LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – People on the make are everywhere at the winter meetings, from eager college grads in ill-fitting suits clutching leather binders while hustling for a break, to accomplished executives on the hunt for the missing piece their teams need to compete.
In that environment, this year planted at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort, opportunities can be both real and imagined, and the Toronto Blue Jays are sorting through their share of both in trying to upgrade their last-placed outfit.
Already on their way into town, they were approached by the Pittsburgh Pirates about Adam Lind, asked about second baseman Neil Walker in return, and had talks quickly fizzle, two sources told sportsnet.ca.
Such scenarios explain why even though they’re not looking to move Lind, they’ve poked around on the asking prices for James Loney, Justin Morneau (before he signed with Colorado), Mitch Moreland and Logan Morrison, just in case a potential deal presents itself.
Before that, a deal that would have sent reliever Sergio Santos to the Texas Rangers as part of a three-team swap fell apart when another player failed a physical, Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported. The deal would have included a starter for the Blue Jays, separate sources told sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith and this writer, underlining how difficult getting things done can be.
All that to say that their hunt for starting pitching, focused primarily on the trade market for the moment, may be difficult to consummate. General manager Alex Anthopoulos’s focus is a narrow one "since there’s not that many players available in trade," he explained. "Plus you’re looking at who you feel is truly an upgrade over what you currently have. We’re looking if we can get mid to top of the rotation starters – there are very few."
Emboldening Anthopoulos to at least consider standing pat in the rotation is the continued progress of Brandon Morrow in his recovery from a nerve issue in his bee-bee throwing right arm and the gains made by Drew Hutchison during the Arizona Fall League. Maybe it’s just bluster for potential trade partners and the representatives of free agents, but manager John Gibbons gave the possibility a bit of a push when he suggested the alternative to bolstering the pitching staff was using any available financial resources to strengthen the bench.
"(The way) we kind of look at it, you beef up a starting rotation and you might be a little less focused on the bench," said Gibbons.
Maybe, but there’s significant risk in counting strictly on internal improvement to bring up the second-worst rotation in the majors last season up to a more reasonable standard.
They may need to either make a trade – Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija is believed to be one target – or pony up for a free agent starter like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez (the representatives for the latter checked in with Anthopoulos on Monday) to take a real step forward.
Things continue to move slowly for that trio, and Anthopoulos feels the market for Santana, Jimenez and other qualified free agents "can be impacted because of the draft pick, but that isn’t to say we aren’t going to stay in touch and monitor it."
"If I had to handicap it right now, it wouldn’t surprise me that it goes into January," he said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if two days from now, three days from now, I get a phone call or I’m getting contact from some of those agents saying the market is starting to move and things have changed. That’s just the way I see it today."
Intriguingly, Anthopoulos also indicated that the new posting system being finalized between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball – which includes a $20 million max bid and the right for all teams who tie in the post to negotiate with the player – may lead to a run at Masahiro Tanaka.
"We wouldn’t get specific, but I would say that any good starter we’ll definitely talk about seriously as far as being involved," Anthopoulos said during a chat with reporters. "I’m not one to come out and say we’re going after so and so, but I think it’s safe to say any good starter that’s out there we’re going to active, we’ll try to be involved and see if it makes sense for us."
There would be no guarantees there, or on any of their other fronts, which is why the Blue Jays are keeping all their options open for the moment.
Anthopoulos said "we’re having some dialogue on some small deals for our bench as well, a right-handed bat" that would complement Lind at first base, but the Blue Jays are also looking at Moises Sierra, who’ll be out of options, to fill that role.
They’re considering upgrades at second base, too.
What’s achievable and what’s not should start becoming clearer in the days to come, and with it a better vision of how the Blue Jays get better for 2014.