Crunch time is nearing for Jays, Anthopoulos

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos shoots down recent rumours, saying it's "highly unlikely" that he’ll trade any of the team's positional players.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays, already finding the prices on free-agent pitchers too high, now feel potential help for the rotation on the trade market is too expensive, as well.

OK then, now what?

"There’s always an internal component, too," Alex Anthopoulos said Wednesday after another day full of talk but no action at the winter meetings.

The Blue Jays have some potential trades on the table, the general manager added, but "the acquisition cost just doesn’t work for us right now. I don’t know if I can quantify how far off, but we continue to have dialogue. If you want to look at that as encouraging, I don’t know. It’s not so out of the realm that we won’t continue to have talks."

How those negotiations end up bearing fruit is an intriguing question, with Anthopoulos quashing a sudden bout of speculation around Colby Rasmus by saying he didn’t expect to move any core position players off the roster in any type of deal.

That makes sense, as plugging one hole by creating another won’t necessarily make the Blue Jays any better.

Still, that leaves Anthopoulos trying to acquire a mid-to-front of the rotation starter (like Jeff Samardzija, or David Price if he can stomach the intra-division tax) using bullpen depth, an upper-level prospect like Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman or Drew Hutchison, and others lower down the system.

Good trick if he can pull it off in a seller’s market.

Meanwhile, there are murmurs that the free agent market is starting to move with some of the top bats off the board, meaning it may be time for the Blue Jays to get down to business with the likes of Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez.

Anthopoulos has been waiting for the prices to drop on free agents, and given the lack of inventory, that may not happen, even if Masahiro Tanaka becomes available through the posting process. Tanaka, by the way, probably ends up costing a good chunk more than any other hurler.

The Garza and Santana camps each feel their pitcher is the top arm available – the former can certainly seek a premium because there’s no compensatory pick attached, while the latter offers the kind of consistency every team needs – and are seeking to be paid accordingly. Jimenez probably slots under them considering his volatility and draft-pick compensation.

How much north of the $49 million over four years the Minnesota Twins gave Ricky Nolasco that dollar figure the trio ends up with is open for debate, but the Blue Jays continue to show little inclination to get involved.

Yet with the winter meetings wrapping up at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin on Thursday – seemingly without Blue Jays’ fans dreams of roster additions coming true – crunch time is nearing for Anthopoulos.

Trade, buy, or stand pat.

"You’re always working on parallel fronts, and there’s the bird in the hand component," Anthopoulos said of his decision-making process. "We have dialogue in both areas (free agency and trade). If one of those avenues makes sense, you may check back in one last time on the other component, but just say look, we’re going to move here, we have something. I can tell you before we signed Dioner Navarro, we were talking about some trades, but once the price got to a point that made sense for us, we were just going to take the bird in the hand at that point.

"If a deal makes sense, trade, free agency, you find the right value in it, you normally don’t let it wait."

Here’s the thing, the "right value" may not exist on either front this off-season, when teams are flush with new TV money and competing for limited talent in a thin market. If value is the primary consideration, then standing pat is probably the smartest course of action.

But every year teams, agents and observers marvel at the prices for free agents, and what seemed generous two off-seasons ago – like $58 million over four years for Mark Buehrle – now seems more than reasonable.

To that end, this winter’s stupid money may be viewed differently next year, when Clayton Kershaw, James Shields and Homer Bailey are positioned to get hella rich.

Nobody likes spending that kind of money, but the Blue Jays aren’t ready to be self-sufficient in filling out a rotation just yet. Even though they’re close, plugging in the consistency of someone like Santana or the ace-upside of Garza to stabilize the second-worst rotation in the majors is a sensible course of action.

And if their young arms emerge and force out one of the more expensive veterans, the Blue Jays still end up with an asset they can move, potentially with a contract more appealing than what the next crop of free agents will be receiving.

The price may be wrong, but the asset management may be right, at the same time providing just the boost the team needs.

COLBY NOT FOR SALE: With Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind both finding their way into the rumour-mill during the winter meetings, the GM made it clear he’s not looking to move any of his position players.

"We’ve been asked about probably everybody on the 25-man in some form at some point over the off-season," Anthopoulos said. "For us to move an everyday position player and feel like we get better, that’s hard to do. Would we rule it out? No. But it’s just so unlikely, we’re not close to doing anything.

"A lot of what’s happened is we’ve had teams come to us. The one thing we have on this team is power, and there’s not a lot of power out there on the market, or the free-agent prices don’t work for some of the clubs. We’ve been approached by clubs asking for some of our position players that have power. We haven’t lined up on anything. …

"With all players we’ll be open-minded if people want to approach us. But as we sit here today, I feel pretty confident that most if not all of our position-player core will be with the club to start the year. Maybe that shuts down whatever rumours might be out there."

NOTES: The Blue Jays confirmed the hiring of Tim Leiper as first base coach, rounding out manager John Gibbons’ staff. He’ll take over the club’s outfield work duties. "Tim’s done almost everything in the game, high energy coach, work ethic is off the charts, connects with players very well, he’s familiar with our staff and he’s going to be a great fit with us," said Anthopoulos. … The Blue Jays also completed the sale of Thad Weber to South Korean club NC Dinos, giving them an open roster spot ahead of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday.

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