LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Alex Anthopoulos has some wiggle room. Though the Toronto Blue Jays general manager would prefer not to sign players to contracts of more than five years, he has the flexibility to do so.
“We’ve said ‘six, will you bend a little,’ I think we haven’t ruled it out,” Anthopoulos said Tuesday. “Our preference is certainly five. We’ve never had to deviate from that.”
That flexibility could provide Anthopoulos with an edge should he decide to bid aggressively for top free agents or pursue Masahiro Tanaka, the 25-year-old Japanese ace who’s expected to be made available to MLB teams.
Tanaka, who’s viewed by executives as a potential frontline starter, will generate tremendous interest given his relatively modest $20 million posting fee. The Blue Jays have interest in the right-hander, since he would address their most pressing need. However, the contract Tanaka signs may well surpass $100 million in value. There’s no guarantee he’ll be available on a five-year deal.
Speaking in general terms, Anthopoulos made it clear that he doesn’t want to exclude the Blue Jays from the bidding for players simply because of a team policy that limits contracts to five years.
“There’s no question that if you limit yourself, there’s just some guys that aren’t going to be available to you,” Anthopoulos said. “You can’t deny that. But I think if you look at all of the examples, in the long run you’re probably going to be better off.”
Anthopoulos mentioned vesting options as a way for the Blue Jays to limit risk, but flexibility only goes so far. While team president Paul Beeston is comfortable paying more per year on shorter term contracts, deals of seven years or more appear to be a non-starter for the Blue Jays.
“You start getting beyond six, I don’t see that occurring,” Anthopoulos said.
The GM explained that a lot can affect a player’s value in a short time. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers were hailed as off-season winners for adding Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, respectively. Now, Pujols is in decline and Fielder is in Texas. It’s this kind of decline that makes the Blue Jays wary of the eight and nine-year contracts that generate Winter Meetings buzz.
“There are some players out there in trade that signed long-term contracts and a year or two later they’re already getting moved,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s pretty telling.”
Anthopoulos also pointed out that free agent asking prices can shift — and sometimes drop — in the course of the off-season. Of course, the Blue Jays don’t have to rely on free agency at all. As for trade candidates, the Blue Jays would prioritize players who could be controlled for multiple seasons. Anthopoulos noted that Toronto could ask a trade partner for a window to discuss a long-term contract with a trade target, as they did with R.A. Dickey last winter.
Two potential trade targets went off of the board Tuesday, when left-handers Hector Santiago and Brett Anderson were dealt to the Angels and Oakland Athletics, respectively. Question marks surround Santiago, whose peripheral stats are only so-so, and Anderson, whose injury history creates concern. That said, the Blue Jays’ list of potential targets shrunk Tuesday.
Anthopoulos acknowledged that the Blue Jays had at least one conversation about offering a player a six-year term last winter. He also noted that one former Blue Jays target indicated that he’d sign in Toronto for five years and a higher average annual value before landing a longer-term deal elsewhere. At the time, losing out on a star player always hurts. But Anthopoulos says the Blue Jays must balance short and long-term needs instead of going all-in on players recklessly.
“In the long run for the health of the organization we think it’s the best way to go.”