Gibbons confirms Blue Jays interest in Tanaka

as the rich keep getting richer in the American League East, and the Blue Jays continue to handcuff their bids for top-flight free agents with a policy limiting contracts to five years. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have engaged the representatives of Masahiro Tanaka, according to manager John Gibbons, but how aggressively the club intends to pursue the Japanese pitching sensation remains unclear.

Gibbons made the comments Friday morning during a media session ahead of the team’s annual winter tour, and while they aren’t surprising – GM Alex Anthopoulos inquires about all top talent – they offer the first concrete confirmation of contact between the sides.

“I know they’re feeling around to see what’s going on with him,” Gibbons said. “But I think most of the teams out there at least put out some feelers for him. (Tanaka) is going to make a lot of money, I know that.”

Tanaka, 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 212 innings last season, was put up for posting by the Rakuten Golden Eagles late last month. Any team willing to pay the $20 million posting fee can negotiate with the 25-year-old right-hander, and industry speculation suggests he may fetch a deal worth in the neighbourhood of $100 million.

Some believe the pitching market has been slowed by the lengthy process involving Tanaka, affecting the likes of free agents Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, whom the Blue Jays have some interest in, as well.

“I think once something happens with Tanaka some things could break,” Gibbons said. “Whether anything happens with us, nobody knows.”

The Blue Jays have also actively explored the trade market, but to this point have been reluctant to meet the asking price of multiple elite prospects for starters such as Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Help for the rotation will be hard to come by, Gibbons acknowledged.

“Everybody is looking for pitching, there are very few teams out there that are satisfied where they’re at, and there are only so many guys who are available, whether it’s through the trade route or even the free-agent guys,” he said. “It’s been slow developing and all that, but when teams know you’re looking for certain things, they got you where they want you and they can hold you hostage for a while. Hopefully some of that changes.”

Some other Blue Jays news and notes:

– Set-up man Steve Delabar says the soreness in his right shoulder that sent him to the disabled list in August and left him grinding to end the season, “feels good. I’ve been going through normal workouts preparing for the season.” Delabar was 5-5 with a 3.22 ERA over 55 games in an all-star campaign.

– Centre-fielder Anthony Gose played seven games of winter ball for the Tiburones de La Guaira in Venezuela, batting .167 with four walks, five runs scored and a pair of stolen bases. “I didn’t do much of anything in those 25 at-bats, but it was good experience, good to see live pitching and swing the bat a little bit,” he said. As for his goals in 2014, Gose said: “I’d like to accomplish playing in the big leagues and being here in Toronto, but whatever happens, happens.”

– Gose’s fate may be tied to what the Blue Jays do with Moises Sierra, who played some first base in the Dominican Republic this winter and for the moment is the only real internal option to platoon with Adam Lind at DH. Anthopoulos may still bring in someone who hits lefties.

– Gibbons says Brandon Morrow continues to be pain-free as he recovers from a nerve issue in his right arm that derailed his 2013 season. “Everything is good, and he’s a key guy this year in that rotation,” said Gibbons. “We need something big out of him. I’m not throwing everything on his back, but if he can bridge the gap there in that rotation, he can do wonders for us.”

– Melky Cabrera, who had a tumour removed from his back late in the season, is “doing great,” according to Gibbons. “He looks like the old guy, but only time will tell on that.”

– Ryan Goins, due to share second base with Maicer Izturis as things currently stand, recently spent some time with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in Kansas City. “(Seitzer) said they made some minor adjustments,” relayed Gibbons. “One thing about Kevin is that he’s very good at picking up little things in helping guys make adjustments. He’s not out to overhaul everybody, he understands when guys get to this level your swing basically it is what it is. But there’s some fine tuning that you can do, especially for the guys who are trying to make it.” Though the brilliant defender has a rep as a glove-only infielder, “we saw some flashes in September of Goins with the bat that makes you think, ‘Hey, there’s more to him than what he’s been doing in the minor-leagues,’” added Gibbons.

– Another strength Seitzer has, the manager points out, is that “he’s very good at putting together a game-plan and a hitting approach for a particular night against a certain pitcher.”

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