The Toronto Blue Jays have plenty of work ahead, even after signing a highly-coveted player to the largest free agent contract in franchise history Thursday.
Alex Anthopoulos described Russell Martin as a perfect fit — a talented hitter and skilled receiver whose work ethic and energy will have a positive impact in Toronto. There’s no question that Martin makes the Blue Jays a better team.
But even after signing the player he identified as his top off-season target, Anthopoulos continues exploring ways of adding to his club’s outfield, infield and bullpen. The Blue Jays continue weighing free agents and trade options, but Anthopoulos stressed that he doesn’t have existing offers to free agents or immediate plans to make any.
“We’re not close to anything,” he said. “We’re not ‘being aggressive’ with anybody. Our focus was on Martin and that just took a lot of energy. We don’t have five balls in the air.”
Now that they no longer have to worry about Martin, the Blue Jays can turn their attention elsewhere, and one of the first questions they’ll need to address is the future of catcher Dioner Navarro. While Anthopoulos said Navarro hasn’t asked for a trade, a source with knowledge of the situation told Sportsnet that the switch-hitting catcher has let the Blue Jays know he’d prefer to be dealt somewhere he can get regular playing time.
“We’ll try to find a spot for you if it makes sense, but at the same time we’re not just going to give you away,” Anthopoulos told Navarro. “We’ve had some pretty strong interest in him from the outset.”
The Blue Jays are confident Martin could catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball if necessary. Moving Navarro, who has one year and $5 million remaining on his contract, would create additional financial flexibility for the Blue Jays, who expect payroll to increase in 2015.
Melky Cabrera remains on the Blue Jays’ radar, but he’ll have plenty of suitors after a bounce-back season that saw him hit 16 home runs with an .808 OPS.
“There’s no question, Melky’s someone we’d still like to have back,” Anthopoulos said, adding that he’ll attempt to keep talks private if possible.
If Cabrera’s demands don’t line up with the Blue Jays interest level, Anthopoulos could pursue trades or turn to a free agent market that includes the likes of Norichika Aoki and Nick Markakis.
As things currently stand, the Blue Jays currently have two rookies in the mix for starting roles: second baseman Devon Travis and centre fielder Dalton Pompey. While the Blue Jays can’t be completely certain that the rookies are ready, they could be eased into the big leagues.
“If those guys are at the bottom of the order and they’re bringing good defence and quality at bats, and can do some things whether it’s getting a guy over or stealing a base — other ways to help win games — we would be fine with that,” Anthopoulos said.
Still, adding an everyday infielder would represent an upgrade for the Blue Jays, at least in the short term, since Travis has yet to play above double-A.
Then there’s the bullpen, which Anthopoulos continues to identify as a primary source of the Blue Jays’ 2014 struggles. The Blue Jays continue surveying the relief market for impact arms — though not necessarily established closers.
“Ideally you’d like to have someone who’s established in that role, but I don’t think we have to,” Anthopoulos said.
Left-hander Andrew Miller is one possibility. The Blue Jays have had dialogue with the left-hander’s representative, but as manager John Gibbons pointed out on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Thursday, they aren’t the only team interested.
“Us and everybody else,” Gibbons told Jeff Blair. “He’s a hot item right now. He’s come a long way in a couple of years. He was that big, hard thrower that was kind of erratic and he really came into his own in the last couple of years.”
The Martin signing had an added benefit for the Blue Jays; it caught the attention of a few pitchers who have reached out to Anthopoulos since the deal was announced. The Blue Jays aren’t simply looking at big-name additions, though. Anthopoulos noted that they could also look to round out their bullpen with players recovering from injuries.
The Blue Jays have many options on all fronts: outfield, infield and bullpen. And they’ve already secured a player they describe as their top target.
Next up? While Anthopoulos isn’t one to idle, it’s possible the Blue Jays will have the chance to re-group for a bit with some major pieces in place and American Thanksgiving on the horizon.
“There might still be a player or two that we would really want to get, but there’s also a scenario where we would sit back and wait,” Anthopoulos said.
In other words, after a flurry of moves to open the off-season, the Blue Jays might finally get the chance to catch their breath.