TORONTO -- The free-agent-signing period is about to begin, and now Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos must determine if his work should be done on the open market or through trade.
Anthopoulos has preferred to make the majority of his additions through deals with other teams. Prior to last offseason, his biggest signing was left-hander Darren Oliver to a one-year contract valued at $4.5 million.
That changed last year, with the free-agent additions of Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis, but neither contract was particularly lucrative. Anthopoulos has resisted the urge to offer any player upwards of five years, and it would seem likely for that trend to continue this offseason.
The problem with the trade market is that it would cost the Blue Jays even more prospects from their Minor League system. Right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, along with outfielder Anthony Gose, remain enticing commodities, but beyond that, the vast majority of talent can be found in high Class A and below.
There appear to be three holes that will need to be addressed in the offseason. Expect at least a couple of those to be filled via trade, while the remaining vacancy could be taken care of by a free-agent signing. Anthopoulos likes to work quickly in an effort to avoid a bidding war, as evidenced by last year's November signing of Izturis.
To a certain extent, Anthopoulos' back is against the wall this offseason, and other teams know it. The Blue Jays likely have a window of opportunity of two years to win with their current core group of talent, so a couple of big additions must be made in order to address the shortcomings. Starting pitching is at the top of that list, but almost every team in baseball is seeking rotation help, which should only complicate things for Toronto.
Teams can start signing free agents five days after the end of the World Series. Here's a closer look at the Blue Jays' contract situations and areas of need:
Free agents: OF Rajai Davis, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP Ramon Ortiz, LHP Oliver (retired)
Eligible for arbitration: OF Colby Rasmus, C J.P. Arencibia, RHP Esmil Rogers, LHP Brett Cecil
Non-tender candidates: Arencibia, Rogers (although it would be unlikely that either player would be cut loose)
Club options: 1B Adam Lind ($7 million, $2 million buyout), RHP Casey Janssen ($4 million, no buyout), 2B Mark DeRosa ($775,000, no buyout), SS Munenori Kawasaki ($1 million)
Payroll: The Blue Jays don't operate under a set budget but instead within certain parameters that can change depending on what players become available through free agency or trade. The club will need to spend approximately $130 million to keep its current roster intact next season, but according to a report in the Globe and Mail, that number could rise to $150 million under the right circumstances. That would give Anthopoulos at least a little bit of flexibility to make a couple of major additions to his squad in an effort to overcome this year's disappointing results.
Areas of need
Catcher: The Blue Jays thought they had their catcher of the present and the future in Arencibia, but a lot has changed following a disappointing 2013 season. Arencibia battled a knee injury for most of the season, hit below .200, and while he should revert back to his 2011-12 form next year, the club is still looking for an upgrade. Free agent A.J. Pierzynski could be of interest to the club while Brian McCann is expected to attract a major bidding war and a lucrative multiyear contract. Other targets could happen through trade such as Los Angeles' Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger.
Second base: Anthopoulos would like to find an upgrade at second base during the offseason, but it's not exactly a buyer's market. The free-agent crop is relatively thin, with Yankees star Robinson Cano being the lone exception to the rule, and he's expected to ask for more than the Blue Jays would be willing to pay. Detroit's Omar Infante could be a possibility, but a more realistic scenario would see the Blue Jays upgrade this position through trade. Los Angeles' Howie Kendrick and Chicago's Gordon Beckham are available, while Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips was also recently put on the market.
Starting pitching: For the second consecutive year, the Blue Jays find themselves in the market for at least one, and possibly two, starting pitchers. The only starters who appear to be guaranteed jobs next season are R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and the frequently injured Brandon Morrow. There's a slew of candidates for the fifth spot, but the club is in desperate need of another middle-of-the-rotation arm to upgrade its current rotation. The Blue Jays could fill one of those holes by re-signing Josh Johnson, while Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka is another possibility. This position is still more likely to be filled via trade, with a series of possibilities from across the league including Oakland's Brett Anderson.