Rebuilding Jays may not be major players
New GM Anthopolous concentrating on building team's core
TORONTO -- If the Blue Jays were one or two pieces away from immediately being a contender for the World Series, rookie general manager Alex Anthopoulos would strongly consider being a major player in the free-agent marketplace.
The reality for Toronto, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the American League East, is that reaching the postseason appears to be a long-term goal at this point. Right now, Anthopoulos is determined to piece together a talented young core that he can build around.
What that means for the current offseason, and possibily next winter as well, is that the Blue Jays do not plan on being overly aggressive in free agency. On Friday at midnight ET, teams can begin offering contracts to any eligible free agents, bringing an end to the exclusive negotiating period clubs had with their own free agents.
Toronto has free agents in catcher Rod Barajas and shortstops Marco Scutaro and John McDonald, and Anthopoulos has maintained throughout the offseason that he has interest in retaining all three players. It is unlikely that all three will be back with the Jays in 2010, though, and they know that Anthopoulos has been busy searching for alternatives.
"As much as we'd like to bring all three of those players back," Anthopoulos said recently, "there may be some areas where it makes sense for us to pursue other opportunities -- sign a free agent or make a trade that will be better for this organization."
This winter, Anthopoulos will be more active on the trade front. The 32-year-old general manager has already taken steps to strengthen the Blue Jays' scouting and player development departments, and his current aim is to target younger players who are contractually controllable for a few years. Anthopoulos does not believe it makes sense to throw a pile of money into free agency right now.
If the Jays do look to free agency to fill any holes on the roster -- there are needs at catcher, shortstop and in the outfield -- the moves will likely be short-term solutions with second-tier players.
"I would say that I would probably be more active in trades than free agency," Anthopoulos said. "I think trades is definitely something that I'm going to be more aggressive with overall. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to occur, but it's probably a little bit more of a fit for our club right now."
For his own free agents, Anthopoulos is also taking their free-agent classification into account. Scutaro qualified as a Type A free agent, meaning the Jays would receive two compensatory picks in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft if he declines an arbitration offer and signs with another team. Barajas is a Type B free agent, which could potentially net another compensatory pick for Toronto.
For a team in transition, having a surplus of selections in the early portion of the Draft would only be beneficial for the Blue Jays. Similarly, Toronto, which will likely operate on a payroll close to the $80 million it used last season, will think twice about signing a Type A or Type B free agent this winter, knowing it would have to forfeit Draft picks for such a move.
Adding a slugger like Jason Bay or an ace like John Lackey could undoubtedly help, but given the current state of the ballclub, do not expect the Jays to make a big splash in free agency.
"If you feel like you're one or two pieces away and you're going to supplement a strong core to put you over the top," Anthopoulos said, "that makes sense, because you've probably at that point already made a big financial commitment, and that may put your large financial commitment over the top.
"But if you're looking to build a core, and to really take your club from 75 wins to 95 and over through free agency, it's in my opinion, and I've certainly talked with ownership and [team president and CEO Paul Beeston] about the analysis that I've done, I think we would be stuck with financial albatross contracts and we would be in a very tough spot going forward."
Anthopoulos knows there is no quick fix for Toronto's situation.
"I think there's many ways to improve this club," he said. "I don't think it'll happen all in one offseason. There definitely is a plan. We have players that we have, as an organization, targeted to try to acquire. We're going to do the best we can to acquire the players, and we're certainly set up for a Plan B and C if we don't get them."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.