Blue Jays exploring all options for bullpen help

Barry Davis, Mike Wilner, Ben Nicholson-Smith, and Shi Davidi discuss the final real chip the Blue Jays could deal at the winter meetings- catcher Dioner Navarro.

SAN DIEGO – Questions about Paul Beeston’s future as Toronto Blue Jays president remained in the air at the winter meetings Tuesday while general manager Alex Anthopoulos continued to seek out ways to bolster his thinned out bullpen.

A tweet from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the team was expected to announce that the franchise icon would remain in his role through the 2015 season, but no announcement came and a spokesperson for Rogers Communications Inc., said there was no comment “at this time.”

Beeston’s status was thought to be settled in early November, when Sportsnet reported he would stay on beyond the Oct. 31 expiry of his contract for the foreseeable future. But word that Orioles GM Dan Duquette and White Sox executive vice-president Ken Williams were approached about replacing him reopened the matter.

The chain of events remains a widely discussed topic in the Manchester Grand Hyatt’s lobby – Toronto reporters are immediately greeted by agents and executives with questions about the popular Beeston – and the attention is drawing from what’s to this point been a solid off-season for the Blue Jays.

Anthopoulos, having already accomplished much of his heavy lifting with the acquisitions of Russ Martin, Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders, arrived at the winter meetings largely looking to rebuild a bullpen that was a weak spot in 2014.

That’s why as the Chicago White Sox have loaded up with David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija, the Chicago Cubs acquired catcher Miguel Montero from Arizona for prospects, the Cleveland Indians added Brandon Moss from the dismantling Athletics, and the Jon Lester sweepstakes crept toward the end game, the Blue Jays have poked around without finding anything to aggressively pursue just yet.

“I don’t think we’re any closer to doing anything than we were before we left,” Anthopoulos said during his daily session with reporters.

The Blue Jays are looking at all options to upgrade the bullpen, from higher-tier free agents like Luke Gregerson to trade candidates, some entering their walk years. Anthopoulos said they have “less than 10 (players) in terms of guys we’re going to work on or talk to. … We’re not casting that wide a net.”

Fireballer Aroldis Chapman, whom the Blue Jays pursued before he signed with the Cincinnati Reds, is one intriguing name that’s emerged as a trade candidate, although it’s unclear if Anthopoulos has the pieces to make such a trade.

Having already moved young pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin in the trade for Donaldson and dealing veteran J.A. Happ for Saunders, the Blue Jays are out of surplus pitching. And since they plan on keeping coveted on-the-cusp arms like Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro – who are needed both as insurance next year, and as potential roster fixtures for the years to come – striking a deal is unlikely.

“You never rule it out, but our preference is to try and keep that depth,” said Anthopoulos. “Even though we’re dealing with the short term, we’re trying to keep an eye on the long-term as well. Knowing how hard it is to sign free-agent starters, from a health standpoint, concerns, some guys just don’t want to pitch in the AL East, developing your own is pretty important. But at the same time, they’re currency. They allow you to make some trades as well, but our preference is to try and keep some of those zero-to-three (years of service time) type starters.”

For that reason, Dioner Navarro may be their best chip to get a reliever via trade, and the Blue Jays are locked in on getting a real asset for the catcher. While dumping his $5-million salary would open up more options on the free agent market, Anthopoulos has no intention of simply giving him away since he can fit on the roster.

“Dioner is a good player, there’s demand for him, we just haven’t come up with a deal,” he said. “If we needed to do something tomorrow, we could do something tomorrow, but he’s a good player. … The financial component when you’re worth more than your contract is irrelevant.”

The Cubs took on all of the $40 million remaining on Montero’s contract, making Navarro a much more financially friendly alternative.

“Especially when you look at free agency right now with what the alternatives are, we think Dioner is absolutely worth his contract, no doubt about it,” said Anthopoulos. “And that’s the indication we’ve gotten from clubs, as well.”

Knowing that allows the Blue Jays to pursue relief help without needing to move Navarro first for fear of being stuck with him, the way they did with Adam Lind at the beginning of the off-season.

Internally they continue to debate whether it makes sense for them to try and acquire one higher end arm – Gregerson would fall into that category – or spread the wealth around on bounce-back candidates with closing experience such as John Axford or Chris Perez.

Worth keeping in mind is that the Blue Jays under Anthopoulos have never paid a reliever more than $4.5 million for a single season, and given out only one contract with two years guaranteed – the Casey Janssen deal that included a club option and just expired.

“We would definitely do one for multiple years, but I would say at the same time, with relievers you’d always prefer to go shorter,” said Anthopoulos. “You’ve seen some guys getting three-year deals, four-year deals. For the right player, you’d be willing to do it.”

As for the reclamation project route, Anthopoulos said, the Blue Jays have “talked about that, there’s strength in volume. … I don’t know that we’re going to go down that path. But it’s an option for us.”

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