Inbox: Does Oliver's return complete bullpen?
Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers Blue Jays fans' questions
With Darren Oliver announcing his return, do the Blue Jays need one more reliable setup man who has experience in the late innings? Or do they have enough to get by?
-- Johnlery B., Richmond Hill, Ontario
The old saying is that you can never have enough pitching. And while that certainly is the case here in Toronto, there should be enough in place to get by. There's a high-ceiling group of hard-throwing relievers that could end up becoming an underrated unit, if everything comes together right.
There also doesn't appear to be any money left for further upgrades -- at least not until the season begins. Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos will compete for the closer's job, and they will team up with Oliver to form the club's late-inning relief.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers has been assured of a spot, and it's hard to envision Steve Delabar not making the roster after last year's breakout season. That leaves one spot for lefties Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup or J.A. Happ, because Jeremy Jeffress is the favorite for the final job, as he is out of options on his contract.
Right-hander Brandon Lyon would have made sense in a reliable veteran role, but the club appears to have reached its payroll limit.
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Who is going to start at second base? Maicer Izturis or Emilio Bonifacio?
-- Jesse B., Port Moody, British Columbia
Izturis enters Spring Training as the front-runner after signing a three-year contract during the offseason. It appears as though he received some sort of promise from the organization before agreeing to the deal, and he'll begin the Grapefruit League season with a leg up in the competition.
It will be up to Bonifacio to make manager John Gibbons' final decision that much tougher. Even if Bonifacio isn't in the starting lineup on Opening Day, there should be plenty of opportunities for him to make a mark. He'll see time at second, third, left field and center in a super utility role that could prove crucial this season.
Bonifacio has been overlooked a lot this offseason following the recent trade with Miami. But he has more upside than Izturis and brings another element of speed to the lineup, as evidenced by his 30 stolen bases in 64 games last year.
What do you think will happen with Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison when they come back from their injuries?
-- Andrew W., St. Catharines, Ontario
This seems to be a popular question of late, but one that's extremely difficult to answer because both pitchers are not close to a return. The two righties both underwent Tommy John surgery and are expected to be out until at least the All-Star break.
Pitchers can often return from that type of surgery within 12 months, but it's often not until the following season that full strength is regained. If the Blue Jays are able to get anything out of the pair this year, it would have to be considered a bonus, because as of right now, they cannot be counted upon.
If they do return around the All-Star break, both pitchers would spend a lengthy stint in the Minors before rejoining the Blue Jays. I wouldn't expect either to become a major factor until 2014.
One of the unsung merits of the Jays is their unprecedented speed on the basepaths. Jose Reyes, Bonifacio and Rajai Davis alone stole 116 bases last year. How aggressive of a baserunning strategy do you think Gibbons and his staff will have this year?
-- Jeff B., Carrboro, N.C.
Effectively using the running game will be one of the biggest tests for manager John Gibbons this season. Gibbons never appeared to be a major proponent of stealing bases in the past, but he's also never managed a team with this type of overall speed.
Gibbons does like the hit-and-run, so expect to see a lot of that this season. He's also likely to give a green light to the likes of Reyes, Davis and Bonifacio because of their electric speed, but it's possible the same won't be said for Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and others who ran at will under previous manager John Farrell.
The 50-year-old Gibbons is well aware of how often the Blue Jays ran into outs last season, and that's something he wants to avoid. But when Reyes or Bonifacio get on base, it will be extremely difficult not to let them loose.
I love what [general manager Alex] Anthopoulos has done with the Blue Jays this offseason but am left wondering about the farm system. Over the past two seasons, it's been touted as one of the best. Have the recent trades bled the system dry, or is there enough talent left?
-- Nathan K., Ajax, Ontario
There's no question the upper levels of the Blue Jays' farm system have taken a major hit this offseason. Anthony Gose and Chad Jenkins appear to be the only prospects ready to contribute in the near future, with lefty Sean Nolin also having an outside shot. While a lot of veterans have been added via Minor League deals, there still isn't a lot of depth.
That's not as bad of a thing as it would appear on the surface. The Blue Jays might not have a lot of talent in Triple-A and Double-A, but there is plenty of upside in the lower levels. Most of that is at least three years away, but that's OK because the Blue Jays' core is tied up for a similar period at the big league level.
When the current window of opportunity to win closes on the Blue Jays, the next generation of talent should be ready. With the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Daniel Norris, D.J. Davis and Matt Smoral in the system, there's a lot of upside, it's just going to take some time for them to fulfill it.
Are there any new updates on Dustin McGowan. Will he be ready for Spring Training?
-- Nathan B., Burlington, Ontario
Unfortunately for McGowan, this is a question that has been asked every offseason for the last five years. Last year was supposed to be different, as he entered Spring Training fully healthy and a shot to win the No. 5 job in the starting rotation. But all of that came to an abrupt end late in camp after he suffered yet another setback.
McGowan is expected to take part in Spring Training, but whether he'll be able to contribute is anybody's guess right now. There's simply no way he'll be able to crack the current 25-man roster, so McGowan's best option is to prove his health and then begin the year on a rehab assignment to slowly build up endurance.
If there's an injury, perhaps McGowan will be considered as the replacement, but anything the organization gets out of him would have to be considered a bonus at this point. I'd expect him to start the year on the disabled list as he slowly builds his arm back into shape.
Are the Blue Jays more or less done with their offseason shopping?
-- Matthew W., Edmonton, Alberta
Yes, with the exception of some Minor League signings and invitations to Spring Training, there really isn't a whole lot else left to do. The recent signing of veteran infielder Mark DeRosa gave the Blue Jays their 25th man, and now all they're looking for is more organizational depth.
Despite all the questions that recently came in about the likes of Shaun Marcum, that simply was never going to happen. The starting rotation is already at capacity and Anthopoulos is satisfied with the projected Opening Day lineup.
The only real competition can be found in the bullpen, and there already are enough arms in the mix for a select number of jobs.