Jays focused on bringing in ‘best player available’

Tim and Sid discuss ongoing offseason rumours in the MLB and wonder whether the Blue Jays' overtures to various free agents is just smoke.

PHOENIX – The rumours are endless in the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore, where executives and player agents arrived Monday for baseball’s annual GM meetings, and as usual the challenge is in separating fact from fiction.

As one official put it as he navigated the expansive grounds on a picturesque 29 C desert day, "There’s a lot of stuff flying around."

No doubt on that, stuff obviously serving as a synonym for a far less polite S-word, and there’s plenty of that floating around the Toronto Blue Jays, who are being connected most notably to free agents Pablo Sandoval, Victor Martinez, Russ Martin, among others.

What are they actually up to? GM Alex Anthopoulos, as always deeply dedicated to keeping his plans private, offered little of substance to digest, although one tidbit he offered is worth keeping in mind.

"After trading (Adam) Lind, there are a lot of things we can do at DH," he said. "We can go get a first baseman and DH (Edwin) Encarnacion, we can play Encarnacion at first base and get a pure DH, we can get another position that might be redundant with another spot and rotate the DH through. … We’re going to try to take the best player available, and we’re not locked into one thing, like we need a defender at first base, we need a pure DH. It depends on what becomes available to us."

Nothing there rules out any of Sandoval, Martinez or Martin, so let’s take a closer look at each.

First up is Sandoval, whose agent Gustavo Vasquez will meet with Anthopoulos on Tuesday, when the meetings really get going. The Panda makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jays, providing them with a switch-hitting slugger to split the right-handed power duo of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion while stabilizing the infield with a third baseman that shifts Brett Lawrie to second.

It sounds perfect, but don’t go getting a No. 48 jersey made up just yet. The price is expected to be steep – he’s thought to be seeking nine figures – he’s lacking any obvious connections to Toronto, and there’s a feeling that he’s eventually going to end up back with the San Francisco Giants.

In other words, it’s probably worth lowering your expectations on that front.

Next is Martinez, whose reps are believed to have spoken with the Blue Jays recently. The switch-hitting first baseman/DH, coming off an MVP-calibre season, would fit similarly well into the batting order and provide an impressive complement to Encarnacion.

Still, the Detroit Tigers rarely lose free agents they want to keep and signs suggest Martinez wants to remain with the AL Central champions. It’s possible he could be bought out of Detroit, but the Blue Jays may not be the team to do it.

Finally, there’s Martin, who’s intriguing on many levels.

The Canadian catcher will likely be priced away from the Pittsburgh Pirates, so he’s a truer free agent than Sandoval and Martinez, although all three will cost rival teams a compensatory draft pick. And while the Blue Jays already have Dioner Navarro behind the plate, Martin could certainly carry the load with Navarro getting more DH time and Martin the occasional games at third base. And though he did turn the Blue Jays down before the 2010 season – he signed with the New York Yankees because they offered more playing time behind the plate – the situation is different now.

Still, despite being 31, Martin may still require a pricey four-year commitment that may test the Blue Jays’ boundaries. But of everything that’s floating around, this may be the one possibility with the most substance to it, as Martin provides an upgrade defensively behind the plate, a solid bat for the lineup and a positive presence in the clubhouse.


Other news and notes from a day spent stalking the lobby:

The dearth of position players and glut of relievers on the free-agent market isn’t impacting which of the Blue Jays’ needs Anthopoulos attacks first. He’s ready for whoever wants to deal. "We have had to plan for the domino effect – if you sign one does it close some other doors – and we’ve strategized, I guess, to come up with game-plans that if we could sign players early, who would those be," he explained. "And there may be a group of players that we wouldn’t be willing to do those deals because we’d eliminate other possibilities. That’s what you’re always weighing, if you wait too long, you may lose too many opportunities."

As expected, Melky Cabrera rejected the Blue Jays’ $15.3 million qualifying offer, meaning they’ll get a compensatory draft pick should he sign with another club. His market remains a difficult one to gauge, although a return to Kansas City in the event Nori Aoki signs elsewhere is one scenario bouncing off the walls. Aoki is said to be seeking a three-year deal.

Outfielder Michael Cuddyer signed a $21-million, two-year deal with the New York Mets on Monday, and there’s debate over whether and how that deal will impact Cabrera. One challenge is in finding a comparable for him.

Given that Colby Rasmus is the only decent centre-fielder on the open market, and that there’s a less than zero chance he returns to the Blue Jays, Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar may very well be the starters there next year. A trade could change that, but as things stand, they’re it for 2015.

Joining Anthopoulos in Phoenix are assistant GMs Tony LaCava and Andrew Tinnish, plus head of pro scouting Perry Minasian. Last year only Anthopoulos and LaCava attended the meetings.

Beloved infielder Munenori Kawasaki is believed to be leaning toward a return to Japan, although a major-league deal, rather than a minor-league contract, might sway him to stay.

The New York Yankees remain interested in re-signing closer David Robertson, who also rejected a qualifying offer, but they do have a potential in-house replacement in Dellin Betances. Asked if he felt comfortable with the rookie taking over, GM Brian Cashman replied, "Until someone is actually doing it, out of respect for how difficult a job it is, I only have confidence when I see a guy do it."

The Yankees, who last week re-signed Chris Young, are set in the outfield, said Cashman, and still want to find a shortstop and "reinforce" the starting rotation. Third baseman Chase Headley "is on our radar," he added.