Blue Jays notebook: Pitching search drags on

Ervin Santana delivers a pitch. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Alex Anthopoulos isn’t concerned that the Toronto Blue Jays didn’t add a starting pitcher at the Winter Meetings, and he won’t mind if his search for arms lasts into January. In fact, he expects steady activity to continue across MLB well into next month.

“I think it’s going to be busy the whole way through,” Anthopoulos said. “I really do. It seems like there’s going to be enough activity with all of the teams. I think with the expanded playoffs, everyone has a chance. I think there will still be strong activity in January.”

Not only are Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz and Omar Infante available in free agency, the top-tier starting pitching market has yet to get moving. Free agent starters Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez remain available, which means the pitching market has a long way to go. The uncertainty surrounding Masahiro Tanaka’s future continues to hold up the market for other starters and threatens to do so for weeks to come.

The off-season started slowly, gained momentum with a frenzied first week of December and slowed down during the Winter Meetings, typically the busiest week of the year. Now there’s just one week remaining before the expected holiday slowdown, so it appears that Anthopoulos will be right and that the off-season activity will continue into January.

RASMUS’ VALUE: The Blue Jays would consider trading anyone on their roster, but some players are more likely to be moved than others. Colby Rasmus is one year away from free agency and the Blue Jays don’t seem inclined to extend his contract immediately, so he has come up in trade talks for starting pitchers, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reported this week.

Rasmus’ presence on the trade market begs the question: how much value does he have? According to two rival team officials at the Swan and Dolphin hotel, his trade value is good rather than great.

Rasmus has value as a player who can cover ground in centre field while adding making a difference offence. The 27-year-old hit 22 home runs with a .276/.338/.501 batting line in 118 games in 2013, proving that he’s capable of hitting well above league average, especially considering his position. Many teams could use a player of Rasmus’ caliber, which makes him appealing as a trade chip, even if he isn’t a superstar.

However, Rasmus is too close to free agency to have overwhelming trade value. Executives assess players on their price tag and their proximity to free agency as well as their skillset. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is viewed as the most valuable asset in the game because he’s talented, affordable and controllable. In Rasmus’ case, the skills are there, but his salary is expected to climb to the $6.5-7 million range in 2014 and he’s one year from the open market. Those realities conspire to cap his trade value.

Could Rasmus get the Blue Jays a useful piece? Yes. Could they use him to address their rotation? Probably. But there are limits to what the Blue Jays could do.

PITCHING NOTES: Various team officials say there’s no reason not to bid for Masahiro Tanaka now that his posting fee will be just $20 million. That’s not to say that 30 teams will bid, but the field will likely include a wide array of clubs… There’s reason to expect the Tampa Bay Rays to look to get more in a trade for David Price than they did when they dealt James Shields last off-season… Multiple executives lamented the lack of available pitchers… Free agent Tony Sipp is an interesting option for teams seeking lefty relief.

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