Anthopoulos: Dialogue but no deal with Cabrera

Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Jeff Blair that the bullpen regressing as much as it did this season was the main cause of the team missing a chance to play in the AL Wild Card game.

Mere weeks stand between Melky Cabrera and the open market, and it looks as though the switch-hitting outfielder will reach free agency, as expected.

“Clearly both sides right now can’t seem to get together for various reasons,” Alex Anthopoulos said on The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Friday.

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Yet the Blue Jays general manager said the team has had “some conversations” with Cabrera in the hopes of extending his stay in Toronto.

“I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to assume that there hasn’t been dialogue,” Anthopoulos said. “I wouldn’t assume that there haven’t been proposals exchanged.”

Alex Anthopoulos joins Jeff Blair

The Blue Jays don’t detail extension talks publicly to ensure the discussions don’t become a distraction, but they’ve completed mid-season deals under Anthopoulos. They signed Edwin Encarnacion to an extension in July of 2012 and spoke with Casey Janssen midway through the 2014 campaign about a possible deal.

Even if the Blue Jays don’t re-sign Cabrera, they’re sure to reach out to other players once free agency begins following the World Series.

“There’s a few free agents we’d love to add that would be a great fit,” said Anthopoulos.

The free agent class includes Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields, a trio of frontline starters that will appeal to teams seeking rotation upgrades. Nelson Cruz and Hanley Ramirez headline a class of free agent position players that also features Pablo Sandoval, a potentially intriguing option for teams such as the Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

Cabrera also ranks among the league's top free agents after batting .301 with 16 home runs and an .808 OPS in 139 games. He re-established himself as an impact offensive player before fracturing his right pinkie finger and spending the end of the season on the disabled list.

JAYS WORKING ON COACHING STAFF: Anthopoulos confirmed that John Gibbons will return to manage the Blue Jays in 2015, but said he’s in no rush to finalize the team’s coaching staff.

“We’re working through the staff right now. We always have a lot of discussions,” Anthopoulos said.

Pat Hentgen, who was the team’s bullpen coach in 2013, continues to work as a special assistant to the organization, but he’s spending time with his family to help with his father's health issues. He doesn’t appear to be a fit on the on-field staff just yet.

“We’re giving him all the time and all the space he needs,” Anthopoulos said.

WHAT WENT WRONG?: Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported that a lack of trust played a role in the shortcomings of the 2014 Blue Jays, who led the AL East for 48 days before finishing with an 83-79 record.

But for Anthopoulos, the team’s struggles had more to do with the team’s bullpen than anything else. Better relief pitching would have allowed the team to reach the Wild Card play-in game in his view.

“Sometimes the obvious is kind of boring,” he said.

Yet questions and criticism inevitably follow teams that fall short of expectations.

“This is what happens when you don’t make the playoffs and win,” Anthopoulos said. “Everyone’s looking for some skeleton in the closet or some magic bullet and I don’t buy it.”

Blue Jays relievers ranked 25th in MLB with a 4.09 ERA as Janssen, Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar struggled to match their career norms. One year earlier, Toronto ranked ninth in MLB with an impressive 3.37 ERA.

”If we had been more right in the middle and had an average pen, I think that really would have swung the balance,” Anthopoulos said.

Blue Jays relievers were worth 1.3 wins above replacement in 2014, down from 5.1 wins above replacement in 2013. That four win swing would have made Toronto an 87-win team, just shy of the Oakland Athletics (88-74) and the Kansas City Royals (89-73), the American League's 2014 Wild Card teams.