Jays face important off-season decisions

Although the eyes of the baseball world are locked on the World Series matchup between the Giants and Rangers, fans in Toronto have already fixed their gaze on the off-season.

Rogers Media president Keith Pelley added fuel to the fire Wednesday during an interview on The Fan 590.

While he didn’t speculate on specific free-agent targets, he was confident that if the Jays continue to improve they could be in the playoff picture sooner than later.

“The way that they built this, I know that this team is going to be competitive for many years to come,” he said. “And when the time comes where we need this [free agent] just to be there [playoffs], I think Rogers will support that.”

Although it leaves more questions than answers, it is possible that time could come as early as next year after the Jays surprised many with an impressive 85 wins in 2010.

“They’ve built this team without going the free-agent route,” Pelley said. “Building grass roots and building the player development side, it’s really poised for success.”

But with Manny Ramirez recently saying he would relish the opportunity to reunite with new Jays’ new manager John Farrell, there has been plenty of speculation surrounding the possibility of adding a few pieces to what is becoming a formidable core of players.

The Jays had no problem in the power department last year and were able to throw out a more-than-respectable starting rotation. But Toronto struggled mightily with its bullpen and hitting for average was concerning.

For relief, the Jays could make a pitch for Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano, who led the American League with 45 saves and a 1.73 earned run average along with a 0.80 WHIP [walks plus hits per innings pitched].

Soriano made $7.25 million US last year and should be in for a big raise, likely leaving the Jays on the outside of the bidding.

A more realistic and fitting substitution could be Toronto-born Jesse Crain.

The Twins’ setup man had a career-year for the AL Central champs and would be a perfect fit in the same role for closer Kevin Gregg.

Look for Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos to take a pragmatic approach, targeting a few quality pitchers in favour of one big name.

Snagging a player that can consistently hit for average usually comes at a cost, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good bargains to be found.

One such name that is familiar around these parts is Orlando Hudson.

The second baseman and Toronto fan-favourite is about as consistent as they come, having hit .280 during his career.

Aaron Hill is the go-to guy at second but adding Hudson would give Farrell some extra options in the infield.

The Jays could also be in the market for a utility outfielder as Jose Bautista and Travis Snider saw time at different positions last year.

Sure, Carl Crawford and former Blue Jay Jayson Werth would look great in Toronto’s outfield, but they are likely off to more lucrative pastures in bigger markets.

If the Jays decide to keep their wallet tightened in the off-season, a player like Corey Patterson — who hit a modest .269 with 21 stolen bases for the Baltimore Orioles last year — could fit the bill as another option.

Unless Pelley and Rogers truly feel ready to make that big splash, look for slight upgrades and shrewd salary maneuvers to highlight the Jays’ continued restructuring.

Despite being stuck in arguably the toughest division in the majors, the playoffs this year have shown that small-market teams can contend with the heavy spenders.

The Rangers have a $55 million payroll—the fourth lowest in the league—and knocked off the Evil Empire in New York ($206.3 million) and the AL East champion Tampa Bay ($71.9 million) en route to their first-ever World Series appearance.

Toronto, meanwhile, had a $62.7-million payroll in 2010 and that figure is due to increase next season with 10 players headed to arbitration, including home run king Jose Bautista and pitcher Shaun Marcum.

Yet if the Jays can maintain the quality core they’ve built while addressing their most pressing concerns, it won’t be long before Toronto is an attractive destination for some of the game’s biggest names.

But will the team be willing to pay?