Jays GM Anthopoulos made it a Blue November with his one-stop shopping: Griffin
NASHVILLE, TENN.-There were several obvious signs that the Blue Jays are done dealing at these winter meetings and that GM Alex Anthopoulos is happy with where his roster stands at this point, 68 days before the start of spring training for pitchers and catchers.
First, when the Jays added catcher Eli Whiteside on a waiver claim from the Yankees early in the week, it filled out their 40-man roster. Most years they will leave a spot open in order to leave the option of selecting a player in the Rule 5 draft, the final procedure of the annual meetings. That draft took place on Thursday morning.
The Rule 5 is meant for veteran minor-league players that were not protected by their clubs and are available to be selected and move up. The catch is they must stay on the new club's 25-man roster all year or be offered back at the end of spring training. Because of the heavy lifting Anthopoulos did earlier in the off-season, there was no scenario under which he could see that happening with a minor-leaguer. The Jays did not participate.
Second, Anthopoulos arrived late and left early from these meetings. He came in to the Opryland on a Monday flight from Toronto, after the trade-fest had already started, and changed his departure to early on Thursday, skipping out on the Rule 5, leaving it to his assistants. The Jays were active in the minor-league portion wherein their Triple-A and Double-A teams can select players from the teams below them in other organizations.
"January will be minor-league signings, maybe last minute trades, teams that have lost out on certain players if we have depth somewhere, maybe we'd have a fit there," Anthopoulos had analyzed on Wednesday of his next possible moves. "Clearly we made a large transaction early and that's going to impact our ability to do other things. I don't expect to do anything big."
Basically, the Jays went into the off-season with a self-admitted, itemized shopping list. They needed two starting pitchers, a second baseman, a left fielder and a legitimate leadoff man. In the space of one week in November, they filled all of those needs.
They made THE DEAL with the Marlins, obtaining Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson for the rotation; Jose Reyes at shortstop and leadoff and utility man Emilio Bonifacio who is a candidate for second base. Before the trade they had signed second baseman Maicer Izturis. After the trade they had quickly signed disgraced left fielder Melky Cabrera.
If it wasn't exactly one-stop shopping, it was one-month shopping that filled most of their needs in one-fell swoop. Doing it all at once made it easier to talk Rogers ownership into taking on a huge and unanticipated amount of payroll. It was one decision rather than dragging out the process and trundling up to the head office with each new move.
“We had people in the office that would not have done tha trade," Anthopoulos said. "Which is an indication that it was a fair deal from a baseball standpoint. It's very hard to give up that kind of talent. One of the big talking points internally was whether to give up the players – we were taking on a lot of dollars – or just go spend it in the free agent market and we get to keep our young players, which in theory is outstanding. That is the way to go, in theory, if you can guarantee getting the free agent players."
In hindsight, making the moves early in the winter had multiple benefits for Anthopoulos and for the organization. It created a renewed enthusiasm for Blue Jays baseball that took away much of the sting of the final few months and having manager John Farrell abandon ship. It created a belief among free agents like Melky Cabrera that he would be coming to a winning situation. All of Jose Bautista's free agent friends apparently want to come and play now. It has helped sell tickets and removed the "small-market" perception in the United States that has dogged the Jays since the strike.
“The problem is as we've seen even last year, there was an example of a reliever that we tried to sign last year, I must have called the agent 80 times," Anthopoulos recalled. "We were offering more money and ultimately it was geography, it was family, it was all those things. Sometimes, even if you have more money and more years, there's no guarantee you're going to get the player.
"You just don't know how things are going to go and as much as we sit here and talk about let's go sign this free agent and I remind everybody that a bunch of other teams are having the same conversaton we are. There's value to getting the bird in the hand. In a perfect world you keep the young players, you sign the free agents to get the right value. From that standpoint it was the certainty of acquiring the players carried a lot of weight."
So, with the inability of the Yankees to spend money, with the Red Sox throwing money around like drunken sailors, with the Rays always looking to keep their payroll in a manageable range and with the O's still just a one-year wonder looking to make it two, how does Anthopoulos now handicap the AL East as he heads home for the holidays.
"I still think there's so much more to be done on all levels," he said of not only his club, but of the competition. "We ended up making a transaction early, not be design, it just worked out that way. There's no doubt, those teams, not the Rays, do have dollars to spend, they have holes to fill. They're going to keep doing it, so normally New York and certainly Boston can be big players in free agency. I expect that to continue. We made a big transaction early. There's a lot of very good free agents that are still out there, so we're not done. Those teams are going to continue to get better. No doubt about it."
In the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, the Jays lost one minor-league player and selected three in the AAA and AA portion.