BUFFALO, N.Y. – Alex Anthopoulos continues to approach the off-season like a bargain-hunter patiently awaiting a Boxing Day blowout, a tactic that could land him pitching help at a discount or leave him empty-handed once the rush comes.
The Toronto Blue Jays general manager, speaking to media Thursday ahead of a luncheon hosted by the club’s triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, repeated his oft-stated mantra that he could make a trade or sign a free agent right now, but that the acquisition cost is too high for his liking.
“We’re definitely engaged, we’re definitely having dialogue, but as we’re sitting here today, middle of January, we’re not there yet,” said Anthopoulos. “Things can change, and in the last few years we’ve seen some guys sign late as a result of the market. I don’t know how all that is going to play out, everyone knows (Masahiro) Tanaka has to sign by the 24th, the remaining free agents can sign whenever they want. Kyle Lohse signed March 25 (last year), which I would have never guessed. Michael Bourn signed Feb. 20.
“The reason we don’t have anything done right now is the deals don’t make sense for us with what the cost would be.”
The Blue Jays’ targets on the open market are down to Tanaka, the Japanese sensation who in all likelihood is beyond their reach, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza. Industry chatter is that the market for the other three will remain on hold until Tanaka signs, meaning their deals may not happen until closer to February.
The goal in slow-playing the market for the latter trio is to drive down the asking prices, something Anthopoulos says has been happening across the board.
“I would think that’s fair to say,” he said. “I even had an agent tell me last night, about totally separate players, ‘Look, it’s middle of January, I understand prices have to change.’”
Emboldening Anthopoulos in his quest for a deep discount is the organization’s increasing belief that they may be fine filling out their rotation behind R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow with some combination of J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Kyle Drabek and Sean Nolin. The Blue Jays also plan to experiment with Dustin McGowan as a starter, while Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond both finished out 2013 on the starting staff.
“I expect J.A. to be in that rotation,” said Anthopoulos. “It took him a while to get going, but I thought those last few starts at the end he finally started to come around and pitch the way he did at the end of 2012 for us.”
As for the club’s youngsters, he said: “They definitely could break (with the team at the end of spring training). You’d prefer (they start in triple-A) because that means you’ve gotten better at the big-league level and we get to have depth on top of it, and really your ball club is stronger.”
Some other Blue Jays news and notes:
–Second baseman Chris Getz, signed to a minor-league contract Thursday, will be given a chance to compete with Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis for playing time but may end up minor-league depth. A light-hitting speedster, Getz played for manager John Gibbons and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in Kansas City, and may very well end the club’s attempts to bolster the infield. “Are we comfortable going with what we have? Yes, but if we can improve it we’ll look to do that,” said Anthopoulos. “I don’t see that happening through free agency, but we’ve tried to create as much competition as we can.” What does Getz bring to the table? “He is depth, he’s going to come in and compete, but he can steal a base for you, he can do the little things, contact bat, obviously there’s no power there,” said Anthopoulos. “The fact that he can come in and provide some competition for some of the other guys will be great.”
–Brandon Morrow believes the radial nerve entrapment in his right forearm won’t be any sort of issue whatsoever after emerging from his rehab program with no red flags. “Everything has been great,” he said. “I went through the whole rehab program with no problems at all, I wasn’t sore one day through the whole process. I threw five or six bullpens, finishing up the first week of December. Four innings was my last one, where I’d throw 15 pitches and then sit down five or six minutes. Throwing 100 per cent at game speed I had no problems. I’m confident in the way I feel now.”
–One name the Blue Jays never mention when discussing pitching possibilities for 2014 is Ricky Romero. Why? “Right now, I don’t know what we can expect,” said Anthopoulos. “Out of all these guys, he’s the guy who’s been the all-star, been the 220 inning horse.” The way he performs in camp or once the minor-league season begins can change all that in a hurry. Brett Cecil, to a lesser degree, was a wild card at camp last year, just barely made the team, and emerged into an all-star. “At any point in time if Romero bounces back, it wouldn’t surprise me,” said Anthopoulos. “Scott Kazmir is out of the game for the past two years and Romero’s had as much success as anybody. I don’t know when it’s going to come back, but we believe it will.”
–One school of thought is that Clayton Kershaw’s $215-million, seven-year contract may raise the premium of elite young pitching prospects. “It doesn’t mean you won’t move them, because guys get hurt, guys don’t perform,” said Anthopoulos. “When you’re moving young guys that you value and you like, you want to make sure you get years of control, that’s why even when we traded for R.A. last year, knowing we would have four years of control and we could extend him was important. But when you talk about the Kershaw extension, he’s so unique because of his age and his skillset. … I understand the point that Kershaw just set the new salary standard, but you can argue that with his age, relative to some of the other guys, that was bound to happen.”
–Triple-A Bisons manager Gary Allenson was introduced for the first time Thursday, promising a competitive club for the fans in Buffalo, and a team that won’t fail in its development of players for the Blue Jays. “In the minor leagues, we like to win but you have to develop players, too,” he said. “That’s why you leave Sean Nolin in when he’s in a jam in the sixth inning, because you want to see him work out of it. There might be someone in the lineup that needs to be pinch hit for because he’s in a 1-for-22 slump but you don’t do it because he’s going to have to learn how to get out of it. … It’s different from every game. You have guys that are your prospects out there, that you know you’re going to leave out there. If it comes down to whether you’re going to develop a player or win at the minor-league level, if you have to choose between one or the other, you’re going to develop the prospect.”