Alex Anthopoulos hasn't committed more than $3.75MM to any free agent since becoming the Blue Jays' general manager more than two years ago. He has downplayed the likelihood of a substantial increase in payroll this offseason and the Blue Jays don’t appear to be especially interested in free agent right-handers Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. In other words, it’ll be a surprise if the Jays sign one of the top available free agent starters before Opening Day.
It’s not clear how the Blue Jays intend to bolster their starting corps, but it’s no secret they could use rotation help heading into the 2012 season. Ricky Romero leads a rotation that will likely include Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Henderson Alvarez. To compete in the stacked American League East, they’ll probably need reinforcements.
As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained earlier today, there are many lower-tier free agents who represent buy-low opportunities for teams like the Blue Jays. It’s not clear whether the Blue Jays believe free agents such as Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders and Jeff Francis could thrive in a division that includes two of the game's most potent offenses. None of the three left-handers averaged a 90 mph fastball or struck out more than 5.4 batters per nine innings in 2011, though they all pitched at least 160 innings.
Free agent right-hander Bartolo Colon could appeal to the Blue Jays on a one-year deal, but only if the front office is willing to overlook a pedestrian second half that included two ugly starts in Toronto. There’s also Rich Harden, the British Columbia native who posted 9.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 15 starts for the Athletics. It appears unlikely either Colon or Harden would require a major financial commitment, but both have histories of health issues that could reduce Toronto’s interest.
Anthopoulos has averaged roughly one trade per month since becoming the team’s GM in 2009, so it’s safe to say he’s eyeing the trade market and it's likely he's looking beyond highly publicized trade targets like Matt Garza (he’s not likely to join Toronto’s rotation, according to Rosenthal). Since 2010, the Blue Jays have orchestrated deals involving Sergio Santos, Vernon Wells and Yunel Escobar without much advance notice, giving Toronto fans reason to expect the unexpected.
It appears that Jair Jurrjens, Gavin Floyd, Jon Niese, Chris Volstad, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers could be obtained for the right combination of prospects and salary relief. Should Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis or Brandon McCarthy become available, the Blue Jays may inquire. The same goes for Tampa Bay starters such as James Shields, not that obtaining a top pitcher from a division rival is ever easy.
There’s also the possibility that the Blue Jays will open Spring Training without having added a high-profile arm to the rotation. Kyle Drabek could start in the Majors if he regains his command. Dustin McGowan and Aaron Laffey could compete for rotation spots in Spring Training. Prospects such as Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins could get looks in the rotation at some point. Relievers Carlos Villanueva, Luis Perez and Jesse Litsch started games last year and could re-emerge as rotation candidates.
Recent history suggests Anthopoulos prefers the trade market to the free agent market, the Blue Jays could use a starting pitcher and they have a deep farm system. It's tempting to assume the Blue Jays will trade for a starter in the coming weeks, but after a winter's worth of Gio Gonzalez and Yu Darvish rumors, Blue Jays fans know that predicting their team's next move remains as difficult as ever.