Jays have shown willingness to pay for top player

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Baseball Central at Noon that the trade freeze is beginning to thaw, he's taking calls, and it's very exciting as he hopes to land both a starter and reliever.

TORONTO – Hints as to how the Toronto Blue Jays are operating in the lead-up to the non-waiver trade deadline may very well be found in the way they pursued Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson during the off-season.

Acquisition cost, be it in free-agent dollars or prospect capital, is always the key factor in any transaction, but the manner in which Alex Anthopoulos allocated his resources last winter spoke to a subtle but important shift in the general manager’s guiding principles.

In signing Martin to an $82-million, five-year contract – the biggest given to a free agent in club history – Anthopoulos demonstrated a willingness to pay top dollar for the top player, whereas in years past he would have sought out a value play instead.

The Blue Jays had that option before getting Martin, as they laid groundwork to land Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks. It would have been a good move for a good catcher and it would have cost far less, but the player they felt more conviction for was Martin so they prioritized him, despite the price.

The same goes for Donaldson, for whom the Blue Jays surrendered four players with 21 seasons of contractual control in Brett Lawrie, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and well regarded shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto. Donaldson came with four years of control and as a Super 2 arbitration eligible player he’ll get very expensive in a hurry, but Anthopoulos felt no qualms in taking on the money and creating a hole in the club’s pitching plans for Graveman to acquire someone he fully believed in.

That’s why it was very worth noting when Anthopoulos, quoting Warren Buffet, told Sportsnet The Fan 590’s Jeff Blair that, "it’s better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price."

The market leading up to the July 31 trade deadline is still in its infancy, with several key teams still deciding whether or not they’ll be selling off assets. But if you talk to enough people you get the sense Anthopoulos has been busy trying to make something happen for a while now, and that for the right player in his viewpoint, he’ll be willing to ante up the way he did for Martin and Donaldson.

What that means under these circumstances is difficult to gauge, as the only pre-deadline deals of note Anthopoulos has made in the past were for Yunel Escobar and Colby Rasmus, talented players unwanted by their contending clubs and in need of rehabilitation.

Now, the Blue Jays are looking not only for talented pitching, but also people who are the right fit for the organization, its goals, and a team environment that’s been carefully cultivated through personnel changes from last year to this one.

Perhaps that makes a pending free agent pushing for a big off-season score less appealing. Or perhaps that type of urgency blends well on a team still with plenty at stake right now. Either way, there’s no precedent to suggest how far Anthopoulos may be willing to go for such a player.

The Blue Jays typically have sought players with a few years of control in exchange for their top prospects, and it’s unclear whether they’d deviate much from that. A trade like the one the Baltimore Orioles made last year for reliever Andrew Miller, sending lefty prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox, is clearly out of the question.

Someone like Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who is signed for three years after this one with a vesting option for a fourth season, might make more sense in that regard, although he’s unlikely to waive his no-trade clause for the Blue Jays, despite recent comments suggesting he’s open to all clubs.

But beyond Hamels and perhaps Andrew Cashner of the San Diego Padres, depending on what wild-card GM A.J. Preller has up his sleeve for his disappointing club, that type of starter is probably not going to be available over the next month.

Anthopoulos may unearth one, the way he dislodged Donaldson out of Oakland, but when the market does open up, perhaps in a week or two, it’s likely going to be stocked with rentals like Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Mat Latos.

Are the 10-15 starts the Blue Jays might get from someone like that worth a prospect like Daniel Norris? What about Matt Boyd, or some sort of combo of players lower down the system? The prices aren’t known yet, but they’re going to be steep, bet on that.

The off-season deals for Martin and Donaldson showed what Anthopoulos felt were fair prices for wonderful companies. We’ll soon know what that equation, when a real opportunity lies before a team that’s earned a boost, does or doesn’t look like in July.

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