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Toronto remaining patient on 'pen fixes

Toronto remaining patient on 'pen fixes

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays entered this offseason with their bullpen in a state of flux.

The club's top performers from the 2010 campaign -- right-handers Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor and left-hander Scott Downs -- were all eligible for free agency, and Toronto faced the daunting task of trying to rebuild its relief corps in a market that has proven to be extremely friendly to free agents.

That mission became a little bit easier last month, when Frasor accepted the club's offer of arbitration. But with Downs signing a three-year deal with the Angels -- and Gregg seemingly on his way out -- the Blue Jays still have a need for more depth in the bullpen.

"The market has sped up here a little bit in the past couple of days, but we need to add to the back of our bullpen," manager John Farrell said. "That doesn't mean that Jason Frasor couldn't serve as our closer. He has done it in the past, even though it has been in limited opportunities, but that's an area we know we need to address."

This offseason, it has been a good time to be a free-agent reliever. In the past, organizations have been reluctant to hand out multiyear contracts to bullpen arms, because their performance is so hard to predict year in and year out.

That trend hasn't held true to form this offseason, though. Relievers Joaquin Benoit, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Downs all received three-year deals, while others like Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are looking for similar contracts.

The contract length and overall dollar value of those deals might surprise some, but Farrell doesn't think it was totally unexpected.

"The one thing you can never predict is what the market will do," Farrell said. "When you look at the amount of teams that were in need of bullpen help, and knowing the inconsistencies year over year that bullpens can be, relievers that became available that were consistent strike throwers, consistent performers, their value has obviously been recognized and teams have pursued them very hard to drive the price where it is."

The market for established closers became especially bare this past week with Bobby Jenks nearing a two-year, $12 million deal with the Red Sox and Kerry Wood inking a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Cubs. The only pitchers who spent a large portion of 2010 closing out games that are still on the market are right-handers Jon Rauch, Rafael Soriano, Octavio Dotel and Gregg.

Toronto has been linked to Dotel through several online reports over the past week, but the Blue Jays have remained tight-lipped about whether there is a genuine interest. The 37-year-old saved 21 games for the Pirates last season, but he struggled with his control, allowing 32 walks over 64 innings and posting a 4.08 ERA.

Dotel likely will be forced to settle for a short-term deal, and if a club like the Blue Jays were to sign him, he would enter Spring Training in competition for the closer's role instead of being the clear-cut favorite for the job.

That type of scenario is something the Blue Jays will likely explore, as most of the top-tier closers have already signed with other teams.

"It all depends on what becomes available," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "Ideally, if you can have your choice, you bring in guys on predetermined roles, but knowing the volatility of relievers, it's pretty hard to do that.

"We lost guys in the bullpen and we'd like to improve it, but we're not going to sign someone for the sake of signing them. It would have to be that we believe they're an upgrade. Are they an upgrade over what we currently have? If we find that player, either in trade or free agency, then we'll certainly end up doing that."

Either way, Anthopoulos isn't going to be pressured into making any quick fixes. The Blue Jays have left-hander David Purcey ready to take on an increased workload in late-inning situations, while veterans Frasor and Shawn Camp provide the team with necessary depth.

If the club does find an upgrade for the right value, then Anthopoulos said he won't hesitate to make the move. But for now, he is remaining patient.

"A lot of times you have to just let things come to you," Anthopoulos said. "You keep your finger on the pulse, but be prepared to react. I think once you start to force things, or feel that you have a timeline, that's when you can make a mistake."

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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{"content":["hot_stove" ] }