DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays will have a series of tough decisions to make at the end of Spring Training, and, once again, contract options will play a big role.
Toronto currently has one spot up for grabs in the starting rotation, and at least two in the bullpen. The preference is to always put the best team on the field, but more often than not, the business of baseball also becomes a factor.
When a player doesn't have any options remaining on his contract, he has to pass through waivers before being sent to the Minor Leagues. The importance of holding onto assets is a key theme in camp each year, and that will be the case again this season.
"We have a few guys," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said when asked about his players that are out of options. "That always factors in, but you still want to, we're looking for starting pitching, we want to go with the best guy. If that costs somebody a job, we're still going with the best guy."
Similar statements are made every year by managers across baseball, but Blue Jays fans know all too well just how important options -- or the lack thereof -- can be. In the past several years alone, the likes of Jo-Jo Reyes, David Purcey, Luis Perez, Esmil Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress have cracked the Opening Day roster at least, in part, because of their contractual status.
This year likely will be no different, but there could be an even greater emphasis than normal because of the sheer number of players who don't have any options remaining. Rogers, Todd Redmond and Dustin McGowan are among the candidates for the rotation that don't have any options remaining, while in the bullpen, the list includes Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil, Perez and Jeffress.
The top four of the rotation is set, with R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ, while the bullpen will include Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, Santos and Cecil. Based on last season's results, left-hander Aaron Loup and right-hander Neil Wagner also deserve spots in the 'pen, but space will be an issue, and the club must decide once and for all just how valuable those options really are.
Drabek's first bullpen session gets noticed
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Kyle Drabek was among those who caught the eye of the Blue Jays' coaching staff on the first official day of workouts at Spring Training.
A large group of Toronto pitchers threw their first bullpen sessions Monday morning, and Drabek came away with some positive reviews from the organization. He appeared to be throwing pain free and without limitations, which is a good sign for a guy still trying to make his way back from Tommy John surgery.
The Blue Jays certainly won't read too much into the first side session of the spring, but the way Drabek looked on the mound was still an encouraging first step.
"He was one guy that stood out for me today," Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said. "His delivery looked sound, I love where his hands are right now. He located the ball down in the zone, his changeup was outstanding.
"He looks very confident and poised. Really repeated his delivery well. If he's a guy that's going to pound the strike zone, he's definitely in the mix. There's no question that's a Major League-caliber arm."
Right-hander Drew Hutchison also threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Monday morning. Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 but appear to have arrived in camp at full strength and will contend for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
Kratz working to gain comfort with knuckleball
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Erik Kratz's chances of cracking the Blue Jays' 25-man roster could very well come down to his ability to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Toronto has veteran Dioner Navarro penciled in as the starting catcher this season, but the backup job will involve a competition between Kratz and Josh Thole. The Blue Jays aren't expected to use Navarro behind the plate when Dickey is on the mound, which means a deciding factor for the second job will be that elusive knuckleball.
Kratz spent a week working with Dickey during the offseason to become acclimated with the pitch, and the two were once again paired up during the first day of camp.
"[Dickey] handcuffed him a few times today, that's to be expected," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We'll see how it all plays out. We like [both Kratz and Thole], but a big part of it is handling Dickey."
The initial belief was that the Blue Jays acquired Kratz this past offseason to serve as a depth option in the Minor Leagues. That no longer appears to be the case, and the 33-year-old has a very realistic shot at making the Opening Day roster.
There has been plenty of praise for Kratz within the organization this week, and his offensive upside is one of the main reasons why. The native of Pennsylvania hit nine home runs in just 68 games with the Phillies last season, and the year before, he posted an impressive .809 OPS as a backup.
Those are major selling points, but more than anything else, it's the knuckleball which should prove to be the difference one way or the other.
"It's really all about the reps for something like that," Kratz said. "For me, it's just a matter of not pushing it too much, not trying to be too perfect. Just trying to sit there and wait for it to come to me. A couple of them, I waited for them to come to me and it really got there. The more reps I can get for myself, the more success I'll have with him."