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Toronto Blue Jays player Jose Bautista (right) speaks with general manager Alex Anthopoulos and at their MLB American League spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, February 17, 2011 (file). (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)
Toronto Blue Jays player Jose Bautista (right) speaks with general manager Alex Anthopoulos and at their MLB American League spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, February 17, 2011 (file). (MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS)

Jeff Blair

Blue Jays wish list remains the same Add to ...

A word to the wise, Toronto Blue Jays fans: forget the manager. Worry instead about old standbys such as payroll; an as-yet-not demonstrated readiness to offer extra years on a free-agent contract; the impact of new ownership and big, regional TV deals in Southern California; and knee-shredding artificial turf at the Rogers Centre.

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Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his peers have gathered in Indian Wells, Calif., for three days of meetings Anthopoulos suspects might be given over more to talking to agents in the lobby than sitting across from other GMs and talking trade.

Deals are sometimes made and announced at these meetings; free-agent contracts sometimes offered and signed. But for many GMs, the next few days are given over to rules seminars and both formal and informal meetings about personnel.

Much has been made in Toronto about Anthopoulos having said he is in no hurry to name a replacement for manager John Farrell.

Do not read too much into that.

First, Anthopoulos has pledged that this is his call and, who knows? He might already have his mind made up. There are only two managerial openings right now: the Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies (operating under the assumption there really is nothing to the fact Davey Johnson’s returning to the Washington Nationals is the given both sides say it is).

Second, as far as player moves are concerned, the Blue Jays’ wish list is the same regardless of the manager’s identity: starting pitching, a left fielder and a second baseman. There is no secret, here: Anthopoulos rattled it off in order Tuesday, after arriving in California. It’s pretty much conventional wisdom he plans on signing a free agent to give him 200 innings, and will use the trade market to pursue a front-of-the-rotation starter, offering up one of his prized Single-A pitching prospects in return. Squeeze him hard enough, and he might cough up two of them.

Unless Anthopoulos gets a $100-million (U.S.) payroll, he’s still going to have to do some pruning in order to land a free-agent starter – Edwin Jackson isn’t signing for anything less than $14-million per season, and while Anibal Sanchez, who made $8-million in 2012, might be a cheaper option, he’s going to attract interest from numerous suitors, most of whom will be more flexible with their length of contract. Jayson Stark of ESPN says the Los Angeles Dodgers are interested in Sanchez – more so if they miss on Zack Greinke – and if that’s the case, Toronto can kiss him goodbye, too.

What is apparent is baseball is flush with money. Teams such as the New York Yankees are wary of the draconian luxury tax on the horizon and a mechanism in the new collective bargaining agreement that gives teams a break if they scale back. But when a team like the San Diego Padres lands a $1.2-billion regional TV deal, and with continued Internet growth and new network TV deals done and dusted, it is a difficult time to be overly-cautious.

In fact, based on Anthopoulos’s discussions about middle relief with teams at the trade deadline last July – and on the way the Dodgers signed Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5-million deal – the Blue Jays GM is right to wonder whether the game is going back to the bad old days of overpaying for relief pitchers.

Hindsight only reinforces the notion that last winter was the time to take out the pocketbook; foresight suggests Anthopoulos is going to be moving a lot of pieces around in the next three months to get close to what his team needs and close to what the fans are demanding.

The manager’s the easy part; that’s all on him. There’s no agent or peer involved. Just him.

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