Revenues have gone up across the board and, with that, so too will the Toronto Blue Jays payroll.
And how fixated is general manager Alex Anthopoulos on adding starting pitching? So fixated that he would, in his words, “get five front-of-the-rotation guys if we could.”
The problem is there might be, at best, two front-of-the-rotation pitchers on the free-agent market this winter. Last winter was the time for bold, budget-stretching moves. Still, the off-season began for the Blue Jays at about 5:35 p.m. ET Wednesday night with an emboldened Anthopoulos vowing a dramatic upgrade in the team’s starting rotation.
Gone seemed to be the guy who crushed the aspirations of an energized fan-base last winter with plain talk, when he linked attendance and then revenue to payroll, and was so tired of agents hitting him up that he took the opportunity of a winter meetings trade to tell one and all that the team had effectively shuttered itself out of the big-player market.
Then there was Yu Darvish and the whole … nah. We won’t go there.
There was also a strange kind of settling of accounts on the final day of the regular season that suggested a group of people who had, simply, become tired of each other.
Tired of hearing better never than late criticisms about a lack of communication and accountability, manager John Farrell finally invited the players to suck it up and do something about it themselves.
Jose Bautista, meanwhile, slipped back into the role of conscience of the team, saying that the aforementioned concerns had started to sound like an excuse, respectfully disagreeing with the lead-off hitter for Murmurers Row, Omar Vizquel.
Anthopoulos rose to the occasion, too. He didn’t exactly slam shut the door on the possibility of a phone call from the Boston Red Sox about Farrell, who has one more year left on his contract, but Anthopoulos held out the possibility of an extension in spring training or even mid-season. In the meantime, he expects the coaching staff back intact, and he took the blame for a roster that certainly played as if it was dysfunctional.
“We talked about injuries quite a bit … but it’s on me to give them a roster to win with,” Anthopoulos said.
Anthopoulos will be given credit this morning for being unusually candid in his assessment of his team. But he had no choice. Looking at the smoking remnants of his starting rotation, the fact that bits and pieces of the organizational depth immediately below the major-league level spent time on the operating room table, and knowing that the Big Three that all the development fan-boys are so excited about (Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard) are still three years away, Anthopoulos said the rotation’s numbers “speak for themselves,” and that he couldn’t say anything else and keep a straight face. “We’re not close to where we need to be, when you look at playoff teams.”
He has promised “major additions, for sure.”
Good luck with that. The Blue Jays’ payroll this season was in the neighbourhood of $80-million-$85-million (all currency U.S.), and Anthopoulos’s re-working of the bullpen has given him added leeway. Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor made $8.75-million combined this season while Brandon Lyon hauled in a pro-rated share of $5.5-million. They can all be replaced by the likes of Brad Lincoln, Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup.
The problem is that this is one of thinnest free-agent pitching markets in years. Zack Greinke, the best starter available, has had Toronto on no-trade lists before and even if he was interested in coming here, it would take a leap of faith equivalent to that shown by J.P. Ricciardi with A.J. Burnett to get a deal done.
And that’s just not happening, with president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston running the show. So that means Anthopoulos will need to address most of the heavy lifting through trades, and internally the organization has come to the conclusion that might mean departing with as many as two of the aforementioned Big Three as well as possibly a position prospect.
It has no choice; they have run out of mulligans.