TORONTO — Just as there are various reasons for the shortcomings of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays, their general manager must address many needs before the 2015 season begins.
Alex Anthopoulos aims to improve his bullpen, fortify his bench, pursue infield help and retain Melky Cabrera in what promises to be a busy off-season for the Blue Jays.
Anthopoulos declined to say where he expects the Blue Jays’ 2015 payroll to sit, but he said he expects to be competitive for free agent targets, including Cabrera, who has told the Blue Jays he wants to return. The Blue Jays’ plan of limiting contract offers to five years remains “firmly in place,” though, so don’t expect elite free agents such as Max Scherzer or Jon Lester to end up in Toronto.
“That’s not going to change, but I still believe even with that, we can still be very competitive,” Anthopoulos said.
The Blue Jays expect to pursue relievers following an off-year for the bullpen, and Anthopoulos suggested that he could pursue setup relievers with the ability to close instead of prioritizing big name relievers.
“I think there are some guys out there that might not be quote-unquote closers that if given the opportunity can close,” he said. “For the most part, every closer in the league, they’re all made. Casey Janssen was not a closer. He became that. Mariano Rivera wasn’t a closer. He became that.”
The Blue Jays aim to improve their depth over the winter to be sure that they aren’t short-handed if and when injuries strike. That could mean bolstering the bench through trades, since persuading free agents to take on reserve roles can be challenging. Anthopoulos will place added value on durability in the hopes of keeping players on the field.
The Blue Jays will also be in the market for infielders, with an eye toward adding a second baseman. Brett Lawrie’s tentatively slated to play third base in 2015, but if the Blue Jays can add an impact third baseman, they’ll consider moving Lawrie to second base.
Anthopoulos expects other teams to inquire about his starting pitchers in trade talks, and he’ll at least consider offers for established arms such as R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. Anthopoulos also hinted that J.A. Happ’s $6.7 million option will be exercised after a “very good year,” which would give the team additional depth. Still, the Blue Jays like their starting options and are wary of losing valuable fallback options.
“We had a very good year from a health standpoint in the rotation, but it’s not lost on me that we’ve used 13 (starters) before, so I wouldn’t feel good going into the season with five,” Anthopoulos said.
“Philosophically speaking, you want to hoard as much as you can, keep as much depth as you can," he continued. "You can always put guys in the bullpen. The worst thing to have to find in-season is starting depth. No one trades it. It’s the same thing every time you ask someone: ‘I can’t afford to give up the innings.’”
The Blue Jays continue to view Aaron Sanchez as a starting pitcher “with frontline starter potential” and the right-hander will be stretched out in spring training. While it’s possible he’ll spend time in the bullpen at some point next season, that would be to manage his innings as much as anything. Eventually the Blue Jays hope he can transition from the bullpen the way Marcus Stroman did in 2014.