NEW YORK – The draft is over, Alex Anthopoulos believes he’s nearing deals with first-rounders Jeff Hoffman and Max Pentecost, and trade talk is starting to pick up for the Toronto Blue Jays general manager.
“It’s preliminary, more of everyone’s calling to see what everyone’s needs are,” he said Tuesday before his AL-East leading club fell 3-1 in the opener of three-game set with the second-place New York Yankees.
“The stage that everyone is at is, where do we have fits, what teams do we line up with and then the next step is, teams are out seeing our affiliates, or are going to see our affiliates. … I think it will be at least a few weeks for teams that we think we line up with, to evaluate what we have, and then maybe trade talks get more serious obviously when you get to the first week of July, or right before the break.”
That being said, things are already getting real for the Blue Jays, who sit at 41-31 after their 14th straight loss at the Bronx, 3.5 games up on the 36-33 Yankees. This is a pivotal time for taking stock, both of what the needs are at the big-league level, and of what the organization has down in the minors.
To that end, Anthopoulos was set to depart Tuesday night for a tour of his affiliates, to evaluate first-hand who he might need to part with in any potential deals. At the same time, he’ll need to honestly assess which areas of his team are most in need of a boost.
“That I can sincerely answer and say we’ve talked about (upgrading) every spot,” said Anthopoulos. “I was just on the phone with someone that, if they have a player available (and) we have a good player at that spot but that player’s an upgrade, we’d look to do it. And at the same time you don’t want to disrupt the clubhouse or disrupt the flow of the team, but we’re really open to anything.
“But I do think the better we play and the more that we’re winning games and staying competitive and so on, it’ll buy the front office a little more time to evaluate things and not have to make a move all that fast. … The fact that the team’s playing well certainly helps.”
Well, the team was playing well, but the Blue Jays of late have hit a cold patch, particularly at the plate.
After dropping consecutive series at home to the St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins, the Blue Jays split a four-game set with the Orioles and now must win two straight in New York to avoid ceding more ground to the Yankees. Over those 11 games (4-7), they’ve scored just 24 runs and while everyone is hot for one of Cubs starters Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel – two obvious pitching targets – another arm may not be a panacea.
That’s why when asked if pitching was his primary target, Anthopoulos replied, “No, not necessarily.”
“In talking to teams, there’s every position available,” he continued. “There are starters, there are relievers. Again, it’s acquisition cost, how much of an upgrade would the certain player be over what we currently have, all those type of things. We’re not necessarily actively looking for one specific spot. We’re just basically canvassing the clubs to see who’s available. In some of the conversations, players we didn’t think were available are, and we’ll see where the dialogue goes.”
Key in the ongoing big-league assessments is Marcus Stroman, who needed 98 pitches to get through 3.2 innings in his Yankee Stadium debut.
His struggles could be partly attributed to home plate umpire Jordan Baker’s constant cropping and re-cropping of the strike zone like a kid gone mad with Photoshop. But the rookie right-hander limited the damage to a cheap Brett Gardner two-run shot off the right-field foul pole all of 314 feet away, although the short outing was far from ideal.
“They’re great hitters so you don’t want to give in and just say all right, let me throw this ball down the middle of the plate,” said Stroman. “So you still try to pitch to your strengths and pitch to the location you’re trying to hit. It was tough all day, but it is what it is. I ended up falling behind in counts, a couple of pitches were close, but everyone isn’t going to call that pitch every game.
“That’s something you have to deal with.”
The Gardner homer gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and made the Blue Jays’ inability to add on against Masahiro Tanaka all the more costly.
Jose Reyes opened the game with a home run on the Japanese right-hander’s first pitch, and the Blue Jays put two men on against him in both the first and third innings only to come up empty.
Tanaka took over from there, improving to 11-1 by allowing just the single run on five hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts.
“We had some good at-bats, we hit some balls hard early on and then it just disappeared,” said manager John Gibbons. “He pretty much shut us down, but he’s good … there’s a reason he’s doing what he’s doing.”
Some help for the Blue Jays is already on the way with Colby Rasmus activated from his rehab assignment after the game (Anthony Gose was optioned to make room), and more should be coming with Adam Lind possibly returning from a foot injury as soon as Wednesday. Brandon Morrow is also due to begin throwing Friday for the first time since injuring his finger at the start of May.
Meanwhile, the groundwork is beginning for potential additions from outside the organization.