Blue Jays look to make minor roster tweaks
Anthopoulos has different agenda at this year's Winter Meetings
TORONTO -- When Alex Anthopoulos heads to next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., he will find himself in a much different situation than a year ago.
Last winter, Anthopoulos attended his first Winter Meetings as general manager of the Blue Jays with a laundry list of things to accomplish. The 33-year-old was tasked with trading the face of the franchise -- right-hander Roy Halladay -- and had glaring holes to fill at shortstop and behind the plate.
This year, it's a much different scenario. The Halladay trade has been in the rearview mirror for a long time, and Toronto's roster is more in need of some minor tweaks than a dramatic overhaul.
"It may not be as clear as it was last year," Anthopoulos said of his team's biggest holes to fill. "It's a little more fluid, because the needs aren't the same. They're not as glaring. There's obviously needs, but the alternatives seem a little bit more open."
Last December, the Blue Jays needed to make a quick strike to fill holes at shortstop and behind the plate. The free-agent market wasn't deep at either position, and Anthopoulos realized if he wasn't aggressive early, then he might be left out in the cold later in the offseason.
His strategy proved effective, as he was able to secure the services of catcher John Buck and shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Buck enjoyed a career season in Toronto, while Gonzalez was eventually traded to the Braves for Yunel Escobar.
Now, with Escobar in place as the club's Opening Day shortstop and catchers Jose Molina and J.P. Arencibia under contract for 2011, Anthopoulos can afford to be patient as he evaluates his team's needs.
The most obvious area for improvement can be found in the bullpen. Relievers Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and closer Kevin Gregg are free agents and appear likely candidates to head elsewhere. Toronto offered all three arbitration and Anthopoulos previously stated they would all be welcomed back to the Blue Jays with open arms.
That scenario seems unlikely, though, as it's possible the relievers will receive multiyear offers that Anthopoulos decides he cannot match. If that happens, he will have to look elsewhere to fill holes at the back end of the bullpen.
MLB.com columnist Peter Gammons tweeted on Sunday that the Blue Jays have inquired about right-hander Jesse Crain. The 29-year-old free agent has a low-to-mid 90 mph fastball and posted a 3.04 ERA last season in Minnesota. He reportedly is open to the idea of re-signing with the Twins, but would also like an opportunity to close -- and will be forced to head elsewhere if that's the case.
Toronto seems like an unlikely fit for a premier closer such as Tampa Bay's Rafael Soriano, who is in line for a lucrative contract after leading the American League with 45 saves last season.
It's possible, though, that the Blue Jays will test the waters on guys like Kerry Wood and J.J. Putz, or reclamation projects such as former Rockies closer Manuel Corpas -- if their asking price is reasonable.
Regardless of which guys Anthopoulos decides to target, it's clear that filling at least one spot in the bullpen is one of his top priorities this offseason.
Toronto also has a few other holes that might be addressed at the Winter Meetings. The club will likely add another catcher to the 40-man roster, and there is a need at both corners of the infield.
Free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo is still a possibility to re-sign with the club, but he likely will want a guaranteed starting job. Whether the club opts to go that route or instead sign another veteran backup to provide organizational depth ultimately depends on how much confidence the club has in the up-and-coming Arencibia.
"Arencibia is the wild card that we just don't know," Anthopoulos said. "We know he has a lot of ability. We know he has a ton of talent. We think he will be a very good player. The unknown is when that is going to show itself up here. That's the hardest part about young players."
At first base, the Blue Jays could opt to give the starting nod to last year's designated hitter, Adam Lind. But the 27-year-old has played only 11 games in the Major Leagues at that position, and Anthopoulos likely would be more comfortable if he had another option to at least split time with Lind at first base/DH.
Toronto is not expected to be a major player for expensive free agents such as Carlos Pena, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn. A more likely scenario would be going after someone like Lance Berkman or Adam LaRoche, or pursuing someone via trade. Anthopoulos also hasn't ruled out the possibility of bringing back veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay, who spent the past five seasons in Toronto.
At third base, the Blue Jays have a couple of different options. They could acquire someone new, or they could opt to move Aaron Hill across the diamond and sign/trade for someone to play second. A less likely scenario appears to be moving Jose Bautista back into the infield after he spent the majority of last season in right.
Toronto is not expected to sign any top free agents this year because the team is still trying to build for the future, and Anthopoulos would prefer to do that via trades or through short-term free-agent deals that will keep his options open down the road.
Whatever Anthopoulos decides to do, money alone is not expected to be the deciding factor. If the right opportunity presents itself and the club needs to add to its payroll, Anthopoulos has been ensured by ownership that money will not be an issue. It will instead be based on the overall value of the player coming to the Blue Jays and whether it will have a major impact on the team.
The Blue Jays are one of the few teams in baseball that do not operate within a set budget. Anthopoulos said he prefers that system, because when teams have a set salary structure, sometimes they feel like they have to spend money for the sake of spending money. Toronto prefers to evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis.
It remains to be seen whether the right pieces will fall into place next week. But one thing is for certain. As one of the most active general managers in the league, Anthopoulos will at least have the rumor mill working overtime.