INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – What was supposed to be three days of otherwise-unproductive groundwork at the General Managers’ meetings turned out to be a busy time for the Blue Jays.
In less than 48 hours at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa, Alex Anthopoulos made a major-league signing, a minor-league signing and a trade.
None of the moves were overwhelming, by any means. The big splash that so many fans want – you know, the one that was never going to happen here – didn’t happen here, but the Jays were efficient in signing Maicer Izturis, dealing for Jeremy Jeffress and signing Justin Germano to a minor-league deal.
It was kind of like coming home for a quick little three-game series – two night games followed by a day game and out in less than 48 hours – taking two quiet wins and getting back out on the road. Nothing that’s going to make anyone shout from the rooftops, or to quote J.P. Ricciardi, do any back flips, but it was certainly far from an unsuccessful sortie.
The signing of Izturis is especially key, for many of the reasons outlined on Thursday, but also because of the flexibility it gives the Blue Jays in dangling a shortstop in trade talks over the next couple of months. The Blue Jays seem bound and determined to start Adeiny Hechavarria in Buffalo next season, to the extent that they wouldn’t have felt comfortable trading Yunel Escobar if they hadn’t signed Izturis (once Mike Aviles was shipped to Cleveland).
Now the Jays feel much more free to perhaps not only take calls from Escobar suitors, but to also maybe even go out and pursue a trade for their supremely talented shortstop — albeit one who seems to spend a ton of time rubbing a lot of people the wrong way — since they have a guy who can spend a couple of months playing shortstop in the big leagues while Hechavarria puts the finishing touches on his development in the Land of Loganberry and Beef on Weck.
In his final-day briefing with a smaller-than-usual assemblage — thoroughly dominated by your favourite Sportsnet personalities — Anthopoulos said not only can the Blue Jays take on salary, but they’ve "been able to open it up a little bit more to talk about players (who) may not have been a fit in the past", adding that the Jays can accommodate a free agent who is looking for a contract with an average annual value in the neighbourhood of $15 million.
Anthopoulos added that as of right now, he’s not interested in signing anyone to a contract longer than five years, but that he’d also never rule it out.
Those two things, of course, put the Blue Jays squarely into the battle for the second tier of free agent starting pitchers, which includes everybody not named Zack Greinke.
Anthopoulos said that while the Blue Jays have looked at options to improve left field, that’s not near the top of his list right now as he prefers to take a wait and see approach, perhaps being happy to look at who is left standing when the music stops before going to find some value.
Asked whether he’s happy with Colby Rasmus in centre field, the answer was a firm yes.
"The upside is so big with Colby," he said. "He did a lot of great things, made a lot of great defensive plays. He’s just streaky, which is part of being a young player.
"Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. That goes without saying."
Anthopoulos reiterated that he believes the Blue Jays, when healthy, are a good offensive club, and while there’s definitely room for improvement with the bats, the focus now has to be on the starting rotation.
When asked if he would be open to trading a young player who is currently in the major leagues in order to add starting pitching, he answered "Absolutely."
As far as the manager search goes, while the Blue Jays didn’t really move forward on it here in California, Anthopoulos said that when he gets back to Toronto, the search will move into the "second round, final round, home stretch – however you want to characterize it."
Although he still hasn’t spoken to every candidate he plans to, he said that it’s now about following up and getting a little more in-depth.
Those two things seem to be contradictory, but what Anthopoulos might have meant is that the second round will include people who were impressive candidates for the job that eventually went to John Farrell two years ago, candidates he didn’t speak to in his first round of discussions this time around.
Finally, he spoke about the minor-league signing of starter Justin Germano, who will come to big-league camp and try to impress whomever winds up managing the Blue Jays.
Germano is a 30-year-old righty who has played parts of seven years in the majors with very little success beyond his 2010 campaign with the Indians in which he posted a WHIP of 0.99 in 35 1/3 innings, mostly out of the bullpen.
Germano had an outstanding 2012 with the Red Sox’ International League affiliate in Pawtucket, posting a 2.40 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00 and the Blue Jays plan to have him stay in the IL, pitching for Buffalo, ready to come up and help should the need arise.
As we saw this past season, you can never have enough depth in terms of major-league ready starting pitching.