Alex Anthopoulos does not talk like a man in charge of a last place ballclub.
His Toronto Blue Jays entered play Sunday losers of five in a row, nine of 10 and at 53-60, were two games clear of fourth place Boston in the AL East cellar.
Yet during a lengthy chat with reporters prior to Sunday’s 10-7 win over the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, Anthopoulos spent much of the discussion outlining how he plans on spending this off-season putting the finishing touches on what he thinks can be playoff contender in 2013.
“I know it’s probably hard (for people to accept) right now with the way we’re playing and the way things have gone with injuries,” he said. “But it’d be one thing if we were playing this way and everybody was in the lineup and healthy. That obviously would be significant reason for concern.
“You know for the most part this is going to be a very good, deep offensive team, and we’ll have some young kids behind some of these guys for depth. Offensively, I feel very good about it.”
Anthopoulos is equally bullish on his team’s bullpen going forward following the recent acquisitions of right-handers Brad Lincoln, Steve Delabar, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter and left-hander J.A. Happ. Only Lyon is not under contract for next season.
He even went as far as to suggest that the Blue Jays bullpen and offence — when healthy — have the makings of being “championship calibre.”
The one area of the team that has been nowhere near championship quality in 2012 has been the rotation. With only Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow on guaranteed contracts entering next season and with starters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison out for most or all of next season following Tommy John surgery, the 2013 rotation could feature as many as three new faces.
But unlike in off-seasons past when he felt he had numerous holes to plug around the diamond, Anthopoulos says this winter he’ll be able to devout most of his energy on one specific area of improvement.
“The rotation is where right now we still need to do some work, but it’s a lot easier going into an off-season when you have really one area to really attack, and every trade dialogue, every free-agent dialogue, can be geared to one area rather than having 40 balls in the air and having to fill three spots in the bullpen, two spots in the rotation, two position players,” he explained. “It becomes a lot to balance and you only have so many assets to trade, only so many dollars to spread around free agent-wise. I do feel like this is, collectively from our core – and I know it seems hard to say with the way we’re playing right now – this is probably the best core that we’ve had since I’ve been here.
“Obviously, there’s one area left and it’s an important one. But I think it’s easier to handle that when you have one area rather than five.”
Anthpoulos also wouldn’t rule out acquiring potential free agents, be it a pitcher or a position player, through trades between now and the end of the season for a six-week, up-close look in order to determine whether the team would like to pursue the player in free agency.
Last August the Blue Jays acquired Kelly Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks under similar circumstances and in December, Johnson elected to accept the Blue Jays one-year, $6.375 million offer rather than test free agency. Brandon Lyon, who was acquired by Toronto in July’s 10-player trade with the Houston Astros, is another possibility to return on a free-agent deal.
In recent weeks the Blue Jays have shifted some of their scouts away from the minor leagues in order to focus on big-league talent they might pursue via trades or free agency this winter.
“I’ve talked about it before, but we’re not in the market right now for going after prospects that are years away,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t take someone if they’re put in a trade, but that’s not going to be the focus for what we’re trying to do.
“Trade someone up here for a prospect? That’s not where this team is at right now. We’re trying to get better and that’s going to be with scouting big-league players. From that standpoint, we’ve definitely allocated more man power in that area.”
As for the impending free agent pitching market, Anthopoulos said the top of the market is “pretty good,” but added he hasn’t studied the rest of potential available talent in great detail yet.
Once he does, he says he’ll zero on a few realistic targets while trying to avoid the usual pitfalls of the free agent dance.
“We’ll look for someone that specifically fits what we want to do and if they’re the right fit, we’ll go after those players,” he said. “Just from past experiences and even watching other clubs, I think mistakes in free agency have been made when you go after a player or two, didn’t get them and then you end up settling on other players that you never had any intent to go after in the first place, but it’s just they were the last person standing and they look a little bit better at the end.”
If you think those are the words of man preparing this winter to use free agency to add the final pieces to what he believes could be a playoff team in 2013, Anthopoulos won’t put up an argument.
“Yes. I would definitely agree with that,” he said. “It’s tough to guarantee we’re going to be doing things in free agency or trade or whatnot, but I’ve always felt that if you want to take free agency, for example, you don’t want to build a team based on free agency.
“If you’re finalizing your roster with one or two free agents, for the sake of argument, and you’re overpaying one or two out of 25 guys, the overpayment makes sense relative to the other part of the payroll as a whole, on the aggregate.”
The Blue Jays biggest hole now, and for the foreseeable future is in the rotation and based on what Anthopoulos had to say Sunday, they are prepared to fill it this winter with free agent cash.