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Blue Jays still looking to upgrade rotation

With Tanaka going to Yankees, several big names available on free-agent market

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TORONTO -- The market for starting pitchers received a little bit more clarity on Wednesday when Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees. The Blue Jays were never considered a serious threat to sign Tanaka, but there have been plenty of rumors surrounding their interest in several other big-name free agents.

The free-agent market has remained stagnant for the past month, but that should soon change now that Tanaka is no longer available. The agents for other starting pitchers are expected to ramp up efforts to have their clients sign prior to Spring Training, and there could be a flurry of activity over the next couple of weeks.

New York was crowned the winner of the Tanaka sweepstakes, which leaves several organizations on the outside looking in. Toronto is just one team out of a very large group that could still use an upgrade to its rotation. Competition will be fierce, but it shouldn't take very long for everything to play out.

Here's a closer look at some of the pitchers who are still up for grabs on the open market:

The Big Three

Ervin Santana: The right-hander hit the market at the right time after posting an impressive 3.24 ERA in 30 starts for the Royals last season. With the exception of an incredibly disappointing 2012 campaign, Santana has been one of the more reliable pitchers in baseball over the past several years. He has recorded an ERA below 4.00 in three of the past four years, and in each of those years, he also exceeded 200 innings. Santana's value has been hurt this offseason because most teams would have to forfeit a first-round Draft pick in order to sign him. The Blue Jays don't have to worry about that since its two picks in the first round are both protected.

Ubaldo Jimenez: The 30-year-old was once considered one of the best pitchers in baseball until his stock hit rock bottom late in the 2011 season. Jimenez's problems continued the following year, but the Dominican native figured things out during his final season before free agency. Jimenez posted a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts with the Indians, but he still comes with a lot of risk. The righty walked 80 batters over 182 2/3 innings last season, and the lack of command will be a big red flag for whatever organization he ends up with.

Matt Garza: The veteran is the only pitcher of the top trio who that didn't receive a qualifying offer at the end of the year. Texas wasn't allowed to extend that type of offer after it acquired the 30-year-old in a midseason deal with Chicago. Garza is a proven commodity in the American League East after having spent three years with the Rays, but there are some question marks about his health. There also are some concerns about his attitude after a well-documented blowup vs. Oakland last season. The Angels appear to have the inside track, and Garza appears to be the least likely of the top three remaining free agents to sign with Toronto.

The second tier

Bronson Arroyo: He appeared to be closing in on a deal with the Twins in December, but a contract failed to materialize and he is still available. Arroyo reportedly is seeking a three-year deal, but he will turn 37 on Feb. 24, and that has to be a concern for some teams. Still, Arroyo is one of the most durable pitchers in baseball, with at least 200 innings under his belt in all but one of his past nine big league seasons. The one year he failed to reach 200 was in 2011, and he missed the plateau by just one inning.

A.J. Burnett: The right-hander reportedly is contemplating retirement, and if he does return to the Major Leagues for another year, it will likely be in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have yet to receive any indication about whether Burnett will be back, but general manager Neal Huntington was recently quoted as saying he continues to communicate with the player's agent. Regardless of what happens, it seems like a reunion in Toronto is extremely unlikely.

The remaining crop

Paul Maholm, Scott Baker and Jason Hammel are some of the other starting pitchers who remain unsigned. It seems very unlikely that Toronto would feel inclined to sign a lower-level free-agent starter. Although there is plenty of depth in the Blue Jays' system, it's the quality of that depth which is still somewhat of a question mark. If Toronto strikes out on one of the top free agents, then it's likely the club will stand pat and take its chances by selecting either Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman, Jeremy Jeffress, Ricky Romero or Dustin McGowan for the final spot in the rotation.

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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