SATURDAY JULY 26, 2014
 
Blog EGOS & ICONS
JAYS LOOKING TO DEAL
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So far, the Toronto Blue Jays’ offseason has been focused on two things: efforts at retention (making sure skipper John Farrell didn’t bolt for Boston, then sighing with relief when front office stalwart Tony LaCava passed on Baltimore) and redesign (an appealing return to the style and colours of the glory years).

But with the winter meetings set to begin in Dallas on Monday, general manager Alex Anthopoulos says his focus is narrowing. It’s time for the roster to get some attention.

Anthopoulos insists he’ll be a player in both trade talks and the free agent market as he tries to plug holes on his roster. 

“We’re legitimately looking at both options,” he said this week at a luncheon for Toronto’s chapter of the Baseball Writer’s Association.

Maybe so, but any free agent fish the Jays try to hook will likely be little. Fans shouldn’t expect Anthopoulos to spend with wild abandon. 

“I don’t see us doing large deals,” he said.

That philosophy would also seem to rule Toronto out of a run at Japanese power arm Yu Darvish, if and when his rights are put up for sale. President Paul Beeston says he considers the posting process “flawed,” and doesn’t like the idea of dropping $50 million just to sit down and talk contract.

“We’re not going to buy a team,” Beeston said. “Not going to happen.”

Trades remain the preferred option to shore up the rotation, come up with a closer and fill the hole at second base. Anthopoulous hasn’t ranked his needs in any particular order, but says the spot he feels best about filling from within is with a wealth of young starters.

Baseball’s players association ratified the sport’s new labour deal this week, one that will bring in an extra playoff berth in each league, perhaps as soon as next season, via a format that will see the two wild card teams square off in a single game, winner-take-all showdown. Not much of a way for the loser to go out after a 162 game season perhaps, but it’s a masterstoke of must-see TV that also keeps more teams involved into September.

The deal also comes with new rules that will curtail Toronto’s strategy of stockpiling draft picks, as well as capping spending on both amateur selections and international signings from Latin America (another region where the Jays took a hit this week, losing Latin director Marco Paddy to the White Sox).

The changes are designed to allow high-drafting teams to afford the stars they select, rather than see them fall to bigger spenders lower down. But because free agents signings no longer cost teams their picks, the net result is that no one will be able load up on young  talent very quickly, making it more difficult to replenish your roster.

“It’s going to be hard to rebuild,” Anthopoulos said in assessing the CBA. “For teams that need to rebuild, it’s going to be really hard and really long.”

Good for Toronto, then, that a pair of deep drafts the past two years has left them with a well-stocked minor league system, plenty developing talent to arrive within the next few seasons or be used as trade bait instead.

“I think we really put ourselves ahead in doing that,” the GM said. “We’re probably in a position to maintain depth for some time.”

Yes, there’s depth below. But what the Jays need to contend is a deeper set of major league stars. It’s a testament to their superb seasons that Toronto scribes made Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero unanimous selections as player and pitcher of the year in voting this week. But it also speaks to how no one else on the roster is good enough, at least not yet, to be in the conversation.

Can Anthopoulos, in his winter dealings, deliver a player who might soon make a claim at team MVP? If he can’t, even an expanded playoff scenario won’t be enough to ensure meaningful baseball for Blue Jays fans beyond Labour Day next summer.

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