OAKLAND, Calif. — Even though Alex Anthopoulos chose to stand pat as the non-waiver trade deadline came and went Wednesday afternoon, change is still coming to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Seeking upgrades in the starting rotation and middle infield beyond this season, talks with “traction” on one potential deal fell apart last week, while another lost steam Tuesday morning, according to the general manager.
Beyond that there wasn’t much that came close fruition and while expressions of interest in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were floated by American outlets, the notion of either one being traded is detached from reality.
The Blue Jays aren’t interested in pulling the plug on their three-year competitive window — something moving an elite slugger under club control with good a contract would signal — they want to tweak their core through the type of trade best suited for the off-season.
If you’re waiting for big things to happen, that’s probably the time to tune in.
“The results in the standings speak for themselves,” Anthopoulos said during a conference call shortly after the deadline passed. “We still feel good about a lot of our players, but like anything from year-to-year you evaluate and some evaluations change, and the way the season plays out each year you have to adjust accordingly.
“There’s no question we’re going to have to make changes and improve the roster in various ways. But there weren’t those opportunities for us in terms of deals that made sense right now.”
Without doubt there’s some heavy lifting to be done as the Blue Jays have $110 million committed to 13 players for next season, and barring either a hike in their payroll which is $120 million this year, or the movement of some salary, Anthopoulos’s flexibility will be severely limited.
That’s why Anthopoulos said many of the larger concepts he kicked around with other clubs are more suited for the off-season, when fiscal plans all around aren’t as locked in as they are at the deadline.
At minimum, much of the legwork put in by the Blue Jays over the last few weeks may set the stage for off-season moves, the way last July’s talks with the Miami Marlins about Josh Johnson spring-boarded them into November’s blockbuster.
Mired in a season of exuberant expectation turned to crushing disappointment, that approach will be of cold-comfort to fans, but of the various players changing teams before the deadline, how many would actually fit the Blue Jays’ situation?
Jake Peavy, maybe, but that’s a big ticket they may not be able to accommodate financially given their current set-up. Bud Norris is solid, but to close the gap the Blue Jays really need to do better for a starting rotation with a $54-million price tag in 2014 and no fearsome fivesome in sight.
Other than them, a few free-agency bound players changed hands but that’s not a market that made any sense for the Blue Jays.
“We weren’t going to be involved in rentals unless it was a no-brainer, and anything we were going to do was going to help us not only in the current year, but going forward,” said Anthopoulos. “We still had a lot of productive dialogue that may lead to a deal in the off-season.”
With that in mind, selling at all costs was also never an option, which made the Bautista/Encarnacion speculation all the more illogical. Other things floated, such as the Detroit Tigers targeting Blue Jays relief, also didn’t hold much water.
Anthopoulos spent most of last July trying to build up inexpensive bullpen depth, so there needs to be a worthwhile reason for him to surrender it.
The things they tried to do “did not ever once get out there in the media, they were never in the rumour mill, I’d say there were a lot of things out there … about us shopping players or being asked about players or being engaged about players that were completely false,” said Anthopoulos. “That happens each year. The things we worked the longest and the hardest on were not out there.”
Also not out there were any appealing deals for the Blue Jays’ three expiring contracts — Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis and Darren Oliver.
Oliver was widely seen as a candidate to be moved so he could take one last shot at the post-season in the final year of his 20-year career, but Anthopoulos noted that “in general terms the left-handed relief market overall … I just don’t know there was the demand out there.”
An August waiver deal for the lefty is a possibility, although Anthopoulos isn’t sure how easy making that happen will be. Some have speculated that August could end up very active as more teams fall out of contention and try to make deals.
“There’s more money in the game so I don’t know if as many contracts will slide through waivers in August, obviously a lot more players getting blocked, and I think that may limit the activity overall,” said Anthopoulos. “It’s hard to predict, I would expect it to be slow, I don’t know that I expect it to be a very active August one way or another, because I don’t know if that many players are going to clear.”
From a Blue Jays perspective that may not really matter. The building up of their roster took place in the off-season, and that’s most likely when the attempts to fix it will take place, too.