustavo Chacin, Jason Frasor and Josh Towers -- who are eligible for arbitration this offseason. At the end of the season, it looked like Toronto might not tender Towers a contract, but Ricciardi recently said the Jays may indeed bring him back for next season.
Heading into the offseason, the Jays also seemed hesitant to stick with Johnson as their primary left fielder. Since then, though, Ricciardi has voiced confidence in Johnson, who struggled to bounce back from major back surgery last season. It looks like Johnson will return as Toronto's main leadoff man in '08, when the Jays' payroll will be around $90 million.
"We like our lineup, and we like some of the things that we were able to do," Ricciardi said. "Obviously, we don't have the ideal leadoff guy, but if we can get Reed of two years ago we have a pretty good leadoff guy. That's probably what we're looking at.
"If we can add to it, we will, but I don't see us, at this point, having a chance to do something to upgrade. Probably, what you see is what you get right now."
That's been the theme this offseason.
Toronto is pinning its hopes for 2008 on the recovery of players like center fielder Vernon Wells, closer B.J. Ryan, right-hander A.J. Burnett, first baseman Lyle Overbay, third baseman Troy Glaus, Zaun and Johnson.
If they can all return to form, Toronto's quiet winter could lead to a loud summer.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.