The Toronto Blue Jays steered clear of any major alterations to the lineup over the off-season, vesting hope instead in upgrades to the bullpen.
With the additions of Sergio Santos and Francisco Cordero, they've added two pitchers who combined for 67 saves last year. Santos, 28, had 30 saves with the Chicago White Sox and Cordero, 36, recorded 37 for the Cincinnati Reds.
Santos arrived last December in a trade for prospect Nestor Molina and is signed through 2014 for $8.2-million (U.S.). Cordero signed a one-year, $4.5-million contract as a free agent three weeks ago. Toronto also reacquired its long-time setup reliever, Jason Frasor, from the White Sox in a separate deal; Frasor struggled in Chicago (1-2, 5.09 earned-run average) after being dealt by the Jays in late July.
As the Blue Jays gathered in Dunedin in advance of Wednesday's first official workout for pitchers and catchers, general manager Alex Anthopoulos was aware of criticisms the American League East club has once again made moves for the future rather than the present.
"There's no doubt about it, I really like the team," Anthopoulos said, before departing for Florida. "I think it's as talented a group as we've had since I've been here, top to bottom.
"I just like our depth of young talent at the major-league level and the minor-league level as well. I think the organization is in the best position it's been since I've been the GM."
While baseball may yet add an additional wild-card team this year, the Blue Jays' road to the postseason has been made more difficult by aggressive off-season moves of some AL rivals.
The Los Angeles Angels opened up the vault, committing about $317-million in salary through the signing of three-time National League most valuable player Albert Pujols and 16-game winner C.J. Wilson.
The Detroit Tigers, coming off the AL Central title, signed slugging free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214-million deal, while defending league champion Texas Rangers shelled out some $110-million on Japanese import pitcher Yu Darvish.
Last season, apart from Ricky Romero (15-11, 2.92 ERA), the Blue Jays rotation was a disappointment. Toronto's starters combined for an ERA of 4.55, ranked 11th in the AL. The starters' 964 2/3 combined innings represented the ninth-lowest total in the league, taxing the bullpen.
"There's no question that the starters last year didn't perform up to their abilities," Anthopoulos said.
The GM still believes he has the makings of a solid rotation, led by Romero.
No. 2 starter Brandon Morrow (11-11) was inconsistent last season, but had a strong finish, allowing just two earned runs over his last three starts. The Jays signed him a three-year, $20-million contract in anticipation of a big season from the 27-year-old.
The rest of the rotation should be filled by Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil and likely Dustin McGowan, should his long recovery from shoulder injuries continue without any setbacks. Alvarez, a 21-year-old Venezuelan signed by the Jays in 2006, was 1-3 with a 3.53 ERA in 10 starts last season. Cecil went 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA.
Kyle Drabek, the primary asset in the Roy Halladay trade two years ago, needs a strong camp to factor into the mix. Over parts of two seasons, Drabek's compiled a 4-8 record with a 5.83 ERA.
Anthopoulos said he isn't concerned with Drabek's slow progress, comparing him to Clay Buchholz, who pitched a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox toward the end of the season in 2007. It wasn't until 2010 that Buchholz became a consistent force on the mound, going 17-7 and making the all-star team.
"With young starters sometimes it takes time, like a Romero," Anthopoulos said. "It finally came together for him as a 24-year-old. For Buchholz, it was as a 25-year-old. Kyle's still only 24, and the stuff is there. It could come together any time for him."
The question for Drabek, as for fans of a team that hasn't made the postseason since 1993, is whether the future is now.