12/3/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Blue Jays head to Winter Meetings seeking pitching
With need at catcher filled, Toronto to turn attention to addressing rotation spots
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays addressed their issues behind the plate on Monday, signing veteran catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year contract worth $8 million, and now the focus will turn to what can be done on the mound as the start of the Winter Meetings inches closer and closer.
General managers from across Major League Baseball will converge Monday morning at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. It will be the site for secretive meetings and endless speculation, and Alex Anthopoulos is expected to be very busy.
Toronto also could look to address a need at second base, but it's clear the top priority is starting pitching. Plenty of potential targets have already surfaced, but finding a solution will prove challenging with so many other teams also in the market for additional arms.
Anthopoulos often prefers to do most of his work through trades, but free agents haven't been ruled out. Toronto's payroll for the 2014 is still somewhat of a mystery, but various reports have suggested the club will hover around the $150-million mark.
The Blue Jays currently have 16 players under guaranteed deals, with an additional four that are still eligible for arbitration. The current projected salaries amount to approximately $135 million, but additional funds could be made available if the club decides to trade veteran J.A. Happ and the $5.2 million he's owed in 2014.
The free-agent market is still rather plentiful, with the only significant signings so far having been Ricky Nolasco, Tim Hudson, Jason Vargas, Phil Hughes and Scott Kazmir. The likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda and Bartolo Colon are still available, while a second tier also remains unsigned, including Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett and Gavin Floyd.
Based on history, though, Anthopoulos likely will exhaust all trade scenarios before potentially overpaying for a free agent. The club has been linked to Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija this offseason, and the rumours likely will only increase as the Winter Meetings draw closer.
The difficult part of any trade will be deciding which prospects can be let go in return for more of an immediate impact. Right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are the most sought-after players through trade, but they also represent a pair of arms that could be crucial to the organization's success in future years.
Toronto possesses a lot of depth in the lower levels of the Minor League system, but that doesn't usually transition well to the trade market. The only other prospect who appears ready for the next step is outfielder Anthony Gose, and most teams usually put an emphasis on acquiring young pitching in return for an impact arm.
The Blue Jays do have some bullpen depth that could be easily spared in any deal. Toronto has an abundance of power arms, only so many spots on the roster and a series of pitchers who are out of options on their contracts. Closer Casey Janssen could prove to have a lot of value, while there's no shortage of middle-relief solutions in the likes of Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan, Neil Wagner, Jeremy Jeffress, Brad Lincoln, Aaron Loup and Juan Perez.
Relief pitching also seems to be coming at a premium this offseason, and Anthopoulos could use that to his advantage. A reliever could be either used as a complementary piece in a bigger trade or instead moved for prospects that could be flipped into another deal for a starter. The possibilities are endless, but whatever happens, Anthopoulos has no other option but to find an upgrade.
The three starters with guaranteed jobs are R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow. After that, it's a lot of uncertainty, with Happ and right-hander Drew Hutchison the favorites for the two spots. The other candidates include Esmil Rogers, Kyle Drabek, Todd Redmond and Stroman. Depth isn't the issue, but the overall quality and previous track record certainly is.
Second base would currently see rookie Ryan Goins and veteran Maicer Izturis in some sort of platoon. Goins provides well-above-average defense but is a question mark with the bat, while Izturis is coming off a forgettable first year in Toronto. Ideally, an upgrade would present itself here, but the priority almost undoubtedly goes to the starting rotation.
At this time last year, Anthopoulos already had pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade with Miami. But it was at the Winter Meetings where the groundwork was laid for a deal that would bring Dickey to the Blue Jays. More groundwork will be put in place this time around as well, but Anthopoulos likely hopes at least a move or two immediately comes with it.