How will Jays address rotation in free agency?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Let’s ignore some of the speculation making the rounds at the GM meetings about the Toronto Blue Jays perhaps being a mystery team in pursuit of Robinson Cano.

If there is such a club, it’s not them, unless the all-star second baseman suddenly becomes interested in a five-year contract, which isn’t going to happen.

Really, a more pertinent topic of discussion within the vast expanses of the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes for Blue Jays fans to ponder is whether Alex Anthopoulos needs to add one or two starters to field a legitimate contender in 2014.

The consensus in the hallways is that the Blue Jays need to add two starters to adequately support a rotation fronted by R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and a recovering from injury Brandon Morrow.

Anthopoulos’s take?

“It depends,” he said. “You look at our team in 2010, we had bonafide starters the entire time with Brandon, (Shaun) Marcum, (Brett) Cecil and (Ricky) Romero. So (next year), J.A. Happ in the rotation could win 10-12 games for us, Morrow is healthy, obviously R.A. and Buehrle, then does Esmil Rogers take the job? Does Drew Hutchison come back and have a great season? Do guys like (Marcus) Stroman and (Sean) Nolin come up and do what guys like Cecil did before? Do we bring someone in?

“It’s weighing the acquisition cost and the upside. We do have more options than we did a year ago at this time.”

In quantity, sure, and the depth they now have means the Blue Jays won’t be stocking the rotation at triple-A Buffalo with veteran retreads like Ramon Ortiz, Dave Bush and Justin Germano, instead using 40-man roster players with a future.

That will provide a layer of insurance sorely lacking during 2013’s failure, and is an important step forward. But whether they have enough quality to leapfrog all their rivals in the American League East is very much open to debate.

“Remember, you don’t get a break in that division,” said one rival executive.

Should Anthopoulos add just one starter, as opposed to two, the Blue Jays would be living with a lot more “if” in their rotation, with sensible concerns over how Morrow bounces back from the nerve issue in his arm (a solid first bullpen is the latest positive development), and how much they can realistically expect from the likes of Happ, Hutchison, Stroman, Nolin, Rogers and Todd Redmond.

Can they bank on 400-600 impact innings from that group?

“You’re in the position you’re in, and you work with that,” Anthopoulos replied when asked about playing out a season with that type of uncertainty.
Still, acquiring one effective starter should be difficult enough, let alone acquiring two, which is why the Blue Jays might need to bank on some of their internal options.

The free agent market includes higher-end guys like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, but with Santana seeking $100 million over five years, the money may get out of line with the Blue Jays’ vision.

As Anthopoulos puts it, “Affordability is not the question – it’s do we see the value. There are plenty of players you like, but you like them at a certain price.”

The Blue Jays won’t like Santana’s asking price – even if they could backload a deal to fit better him into their 2014 payroll – but they’re going to have to pay for someone.

They could do it via trade — the Detroit Tigers are said to be floating Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, while Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, whom Anthopoulos pursued last winter, is expected to hit the market eventually — but that would require minor-league assets they may not have.

That may lead the Blue Jays to try and skin the cat another way.

“There are times when we say, ‘If we can’t get the elite starter whether through trade or free agency, do we try to get the mid-range guys and have that volume, have that depth, solidify as much as we can our position-player core, and strengthen that?’” said Anthopoulos. “You’re trying to prevent runs, but you can also score more runs as well, and you can play better defence, and that can help you.”

True, but it won’t matter much if the Blue Jays again finish 29th in the majors in starters’ ERA the way they did this past season.

Some other rumblings and grumblings from the GM meetings:

-The Blue Jays aren’t budging from their longstanding policy of refusing to hand out contracts longer than five years, one of the primary reasons you should discount every rumour linking them to Robinson Cano you may see.

-“We feel good about it,” Anthopoulos said of the limit. “That’s where our policy sits today, I don’t think I’d ever rule anything out under the right context and the right circumstances. If you’re prepared to pay someone five years at X, and a sixth year comes out at almost the same total dollars, sure, then you can explain that. But for the most part it’s the basic framework, being averse to the incredibly long terms we’ve seen with some of the seven, eight year deals.”

-Things so far are developing slowly for the Blue Jays. While they’ve checked in on catcher Carlos Ruiz, they’re not the unnamed team that reportedly has a $20-million, two-year offer on the table for him. In fact, the Blue Jays aren’t believed to have formal offers out to any free agents or teams at the moment, as they remain primarily in information-gathering mode.
The Blue Jays have a logjam in their bullpen and with several notable relievers out of options (Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Dustin McGowan, Brad Lincoln, Jeremy Jeffress, Luis Perez), the likelihood is some will be dealt before spring training. Anthopoulos described the level of interest in his relievers as, “strong. Normally you have one or two that people like, and it’s not to try and boast about it, but I think I’ve been asked about every single reliever, when I say we’re 10 deep, to varying degrees.”

-Munenori Kawasaki is believed to have offers on the table from several Japanese teams. Anthopoulos said: “Right now he’s going to explore some other options, but we’re definitely hoping for him to come back.” That would only be under a minor-league deal.

-With word of Mark DeRosa’s retirement, the Blue Jays now have $119.4 million committed to 15 players for 2014. In 2015, they have $88.75 million committed to seven players, while their only guaranteed money in 2016 and 2017 is $22 million per to Jose Reyes.

-How much of a workload can Drew Hutchison handle in 2014, his first full season back after Tommy John surgery? Well, in 2011 he threw roughly 160 combined innings, meaning the Blue Jays could push him into the 190-200 range based on the principle of adding no more than 20-25 per cent to a pitcher’s previous workload high. For precedent, Shaun Marcum went from a previous career high of 159 innings to 195 in 2010, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. That’s why when asked about Hutchison, Anthopoulos says, “If he makes the team, I don’t necessarily see there being any restrictions on him. If there are, that means he’s having a great season, he’s going deep into games.”

-Anthopoulos smiled when he was surrounded by Japanese media and asked about any interest the Blue Jays may have in Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese pitching sensation expected to be posted in the near future. The Blue Jays were linked to Yu Darvish when the Texas Rangers ace was put up for posting — they entered only a protective bid in case his price dropped — and therefore they’re being connected to Tanaka this time around. Anthopoulos said all the right things and wouldn’t divulge his plans, but given that the posting process is expected end up up in the $50-$70 million range, and that the GM didn’t even scout Tanaka in person, you can be certain the Blue Jays won’t be actively involved.

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