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Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos laughs as he speaks to he media during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos laughs as he speaks to he media during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

MLB

Winter meetings allow rest of AL East chance to play catch-up with Jays Add to ...

Alex Anthopoulos was out for lunch on Friday and had one, two, three different people come up to congratulate him on his 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins. He goes through customs to visit Darren Oliver and suss out the veteran left-hander’s intentions for 2013, and has to linger a little longer to accept kudos.

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Just wait until he gets to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville for Major League Baseball’s winter meetings, which begin formally on Monday. He hasn’t seen anything yet. Part of what has people so worked up in this city, and so interested elsewhere, is that while Anthopoulos has overhauled his roster, the rest of the American League East is twiddling its thumbs, going all Jonny Gomes on him.

Make no mistake, it will not be quiet on the AL East front for the rest of the off-season. Conventional wisdom that divisional stasis was part of the impetus for Anthopoulos to acquire Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck as well as Melky Cabrera gives the Blue Jays’ general manager too much credit, in his own mind at least. That’s not how it works.

The deal made sense for the Blue Jays regardless of what the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees do. Besides, Anthopoulos realizes that the Red Sox, who started the off-season with a grand total of $45-million (all currency U.S.) committed to payroll, have enough room financially not just to land a high-profile free agent, but to assume somebody else’s bad contract as a means of landing a desirable commodity in a multiplayer deal.

“They have money to spend,” Anthopoulos says of Boston.

Yet it must be swell to be Anthopoulos. He has handed his team’s marketing department and owners Rogers Communications a tailor-made advertising campaign, and he has most of the heavy slogging out of the way before the really stupid money starts getting tossed around to free agents.

Indeed, most of the off-season will now be turned over to watching the rest of the division. The Blue Jays will take a relatively small party to Nashville for these meetings, wanting to add another proven arm to their rotation before spring training, but standing back from bidding wars for free agents such as Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez, pitchers whose tires they kicked before the Marlins deal.

Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia might be shopped around for a starting pitcher, but the odds are heavily in favour of both of them starting for the Blue Jays on opening day.

As for the Blue Jays’ brethren in the AL East, it’s a strange mix of expectations and intentions. The Tampa Bay Rays need to score more runs and could turn James Shields into an every-day bat. The Yankees will be under the $189-million luxury tax threshold by the start of 2014 and can be expected to trade to address their need at catcher. The Baltimore Orioles remain the team most likely to be active, and already have been linked to free agent Josh Hamilton and Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.

This has been an unnerving off-season for Red Sox fans, good training for that first time John Farrell asks David Ortiz to steal third base with two out. General manager Ben Cherington has said the club will be “among the larger payrolls in the game.” Ortiz has said the Red Sox may no longer be a destination of choice given the train wreck that has been the past two seasons, and president and chief executive officer Larry Lucchino has said patience really is a virtue and there is no way the Red Sox will give out any more seven-year contracts.

That would seem to suggest the Red Sox are out on Hamilton and Zack Greinke. They might be interested in left-hand hitting first baseman Adam LaRoche, and there are intriguing whispers that they might press the Minnesota Twins on Joe Mauer’s availability.

In the meantime, Anthopoulos will accept the plaudits and handshakes, and wish that opening day was this afternoon. As we all do.

Five teams to watch at the winter meetings

Cleveland Indians

A team in flux after 94 losses and the second lowest attendance in the majors, the Indians are positioned to do some counterintuitive things. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will be moved, and Cleveland will have trade partners, especially once the free-agent market clears up. Manager Terry Francona is popular within the game, so the Tribe may pick off a surprise free agent. If Josh Hamilton wants to hide some place, this would be it.

Kansas City Royals

Dormant no longer, the Royals have been big talkers this off-season, asking about Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets and James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Royals have a young core and have already added pitchers Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, and believe they can take a run at a wild-card berth by adding an ace pitcher. They’ll move some young, mid-level pitching of their own and possibly outfield prospect Wil Myers. Catcher Salvador Perez is their most untouchable player.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The baseball world keeps waiting for them to spend some of their regional sports network windfall (they’ve negotiated a 25-year deal with Fox worth between $6-billion and $7-billion) and they are considered the front-runners for free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. But word is they’ve set their sights higher, and will sound out the Seattle Mariners about the availability of Felix Hernandez and the Rays about Shields. If the Dodgers add through trade a front-line starter to back up Clayton Kershaw, they’ll overpay for more depth in the person of Anibal Sanchez or Edwin Jackson.

New York Mets

Meet Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter. Ladies and gentlemen, your New York Mets outfielders. Signing David Wright to his $138-million, eight-year extension on Friday was a no-brainer. Now the heavy road work begins. The Mets must upgrade their position talent, and turning knuckleballer R.A. Dickey into one or two every-day players might be the required shortcut.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Atlanta Braves upgraded with the signing of free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton, and the Washington Nationals landed a centre fielder, Denard Span, who will allow Bryce Harper to shift to left field. The Phillies will be in on outfielder Justin Upton should the Arizona Diamondbacks decide to move him and his three-year, $28-million contract. Some believe the Phillies are a dark-horse candidate for Josh Hamilton. Several top free agents have ended up in surprise destinations in recent seasons – Jayson Werth with the Nationals, Prince Fielder with the Detroit Tigers, for example.

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