The Toronto Blue Jays could upgrade in any number of areas before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but if Alex Anthopoulos would prefer to address one particular position, he isn’t letting on. The general manager explained Wednesday that instead of targeting one position, he prefers to stay open-minded to upgrades.
“If we could get an infielder that’s an upgrade, sure, we’d love to do that,” Anthopoulos said. “Really anywhere that we can improve. The bullpen can get better certainly. Offensively if we can ever get better we’ll do that. The rotation’s done a good job for us, but if there’s someone that’s clearly an upgrade, we’d do that as well.”
Even John Gibbons borrowed a move from the Anthopoulos playbook, sidestepping questions about his team’s biggest needs.
“In baseball usually every area can get better somehow. But, no, there’s nothing glaring,” he said. “And I wouldn’t tell you anyways.”
One way or another, trade talk will continue to surround the team as long as they have needs on the pitching staff, in the infield and on the bench. And while speculation surrounding Jeff Samardzija and David Price won’t go anywhere in the next four weeks, it’s possible that the continued production of Toronto’s starting pitchers will push the team’s focus to other areas.
“They’ve pitched great, they really have,” Gibbons said. “They’ve held their own. And that was a question mark, but to this point they’ve been very, very steady. Normally you get a real good outing every day.”
The Blue Jays maintain that they would be open to acquiring a second baseman or a third baseman, depending on who’s available. Brett Lawrie, who’s expected to miss the month of July after breaking a finger against the Cincinnati Reds, would shift to second base if the Blue Jays were to acquire a third baseman. Anthopoulos stressed that the Blue Jays don’t plan to push Lawrie to the right side of the infield yet he acknowledged that doing so could be in the team’s best interest -- even in the long term.
“Let’s say there’s an All-Star caliber player – a great player -- I think everyone would be open to doing that," Anthopoulos said. "That makes the team better. But I don’t want to make that a story. That’s not the plan, we’re not close to doing that, we’re not actively pursuing that. Brett’s our third baseman.”
No player on Toronto’s roster is considered untouchable, but that says more about the Blue Jays’ desire to remain flexible than it does about the team’s willingness to part with promising young players such as Marcus Stroman or Drew Hutchison.
“Unless you know we have the best player at a given spot, you can always upgrade,” Anthopoulos said. “I just think you’re better off to be as open-minded as you can.”
Yet in effect some players can be untouchable. Obtaining someone off of Toronto’s current roster won’t be easy.
“I can say this, and I’ve told other GMs this,” Anthopoulos said. “Anyone who’s helping our team win right now, it’d be hard to take anyone off of the 25-man unless we’re clearly upgrading at that spot. We want to add, not take away from the 25-man.”
If the team looks to deal from prospect depth, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey are among the minor leaguers attracting interest from other teams. But the Blue Jays believe that Sanchez could help at the big league level this year, either as a starter or in relief.
“I think he’s really starting to come along,” Anthopoulos said. “They’ve got him right on track and he’ll be ready if we have a need.”
Sanchez has a 4.43 ERA in four starts at triple-A Buffalo, but he continues to have trouble commanding the ball, with 13 walks allowed in 20.1 innings for the Bisons. The 21-year-old must show improved command before succeeding at the big league level. Still, Anthopoulos said the Bisons’ pitching staff “unlocked something” with Sanchez by having him raise his arm angle and generate more downhill plane.
Whether the Blue Jays aim high or settle for role players, Anthopoulos has learned from experience that trades are tough to put together. When the Blue Jays were taking offers for Roy Halladay in 2009, finding a match was like looking for “a needle in a haystack.”
“There may be limited demand because not every team is in it, not every team financially can take on contracts, not every team has the assets,” Anthopoulos said.
At the time the Blue Jays chose to be patient, waiting until December before completing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. This time the answer might be a starting pitcher, an infielder or a three-way trade, something Anthopoulos says he’s more than open to.
Whatever his preferred strategy, he’s not tipping his hand just yet.