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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays tread lightly into winter meetings

General manager Alex Anthopoulos spared no expense in beefing up the Toronto Blue Jays scouting department and adding senior advisers, but he will be light on his feet when baseball's winter meetings begin Monday in Dallas.

Anthopoulos says the Blue Jays will have one of the smallest groups at the meetings, more a reflection of his aversion to paralysis by analysis than any scaling down of ambition. It is his preferred means of doing business when dealing with peers and with agents.

Anthopoulos's public wish-list is well-known: a closer, a second baseman and, of course, that old standby of added pitching depth.

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The best available free-agent second baseman is a guy who finished the year with the Jays – Kelly Johnson – but Toronto would likely rather take compensatory draft picks and let somebody else sign him. And even with Friday's agreement between Heath Bell and the Florida Marlins (three years, $27-million U.S.) there are closers on the free-agent market, such as Francisco Cordero, and still others reportedly available via trade, such as Joakim Soria of the Kansas City Royals.

Anthopoulos believes there is better value in the trade market, and handicapping the Blue Jays' chances in free agency is a lot easier than separating fact from fiction when it comes to trade rumours.

Two of the clubs with which he's done business in the past – the Chicago White Sox and Atlanta Braves – have sent out signals that they plan on using the trade market as opposed to free agency to further their own ends this season.

The White Sox are said to be considering something of a rebuild, while the Braves are one of those mid-market teams that is forced to be extremely active to keep open its window of opportunity. Atlanta has indicated a willingness to trade 25-year-old right-hander Jair Jurrjens, who is a free-agent in two years and represented by Scott Boras, as well as 28-year-old right-handed hitting second baseman Martin Prado, who had a down season offensively in 2011, and can also play third and outfield.

The Blue Jays will also monitor what exactly the Cincinnati Reds are up to, especially in terms of contract negotiations with a second baseman they'd grab in a heartbeat (Brandon Phillips) and, to a degree, machinations involving the future of Toronto-born first baseman Joey Votto, who can be a free agent after 2013.

His peers say Anthopoulos isn't much of a tire-kicker; that he cuts to the chase and would rather spend his time trying to cobble together three-way deals than waste time pie-in-the-sky-ing.

This winter, the Blue Jays haven't taken many of their prospects off the table: Outfielder Travis Snider and pitcher Kyle Drabek are available for discussion. A pair of relationships to keep in mind, then, are those with former Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi – who is now a special adviser with the New York Mets – and Marco Paddy, recently named White Sox special assistant in charge of international operations. (Paddy was largely responsible for re-establishing the Blue Jays as a force in international free agency in his role as the teams director of Latin-American operations.)

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Now that the Blue Jays have succeeded in regaining the attention of their fanbase, team president Paul Beeston has told sponsors and people within ownership he is aware a next step is necessary to prevent a flagging of energy.

But he is still saying publicly that his philosophical opposition remains to contracts longer than six years for position players. At a luncheon with members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America last Thursday, and against suggestions pitcher Yu Darvish may jump to North America, Beeston was coy when pressed for clarification of his stance on the costly process of "posting" for Japanese players (by which major-league teams fork out tens of millions of dollars for the right to make an offer to a Japanese free-agent).

Anthopoulos played along, prodding reporters.

The GM managed to get Beeston to overcome a significant aversion in getting him to sign off on a five-year contract extension for pitcher Ricky Romero in 2010, but it would be an even neater trick getting Beeston to think big, bigger, biggest in the free-agent market. That leaves the Blue Jays not even on the periphery for the likes of sluggers Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols – unless Beeston and Anthopoulos are working some kind of ruse.

All's fair at this time of the season, folks. They might have us all exactly where they want us.

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