An off-season that began with a flurry of activity has started to drag for the Blue Jays, but Alex Anthopoulos says he expects to explore many ways of upgrading Toronto’s pitching staff between now and opening day. Some of those solutions could involve impact additions, while others would mean relying heavily on young arms.
“We’re very open-minded to all of it,” the Blue Jays GM told Bob McCown and Ken Reid on Prime Time Sports Wednesday. “Whatever makes the club stronger, we’ll set it up that way.”
The Blue Jays have no established ninth inning option — longtime Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen appears to be D.C.-bound — but Anthopoulos says he can address the pitching staff without becoming fixated on saves totals. Brett Cecil and Aaron Sanchez picked up saves in 2014, and could be called on to close games, though the Blue Jays would ideally leverage Cecil in a setup role, and they view Sanchez as a starter long-term.
While the Blue Jays continue monitoring the free agent relief market, it doesn’t sound as though they’re intent on getting an established closer from a class that currently features Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and John Axford. They aren’t seeing much separation among most remaining pitchers, and may be inclined to wait for asking prices to align with their payroll flexibility — believed to be $5-6 million. That strongly suggests Jonathan Papelbon, who earns $13 million in 2015, won’t be a solution for the Blue Jays despite recent rumours linking him to Toronto.
“When you see us linked to a player for days and days and back and forth, I’d say 9.9 times out of 10 there probably isn’t anything to it,” Anthopoulos said. “I can say we’re not going to be in the market for relievers making $10-plus million or more. It’s just not something that is going to fit for us.”
If the price is right, the Blue Jays could turn to second-tier free agent relievers, but Anthopoulos expressed confidence in internal options such as Daniel Norris and and 20-year-old right-hander Miguel Castro, who struck out 78 batters in 80.1 minor league innings last year with what Anthopoulos describes as "dominant stuff." Both will have the chance to break camp with the Blue Jays.
Though most recent talk has focused on Toronto's clear lack of relief depth, another way for the Blue Jays to improve their pitching staff would be adding a starter, as a way of ensuring that they aren’t relying on Sanchez, Norris and Marco Estrada in their final rotation spot. While he declined to address James Shields specifically, Anthopoulos suggested that the Blue Jays are keeping tabs on the free agent right-hander.
“We’re monitoring, I guess is the best way to put it, a lot of the remaining free agents,” he said. “Most times the later you get in to the winter there’s potential for the prices to change on some of these guys.”
Though the Blue Jays aren’t ruling anything out, they won’t deviate from their club policy of limiting contracts to five years, and there’s a limit to how much they’d commit on an annual basis.
“I don’t know that we’re going to be spending $20 million a year on a player,” Anthopoulos said. “I'm not referring to anybody specifically, but I don't know with the way we're set up right now that it would make sense for us to go get a $20-plus million per year player."
DIONER STILL HERE: The Blue Jays will listen on Dioner Navarro, but they haven’t heard any trade offers they like, so it still looks as though the switch-hitter will break camp with Toronto.
“If there was a trade that made sense that improved the ballclub, we’ve been open-minded to that all off-season,” Anthopoulos said.
Russell Martin will be the team’s primary catcher and is expected to catch R.A. Dickey, but there’s a scenario where Navarro opens the season as the Blue Jays’ backup and Josh Thole gets optioned to triple-A Buffalo.
NO SERIOUS TALKS WITH JANSSEN: Though the Blue Jays spoke with Janssen’s representative a few times in the course of the off-season, the sides never came close to matching up on a deal. Janssen, who reportedly agreed to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with the Nationals Wednesday, discussed an extension with Toronto midway through the 2014 season.
NOTES: Anthopoulos said that if Justin Smoak looks good this spring, he’ll see plenty of time against right-handed pitching, with Danny Valencia and Navarro getting at-bats against lefties. If not, Anthopoulos said there’s a scenario where Smoak does not make the team ... Asked about Toronto’s second base options, Anthopoulos mentioned Maicer Izturis before expressing hope that prospect Devon Travis might surprise Blue Jays decision makers in spring training ... Anthopoulos said he continues planning for 2017, 2018 and 2019 even though he’s entering a contract year ... The ongoing drama surrounding Paul Beeston’s future was “at a level well above me,” Anthopoulos said.