Davidi: Upgrades to Jays’ roster won’t come easy

August 4, 2013, 7:34 PM

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t anticipate money being the problem for the Toronto Blue Jays this winter, even with $110 million already committed to 13 players for 2014 and at least another $25 million looming on the books.

Rather, the general manager anticipates the primary challenge he faces is in foraging through both his roster and what players the market presents to find the improvements his club needs in the starting rotation, at second base and defensively all around.

That won’t be simple, and some degree turnover is to be expected.

“Ownership was aware, and ownership understood where the commitments would be going forward and they green-lighted everything (last winter),” Anthopoulos said Sunday during a 25-minute conversation with media before the Blue Jays rallied for a 6-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels that averted a four-game sweep. “So, from a financial standpoint, the resources will be available for us.

“It won’t mean we won’t change some things and reallocate money as you do any time, it’s not like those contracts are sneaking up on us. … We were well aware of where we were going to be. We did arbitration projections. There will always be decisions to be made, but we’re prepared for that.”

Anthopoulos has yet to receive a payroll figure for 2014, but pointed out that “we won’t be going backwards,” from the current $120 million, and a reasonable guess for next year is something in the $140 million range. But with the new Fox and TBS TV contracts kicking in next year and pumping in about $800 million annually into the industry, that estimate could be light.

While that sounds good, big ticket hits looming outside the $110 million committed to the 13 players include Colby Rasmus’ final year of arbitration, likely to push him into the $9 million range, and a $4 million option for Casey Janssen which has to be an automatic. Adam Lind’s $7 million option has appeal because it would really only cost $5 million since his $2 million buyout is accounted for in 2013, while Emilio Bonifacio, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil and Esmil Rogers all have arbitration raises coming.

That should eat up the vast majority of any payroll bump, so finding the needed upgrades means there will need to be a shifting of deck chairs in some way, shape or form.

Priority No. 1 will be in the rotation, and when asked who he could comfortably put in the ’14 rotation without question marks, Anthopoulos tap-danced for a bit before naming R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, then adding J.A. Happ (who returns Wednesday) and Brandon Morrow with caveats on health.

Esmil Rogers will continue to be assessed, and “we’ll be looking outside the organization to see if we can do some things.”

Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, both expected to get September call ups, may very well factor into the mix and as 0-3 service-time players, provide cost-effective options. Prospects Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman “could” get looks once rosters expand next month, too.

Looming in the background is Ricky Romero, who needs to put together a strong and consistent August in order to get a September call-up that could springboard him back into the rotation plans.

And then there’s Josh Johnson, one of last November’s centre-piece acquisitions now pitching “start-to-start,” according to Anthopoulos. The 6-7 right-hander bound for free agency could still get a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays with a strong finish over the remaining two months, or he could be bounced from the rotation with a dud in Seattle on Tuesday.

“We have to look at alternatives at some point if this continues,” said Anthopoulos.

Sorting through that complicated mess is only the beginning for the Blue Jays.

An upgrade at second base must be found, and Anthopoulos expects that to be easier to find than a third baseman, so Brett Lawrie appears destined to remain on the hot corner. Better defence up the middle could help stabilize the overall play in the field and help the starting pitching, but a focus on fundamentals – so glaringly lacking over the last four months – should be coming, too.

“It’s something we’ve talked about internally,” said Anthopoulos. “It’s not for the lack of any effort at all – whether it’s the coaches, the manager or so on. At some point, in terms of making the plays, it falls on the players as well. I don’t think these guys are trying to make mistakes. I think ultimately then it falls on me to get certain players that are going to start to make those plays.”

Between poor fundamentals, physical mistakes, mental errors and individual ability, the way the Blue Jays’ defence has played this year will certainly factor into any future moves.

The difference in too many games this season has come in an at-bat, a pitch, a play not made. They’ve failed on the fringes, in the details, and that’s a way to turn around the 11-19 record in one-run games and 10-10 mark in two-run contests around.

“In light of the year that we’re having, I think we’re going to evaluate (defence) even more than we have,” said Anthopoulos. “I don’t think we’ve ever undervalued it. It’s always been important. There are some guys that haven’t played as well defensively as we thought they would. so that’s probably been the most surprising part. … I can say that going forward we’re going to have even more value on it.”

Identifying problems is, of course, the easy part, and fixing them is a whole lot tougher. Anthopoulos is well aware of that, and well aware of how much work he has in front of him.

Note: Roberto Osuna, one of the top Blue Jays pitching prospects, underwent Tommy John surgery last week and is done for the season. He’ll likely be ready to pitch again late next season, and if things go well, he could see some action in the Arizona Fall League.

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