Blue Jays unlikely to make big splash at Meetings
General manager Anthopoulos looking into adding depth to club's rotation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blue Jays appear more inclined to do some minor tinkering rather than pulling the trigger on another major addition during this week's Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos' focus remains on providing more depth to his pitching staff, but as of right now, that's not expected to include a big signing or trade.
The more likely approach will be continuing to add depth at Triple-A Buffalo while also potentially signing a candidate for long relief who can compete with J.A. Happ for the final spot in the rotation.
"We always look, but I would just say right now, unlikely," Anthopoulos said when asked if his club would take a run at a frontline starter. "If something changed tonight, tomorrow, the day after, [it's possible]. I just think there is so much going on.
"There are so many teams having dialogue -- it's hard to really pin anybody down. I think it's harder to get things done here. I think free agents, I think the Winter Meetings have become a place where free agents sign, more than trades get made."
Toronto has been linked to Mets pitchers R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese and free agent Anibal Sanchez through various reports, but Anthopoulos seemed to distance himself from those rumors on Monday afternoon. The asking prices for Dickey and Niese remain extremely high, while Sanchez reportedly is seeking a six-year deal.
For Anthopoulos, there's less pressure to pull off a major acquisition for a starting pitcher because of last month's massive trade with Miami that saw both Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle head to the Blue Jays. There's still an obvious void of depth after Happ, but it's something that can be solved through relatively minor deals.
There's a long list of free-agent pitchers such as Kevin Slowey, Jair Jurrjens, John Lannan and Mike Pelfrey who were either recently non-tendered or are coming off subpar seasons. A reclamation project is something the Blue Jays would potentially be interested in knowing they need more protection in the event of injuries.
"Anyone that qualifies as a Minor League free agent, we would look at," Anthopoulos said. "The challenge is that we do have five established starters in the rotation right now, so it's not about selling the opportunity, the opportunity is right there and it speaks for itself.
"That's certainly a challenge. The fact that there's not a lot of upper-level depth, anybody can look at it and say, 'You know what? I'm one pitch away from being called up, one 6.00 ERA from being called up, and that certainly can happen.' And it's probably going to happen."
One name which resurfaced on Day 1 at the Winter Meetings was that of Carlos Villanueva. The 29-year-old spent the past two seasons in Toronto, but he was expected to depart via free agency at the end of the year.
Villanueva was open about his desire to find a guaranteed job in the starting rotation, and that was unlikely to happen with the Blue Jays. Anthopoulos stated on Monday, though, that he recently reached out to Villanueva to see if his stance has changed in the past few weeks.
It would be an ideal fit for the Blue Jays, who could have Villanueva compete with Happ in the spring and likely begin the year as a long reliever and emergency starter. Villanueva made 29 starts over the past two seasons while making an additional 42 appearances out of the bullpen.
"After we made the trades, I called him just to check in with him and just to see where he's at," Anthopoulos said. "He still wants to start, but I think, at the same time, with the changes that we made to the team and to the roster, he's a little more open to coming in and competing for a spot.
"Carlos wants to win, he has always been adamant about that. Clearly he wants an opportunity to start as well, but because he feels better about the team, he was a little more open-minded."
Anthopoulos also has continued to monitor the situations surrounding other Blue Jays free agents such as Brandon Lyon and Jason Frasor. One of those two could become an option for the bullpen, but the fourth-year GM is expected to first exhaust every other option.
More problematic is that the Blue Jays have yet to receive word on whether veteran left-hander Darren Oliver will return in 2013. The 42-year-old is under contract for another season, but he is pondering retirement and a decision is not expected until January.
Even if Oliver does decide to retire, there's no guarantee the Blue Jays will find an external candidate to replace him. The club could instead opt to go with left-handers Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil out of the bullpen.
"Right now, we're fine with the group that we have with or without him," Anthopoulos said. "We're better if we have him, clearly. But we're fine with the group that we have.
"It's about what do we have behind those guys. Maybe it's just last season, all the injuries and the changes. I know you can't have depth all over the place, but depth on the mound is so important."