With the heavy lifting mostly behind him now, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos heads into the winter meetings next week more in the role of an observer than a player.
That doesn’t mean Anthopoulos plans to be sitting on his hands at the annual three-day gathering in Nashville, which normally signals the beginning of baseball’s annual swap meet.
“Offensively, I feel pretty good about the team; I feel pretty good about the bench,” Anthopoulos said Wednesday, when he met with members of the Toronto media for the final time before heading off to the country music capital of the U.S. hoping to cut a hit or two.
“So I’d say bullpen and rotation depth – and if we can upgrade some other spot in the rotation or upgrade a position player, sure we’d love to do that.”
But you get the feeling talking with Anthopoulos that if anything does come about at the winter meetings, which begin Monday, that it will be a last-minute sort of a thing.
The GM could be excused if he sits this dance out, given the hectic past few weeks.
First, there was the 12-player swap with the Miami Marlins, which brought the Jays starters Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, not to mention switch-hitting all-star shortstop Jose Reyes.
And the aftershocks of that blockbuster were still being felt when the Blue Jays announced they had signed free-agent left fielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $18-million (U.S.) deal.
With a couple strokes of his pen, Anthopoulos had increased Toronto’s 2013 opening day payroll by some $40-million, to about $120-million.
Right now, the Blue Jays rotation appears to be Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero and J.A. Happ (with Happ having to earn the final spot in spring training).
But with pitching, as the Blue Jays discovered last season, you can never have enough.
In a season ravaged by injury, the rotation ranked 10th in the American League with a 4.82 earned-run average. The bullpen wasn’t much better, ranking 14th with a 4.33 ERA.
In 2012, 12 different pitchers made starts for the Blue Jays – which is far too many for Anthopoulos.
“You look at the teams that win, they normally don’t have to use 10 starters or 11 starters,” he said. “ When it comes to that point, something’s gone wrong, guys aren’t performing or guys are getting hurt.
“Most teams that win I’d say use somewhere in the eight range. And, obviously, health is important for all clubs.”
Second base, a sore spot in 2012 with the unproductive Kelly Johnson, appears to be now settled with the free-agent acquisition of Maicer Izturis.
Emilio Bonifacio, whom Toronto got as part of the Marlins deal, can also play second, but Anthopoulos believes his greatest asset is his versatility (all the infield and outfield positions).
Brett Lawrie will line up beside Reyes at third base, with Edwin Encarnacion getting most of the starts at first and/or designated hitter.
When Encarnacion is slated for some rest, one of Adam Lind, David Cooper or perhaps even catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud will be called upon, depending on how things work out in spring training.
Cabrera will handle left field, with Jose Bautista set to resume his spot in right.
(Bautista, who was limited to just 92 games in 2012 because of a wrist injury, has asked to play winter ball in his native Dominican Republic – a move the Blue Jays said no to just to ensure his overall recovery. Bautista also wants to play in the World Baseball Classic that begins in March, an idea Anthopoulos is still mulling.)
That leaves centre field to incumbent Colby Rasmus, who started strong last season, but faded badly after the All-Star Game, hitting an anemic .223 on the year. He hit 23 home runs, but 17 came before the all-star break.
Anthopoulos said one theory the club is working with is Rasmus overworked himself over the course of the season, and needs to readjust his training habits.
“And I think one thing we’re going to talk to him about is maybe learning to work a little smarter,” the GM said. “He doesn’t need to work as hard as he does. He doesn’t need to take as many reps in the cage.”
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