Blue Jays seeking outside help for rotation

TORONTO – Alex Anthopoulos identified the starting rotation’s weakness as the primary culprit in a lost Toronto Blue Jays season and plans to look outside the organization to shore up the staff for 2014.

Speaking for over an hour with media during his annual campaign wrap-up, the GM talked at length about the club’s troubles in 2013 but offered little beyond the obvious about how he plans to make things better.

The point he kept coming back to is the starting staff’s 4.77 ERA, which ranked 14th out of 15 American League clubs before Sunday’s play, and how it submarined his big off-season buildup.

“Just go back over the years, rotations will carry you,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to get into the playoffs, but they’ll certainly keep you competitive and allow you to have a chance to get into the playoffs. The one certainty is if you’re toward the bottom rung in terms of starters ERA, you have no chance at all.”

Later, he added: “If you add a starter or two in the off-season I think the rotation can turn around fast.”

How the Blue Jays acquire that pitcher or two is going to be complicated, as they’re becoming more difficult to land via trade and the free agent market isn’t graced with a bevy of options.

Anthopoulos also depleted the farm system last year in the blockbusters with the Marlins and Mets that landed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and R.A. Dickey. He must be careful about draining it even further this winter, while at the same servicing the $110 million in payroll commitments he’s made to 13 players.

“Our farm system is still deep, obviously not as deep as it was, but at the same time when you have prospects you know going in, as highly ranked as they can be, they’re not all going to make it, they’re not all going to perform and how many big-league players, let alone stars, are going to be realized from that,” he said. “You’d be amazed sometimes at some of the fits you have, and that’s why you have big-league players as well that might fit in terms of trades and things like that. …

“From a payroll standpoint, everything that we did, we understood the commitments, it’s not like anyone under contract for ’14 or ’15 we didn’t know about it, we didn’t plan. We always do projections, arbitration, things like that, so we’re certainly prepared for it.

“I still think we have quite a bit of flexibility, overall.”

That last comment is intriguing, as with Colby Rasmus, Brett Cecil, J.P. Arencibia and Esmil Rogers bound for arbitration plus club options on Casey Janssen, Adam Lind and Mark DeRosa the Blue Jays will be exercising, the club payroll quickly ends up in the $130 million range.

If the team’s payroll is headed for $140 million, that would provide him some flexibility to make some interesting things happen. Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is expected to be posted by his Japan League team Rakuten, and the Blue Jays have scouted him.

“If it’s trade, if it’s free agency, it’s what makes the most sense from a value standpoint,” Anthopoulos said of how the team looks to improve. “In terms of the Asian market, we’ve definitely done our homework there, scouted, but again, it comes down to if you do have to post, financially is it going to make sense? I don’t think we’re tied into saying we have to go the trade route, we have to go the free agent route, we’re going to be open minded and if the right deal comes up, free agency, trade, we’ll look to do it.”

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