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Blue Jays exchange Marcum for top prospect

Blue Jays exchange Marcum for top prospect

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager of the Blue Jays last year, he targeted several players he wanted across various Major League organizations.

Right-hander Brandon Morrow was on that list. So, too, was top prospect Brett Lawrie.

On Monday, Anthopoulos completed his year-long quest to acquire Lawrie, but it didn't come cheap. Toronto was forced to part ways with right-hander Shaun Marcum in a deal that had been rumored for more than a day but did not officially get done until Monday night at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.

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"He has that confidence and that swagger, and that's what the great ones have," Anthopoulos said of Lawrie, who hit .285 with eight home runs and 63 RBIs for Double-A Huntsville.

"He's 20 years old, he has only gotten up to Double-A, by no means is he a lock. But you don't get him when he's already making All-Star teams and doing those things. So we have to try to get these guys at this age and take these risks."

In Lawrie, the Blue Jays acquire one of the top offensive prospects in the game. The native of Langley, British Columbia, has the ability to hit for average and power, while drawing comparisons to the likes of Jeff Kent and Bret Boone.

The Blue Jays originally expressed interest in Lawrie back in 2008, prior to the First-Year Player Draft. He worked out for the organization, but as Draft Day approached, it became obvious to the Blue Jays he was going to be selected by Milwaukee 16th overall -- one pick before Toronto.

Anthopoulos inquired about Lawrie's availability following the 2009 season, but he was told by Brewers general manager Doug Melvin that the promising young player was off limits. He tried again during the season, and the two sides were still unable to come to terms. Finally, following the 2010 campaign, the two organizations started making progress.

Everything came together late Saturday night, but medicals held up the official announcement until Monday.

"Alex has had a lot of interest in Brett for a long period of time," Melvin said. "He's pretty persistent. With Alex, there are a lot of phone calls."

Anthopoulos felt he was able to shop Marcum this winter because of the team's depth in the starting rotation. The Blue Jays have right-hander Morrow and left-handers Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil at the top of the rotation.

At the back end, the club can choose two pitchers from a young group that includes right-handers Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Zach Stewart, and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski.

"We feel we have some depth with the starting rotation with some of the prospects and some of the current starters that we have," Anthopoulos said. "So adding a young position player prospect -- with the athleticism and the tools and the upside that Brett Lawrie has -- was something we felt like we couldn't turn down."

The decision didn't come easily, though. Marcum became Toronto's de facto ace in 2010 after the Blue Jays traded away No. 1 starter Roy Halladay last December. Marcum, who will turn 29 on Dec. 14, went 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 31 starts last season.

He also became a clubhouse leader, and Anthopoulos says he initially struggled with the decision.

"Trading Shaun Marcum was not easy," Anthopoulos said. "This was our Opening Day starter in the American League East with a core of what we feel is a very strong, young rotation.

"I swallowed hard on and I agonized over this trade -- [it's] probably the most difficult trade I've made. You can point to the Halladay trade. But the difference there being that Doc was very adamant and very clear that he felt it was time for a change and wanted to make a move. Shaun wasn't one of those players."

Regardless of how hard the decision was, the Blue Jays are moving forward. The biggest question now facing the team is where to put its newest player.

Lawrie was drafted as a catcher but has risen through the ranks of Milwaukee's Minor League system as a second baseman. Anthopoulos says he hasn't ruled anything out.

"We think Brett can play all over the place," Anthopoulos said. "He has played second base, we've looked at him also potentially playing third base for us, because we do think the tools are there to translate. But those are things that will be determined in Spring Training once we get a chance to know him a bit more and get to watch him on a day-to-day basis."

It remains to be seen how long it will take Lawrie to reach the Major Leagues. He will have to improve his defense, especially if he is tasked with switching positions yet again. But he is also a proven athlete with an ability to adapt quickly.

For now, Anthopoulos would prefer to remain non-committal with his expectations.

"I think it's unfair to start putting expectations and timelines on players -- especially having not been around him," Anthopoulos said. "To try and make a determination, for us, if he can get there sooner rather than later, then that means things are going well. If it takes a little more time from a development standpoint ... then ultimately that'll be the decision the organization takes."

If there was one major thing that can be taken away from Monday's news conference, it is that it does not sound like the Blue Jays are intending to swap Lawrie to another team. Anthopoulos tried to get Lawrie for the past year -- it doesn't look like he'll be letting him go any time soon.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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