If Cabrera signs elsewhere, who do Jays turn to?

Nori Aoki is an interesting alternative for the Blue Jays as a table-setter in the two-hole. (David J. Phillip/AP)

PHOENIX – Pencil in one of Anthony Gose, Dalton Pompey or Kevin Pillar as the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting centre-fielder in 2015, as barring a trade the trio will compete for the job during spring training. Whether Melky Cabrera joins the winner in the outfield, and Pablo Sandoval, Russ Martin or some other boffo off-season addition are in the same batting order is another matter entirely.

Things are unlikely to be resolved quickly on any of the latter fronts, as the GM meetings largely shifted into information gathering mode Tuesday with teams and agents chatting the day away. The real action isn’t likely to get going until next week, at the earliest.

The emerging picture for the Blue Jays is that their to-do list includes one outfielder, not two, along with a second or third baseman plus help for the bullpen. Then there’s the flexibility they have at the DH spot and the opportunity that affords them to add someone anywhere on the diamond.

Within that are the attempts to re-sign Cabrera, who as expected rejected a $15.3 million qualifying offer Monday, and what increasingly seems like a wide gap between the sides. "I’m stating the obvious here," GM Alex Anthopoulos said, "but if both sides want to come to an agreement, and he’s not signed yet, I think we can come to the conclusion that we can’t seem to agree on the financial structure of a deal."

Whether the gap is in years, or dollars, or both is unclear, but the Blue Jays have clearly decided to let Cabrera’s representatives gauge his worth on the open market.

The $21-million, two-year deal Michael Cuddyer signed Monday with the New York Mets is interesting because the 35-year-old had compensation attached to him, but he doesn’t otherwise offer much of a baseline. The $56-million, four-year contract Nick Swisher signed with the Cleveland Indians in December 2012 might be a better comparable, but the outfielder/first baseman hits for more power and provides better defence.

Does Cabrera fit in somewhere between there? Is he higher or lower? Will his camp wait for Nick Markakis, who is expected to remain with the Baltimore Orioles, to sign first and set the market? We won’t know for at least a short while yet, and in the interim the Blue Jays must examine other options.

"We may have a good sense right now of what the likelihood is of signing him or not signing him, but I’m sensitive to not talking about someone else’s free agency, and not divulging negotiations or things like that," said Anthopoulos. "When a player becomes a free agent, you immediately have to start preparing for contingencies and alternatives because the likelihood is when players become free agents, you can look at the numbers, an overwhelming percentage don’t return. That’s not to say we don’t want it to happen with Melky, but we’re also being real with this. There’s a good chance he doesn’t come back, we just don’t know."

So who might the Blue Jays turn to?

That’s unclear right now, but Nori Aoki is an interesting alternative as a table-setter in the two-hole, and a handful of teams including the Cincinnati Reds are showing interest in the Kansas City Royals free agent.

The Blue Jays aren’t believed to be involved at all on hulking Cuban defector Yasmany Tomas, while Atlanta Braves trade candidate Evan Gattis doesn’t seem to be high on their radar, either. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a glut of high-priced outfielders but GM Farhan Zaidi told reporters that until the top free agents sign he doesn’t expect to "engage on real trade discussions."

Given that the Blue Jays won’t be banking on much offence from whoever wins the centre-field job – "If those guys are hitting eight or nine in the lineup and giving you good defensive value, you should be OK," explained Anthopoulos – they’ll need production in left field and elsewhere in the lineup.

Sandoval would fit that bill and a meeting Tuesday between the Blue Jays and Gustavo Vasquez, the player’s agent, went well. That doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re a contender for the third baseman, but it’s a possibility for someone the Boston Red Sox are said to be hot to trot for.

"We’ve met with several (agents), including (Vasquez), and had good constructive conversations with a lot of guys already," Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told reporters. "All those conversations will continue. I don’t expect anything to happen this week, or maybe in the near term. This may play out."

Martin is also in demand, and he may very well be the Blue Jays’ true target. Prevailing industry thinking is that the Canadian catcher ends up with the Chicago Cubs, but he may be just the piece his home country team needs after helping lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to consecutive post-season appearances.

The possibilities are just starting to come into focus for the Blue Jays.

"There’s a bunch of players we’d like to get," said Anthopoulos. "Some we have a shot at, some we don’t have a shot at, some we do have a shot at but we don’t believe in spending the years and dollars."

Cabrera, for now, seems to be in the third group, but like everything at this time of year, that’s subject to change.

Other news and notes from a day spent stalking the Arizona Biltmore lobby:

  • Russ Martin meant plenty to the Pirates over the last two years, but he’s likely to be priced out of their range. "There’s no question, he’s been a big part of it," said GM Neal Huntington. "And if we do lose him, we’ll do our very best to backfill and reallocate the resources as best we can to help keep moving forward. He was everything we wanted him to be from a defensive standpoint, and offensively he sure picked a great year to have a tremendous season, one of his best seasons with the bat. Whoever gets him, whether it’s us or someone else, they’re getting a pretty good player."
  • Dalton Pompey’s youth, he turns 22 on Dec. 11, and relative inexperience won’t be held against him in the competition with Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar. "He’ll have an equal opportunity," said Alex Anthopoulos. "With Dalton it’s going to be how well does he play defensively in centre field, and it’s not going to be so much the statistics in spring training with respect to the number of hits and so on, Dalton offensively is going to be evaluated on the quality of the at-bat. As long as he’s putting up competitive at-bats where he’s grinding and he works the count, we feel he’s going to have a chance to be a good offensive player right out of the chute."
  • The Blue Jays are among the 20 teams on Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels’ no-trade list.
  • Re-signing Victor Martinez remains a priority for the Detroit Tigers, though the Seattle Mariners appear to be hot on his trail. "No updates at this point other than we continue to be hopeful that he’ll still be with us," said Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.
  • The Blue Jays may be going internal at centre field but they’re hoping not to do that at second base, unless they pick up a third baseman and shift Brett Lawrie over. They have Ryan Goins, Steve Tolleson and a returning-from-injury Maicer Izturis in-house. "We think Izturis is going to come back and be fine," said Anthopoulos. "Is he going to have a chance to be the everyday guy? Yes, unless something presents itself."
  • Here’s a name for Blue Jays fans to keep an eye on: Miguel Castro. The power-armed righty, who turns 20 on Dec. 24, will be invited to big-league camp during spring training as a prospect with a chance to quickly climb the ranks. He spent most of 2014 at short-season-A Vancouver before making four starts at low-A Lansing and two appearances at advanced-A Dunedin, catching Anthopoulos’s eye in the process. "I look back and think we should have moved this guy sooner," he said. Provided he remains on his current trajectory, Castro could find himself in the Blue Jays bullpen at some point next year, although long-term the team sees him as a starter. Why the bullpen? "We’re going to watch his innings anyways," said Anthopoulos. "He’s got a plus fastball that he throws for strikes, he’s got a plus-plus changeup, the breaking ball is hit and miss and that needs some work. We’re going to bring him into camp because he’s someone who could come quick. Because he throws strikes, has a power arm and a plus changeup, I would not be surprised if he comes quick."
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