Blue Jays expected to be active on trade front

With a slowly developing market, expect Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays to be active and exhaust their trade opportunities before taking a serious run at any free agent.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Largely ignored amid the sensational but baseless sizzle that dominated conversation around the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday is some of the real substance behind Alex Anthopoulos’s meticulous work at the GM meetings.

As fans worked themselves up over the “totally false, fabricated, ridiculous” Jose Bautista-for-Domonic-Brown-plus nonsense, as the GM put it, he was quietly speaking one-on-one with his counterparts, gauging what may be available and preparing for his next move as the gathering wrapped up.

Unlike last year, when the Blue Jays left the GM meetings in Palm Springs, Calif., with the rough framework of the Miami Marlins blockbuster in place and seeds planted for the subsequent R.A. Dickey deal, the transactions everyone is so eagerly awaiting now may be a while in coming.

As Anthopoulos explains it, “at least from a trade standpoint, I think it’s going to be slower to develop and that may impact the free agent market as well. If I’m just going off the two or three days here, I think you’ll see much more activity at the winter meetings.”

Those won’t take place until Dec. 9-12 back in Orlando, and the reading of Blue Jays’ intentions at the moment is that they plan to exhaust their potential opportunities on the trade market first before taking serious runs at any free agents.

When Anthopoulos targets a player, his pursuit is quick and thorough, so when he said, “I have not made one offer to one free agent at any point in time,” it became clear that he’s playing the long game in the open market this winter.

“That’s not to say we’re not going to engage,” said Anthopoulos. “It’s just not the time to get to that point.”

On the trade front, the Blue Jays are expected to make a push for Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija and they have inquired about available catcher Ryan Hanigan, whom the Cincinnati Reds are said to be moving slowly on. Like many teams, the Blue Jays are also believed to have kicked around a run at backstop Jason Castro of the Houston Astros, but their GM Jeff Luhnow told that, “I really don’t have a lot of interest in exploring” a trade for the all-star.

Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and Detroit Tigers teammate Rick Porcello are reportedly being shopped, and the belief is there are some other starters flying under the radar that could be had.

What the acquisition cost might be is a tricky question, and the hefty contracts being sought by free agents like Ervin Santana (now apparently up to $112 million over five years) will only drive trade prices up, too.

That’s one reason why Bautista’s name will come up in trade rumours, but remember this: if the Blue Jays don’t get a grand slam package that includes an elite pitcher, the four-time all-star won’t be going anywhere. Disregard any talk that sells off an elite slugger on a good contract for a pittance, or as the case was Tuesday night, a no-walk, can’t-defend player like Brown.

Speaking in general terms, Anthopoulos said: “I don’t think you’re going to see us trading established players for prospects, or I don’t see scenarios where you’re trading third base for third base or outfield for outfield, starter for starter. Teams don’t necessarily line up that way and get better that way.”

Other chips at the Blue Jays’ disposal include J.P. Arencibia, who was drawing interest even before the GM meetings began, and their surplus of cost-effective, power-armed relievers, who will only rise in value if the free-agent relief market is as lucrative as expected.

Anthopoulos has roughly $11-$16 million at his disposal (based on a payroll of $145-$150 million and including salary projections for players outside the $119.4 million committed to 15 players), and moving some money to take on other money might make the trade market more appealing.

And in going down that road, the Blue Jays can also wait out free agents who may sit around because of the compensatory draft picks attached to them through qualifying offers – Ubaldo Jimenez, perhaps? – and try to negotiate more reasonable contracts.

Still, there is some risk in such an approach.

The flood of new TV contract into the industry has essentially eliminated money-motivated trades such as the one made by the Marlins last winter, and pushed more teams into shopping mode.

As super-agent Scott Boras – who represents free agents Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, among others – put it: “(The interest) is far more than normal for elite players these days because the revenue structure in the game invites a lot more applicants.”

Anthopoulos leaves Orlando on Thursday for a scouting trip to the Dominican Republic with a fistful of applications. All that’s left is to figure out which ones to fill out, and to see them through to fruition.

Some other rumblings and grumblings from the GM meetings:

BORAS’S TAKE: Scott Boras sees a potentially bright future for the Toronto Blue Jays.

“What makes that turn there is something that is yet to happen, and maybe it will,” the super-agent said.

The Blue Jays haven’t had a Boras Corp. client on the big-league roster since Brad Wilkerson in 2008 and haven’t drafted a player the agency has advised since James Paxton in 2009. The Canadian left-hander didn’t sign and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners the next year.

When the lack of his clientele on the Blue Jays was pointed out to Boras, he quipped: “Maybe that’s the turn we’re talking about.”

Asked if he believes the Blue Jays may have intentionally turned away from his clients as a result of the failed Paxton negotiation, he said: “I’ve had constant communication with both Paul (Beeston) and AA (Alex Anthopoulos) throughout. It’s not anything to do with not talking, maybe just not the right fits.”

Boras represents two of the off-season’s prime free agents in outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, neither of whom is on the Blue Jays’ radar.

“The Blue Jays are Canada’s team, they’re well-armed with a very successful company behind them, certainly Paul Beeston knows how to put together a winner,” he said. “There’s a process there that’s very ready for success.”

SAME AT SECOND?: Asked if he made any headway in acquiring a second baseman to augment incumbent candidates Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis, Anthopoulos replied: “Right now I would say no. It would be combination of Goins and Izturis, and Goins has options left. There are some guys out there that we could pursue, but it’s not necessarily a priority. … If we could have an everyday second baseman or improve the position, we’d certainly look to do it but as we sit here today I don’t think we’re any closer to doing anything.” Interesting free agent options include Omar Infante, Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker.

DIFFERENT TIMES: The contrast between last year’s GM meetings and this year’s was stark. This year, Monday was devoted to meetings for assistant GMs, with most of them leaving Tuesday as their bosses took over on their own, so more 1-on-1 work could happen. In Palm Springs last November, Anthopoulos brought assistants Tony LaCava, Andrew Tinnish, Jay Sartori and pro scouting director Perry Minasian. Only LaCava was around this time. Do the Blue Jays have anything cooking the way they did a year ago with the Marlins? “Clearly not,” said Anthopoulos. “The Marlins were willing to move and do a deal fast. That was a unique scenario.”

MOTOLLA LANDS: Former Blue Jays hitting coach Chad Mottola, whose contract wasn’t renewed after the season, has joined the Tampa Bay Rays as their new minor-league hitting co-ordinator. Anthopoulos would have retained him in some role if he didn’t find other work, but “I was pretty confident he was going to have other opportunities.”

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