Blue Jays looking to fill holes at Winter Meetings
No major moves on horizon, but situation could change at a moment's notice
TORONTO -- Blue Jays officials will descend upon the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday morning with the goal of laying some groundwork to fill the club's remaining holes.
Toronto doesn't appear to be on the verge of any major deals, but that could easily change at a moment's notice. The annual Winter Meetings is often the site where proposals and general concepts are exchanged, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos will once again find himself a busy man.
Anthopoulos has garnered a reputation of being one of the most active general managers in the league, but typically the Blue Jays don't make any moves at the Meetings. Over the years, there have been trades involving Shaun Marcum and Sergio Santos. But in both cases, the moves were agreed upon prior to the Meetings and just not officially announced until later in the week.
A similar period of inactivity could be on the horizon for Toronto. Anthopoulos told reporters on Wednesday morning that the Blue Jays continue to have trade talks with other teams, but he didn't necessarily anticipate any major moves in Florida. The same goes for free agents, and unless some of the asking prices drop, Toronto appears unlikely to make a major splash on the open market.
Even though Anthopoulos tempered expectations, there's still a chance that some progress could be made. Last year, the Blue Jays began to close in on a deal with the Mets for R.A. Dickey and the dialogue helped set the stage for a trade that was completed later in the month.
Here's a closer look at what the Blue Jays will look to accomplish at the Winter Meetings and some of the assets they could make available in order to get it done:
Rotation: The starting rotation continues to be the most glaring area of need for Anthopoulos and the rest of his staff. Toronto would like to add at least one legitimate starting pitcher and is still open to the idea of making more changes if the price is right. The Cubs' Jeff Samardzija continues to be frequently mentioned in the rumor mill, while other names are sure to surface in the coming days. Adding at least one proven starter to the likes of Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow would go a long way toward stabilizing the starting five. Depth isn't the issue -- with J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers in contention for a spot -- but the overall quality of talent is.
Second base: The Blue Jays entered the offseason with a goal of adding a proven second baseman to the roster, but that appears to have at least somewhat changed over the past several weeks. Anthopoulos claims he would be just fine with rookie Ryan Goins and veteran Maicer Izturis working together in some sort of platoon next year. Anthopoulos obviously wouldn't tip his hand to the media, but it does become rather clear that second base isn't as much of a priority as previously thought. There's still a desire from the club to add depth, but it probably won't be a big name like the Angels' Howie Kendrick or the Reds' Brandon Phillips.
Utility infielder: Mark DeRosa's retirement in November opened up a spot on next year's roster for someone else to platoon with first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind. The 30-year-old Lind is at his best when limited to starts against right-handers, and the 25th man on the roster likely will begin the games with lefties on the mound. The early favorite for that role is outfielder Moises Sierra, who recently began taking ground balls at first base in winter ball. Sierra is out of options on his contract, and will be given a legitimate shot to make the team. But Anthopoulos hasn't ruled out acquiring someone with more of a proven track record to fill that role.
Who they can trade if necessary
Relievers: The Blue Jays have an abundance of late-inning relievers, and there's a strong chance the club could use some of that depth to improve another area on the roster. Closer Casey Janssen, Santos, right-hander Steve Delabar and left-hander Brett Cecil certainly would generate a lot of interest across both leagues. There's also a lot of depth in the second tier of Toronto's bullpen, with the likes of Neil Wagner, Dustin McGowan, Aaron Loup and Luis Perez.
Happ: Happ likely isn't going anywhere unless the Blue Jays add at least two starters this offseason. He currently projects as Toronto's No. 4 starter and would transition into the No. 5 spot if the club is able to find an upgrade elsewhere. In the unlikely event that a second significant piece could be added to the staff, then that likely would spell the end of Happ's tenure in Toronto. Happ is owed $5.2 million next year, with a $6.7 million club option for the following season.
Prospects: The vast majority of Toronto's depth in the Minor Leagues can be found at the lower levels, but there are still some very appealing targets to be had through trade. The Blue Jays want to hang onto top prospects Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, but that could always change depending on who was being offered by another team. The more likely candidates to be used as trade chips would be the likes of Nolin, Kyle Drabek and Daniel Norris.
There was a lot of speculation last year that the Blue Jays gutted their system to complete blockbuster trades with the Marlins and Mets, but that's only partially true. There's no doubt that the system took a major hit with the departures of Noah Syndergaard, Travis d'Arnaud, Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino, but there's more help on the way.
More experts seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of the Blue Jays' system this offseason. The club can be found in the top 10 on a lot of lists that rank overall depth and the quality of talent. The problem is that most of that talent is at least a few years away. There are a few prospects on the horizon, though, as Sanchez is ranked as Toronto's No. 1 overall prospect by MLB.com, Stroman No. 3 and Nolin No. 5. The rest will take longer to develop, but the club has some high-end arms in Roberto Osuna (No. 2), Norris (No. 4) and Matthew Smoral (No. 10).
Rule 5 Draft
The Blue Jays currently don't have any openings on their 40-man roster and appear destined to take a pass on the Major League portion of this year's Draft. This should hardly come as a surprise, considering that Anthopoulos declined to make a pick in each of the past three years.
Toronto doesn't appear to be at a major risk of losing any significant pieces to other teams during the Draft. Outfielder Kenny Wilson and right-hander Deck McGuire were added to the 40-man roster to avoid just that, and right-hander Ryan Tepera would appear to be the most likely candidate to get swiped by another team.
Big contracts they might unload
There isn't anyone that really fits into this category for the Blue Jays. Buehrle is owed $37 million over the next two seasons, but Toronto needs to add more quality pitching and can't afford to trade away someone as reliable as him.
Jose Bautista has been frequently mentioned in the media this year as a potential trade candidate, but that's equally as hard to believe. Bautista is owed a rather team-friendly $28 million through the 2015 season, with a club option for $14 million in the following year, as well. He's an integral component of Toronto's lineup and, unless another team offers up a frontline starter, it's extremely unlikely that Bautista goes anywhere.
The Blue Jays' payroll is always somewhat of a mystery, but according to various reports, it's believed that the club will operate under a payroll of approximately $145 million to $150 million next year. The club currently has 16 players under guaranteed contracts for 2014 at a total of $121.2 million. There's an additional three players eligible for arbitration, while the overall projected payroll hovers around the $135 million mark.
That's easily enough money in the bank to add at least one starting pitcher, but leaves the rest of the club's plans a little bit up in the air. An addition at second base should also be feasible. But if the club wants to add a second starter, it might have to get a little creative with some of the players already under contract.