TORONTO - With Alex Anthopoulos what you see is what you get.
The Blue Jays general manager held his annual postseason State of the Union and laid the groundwork for what should be a no-shock off-season.
No shock in the sense of don’t expect Prince Fielder or his free agent ilk to be hanging his hat at Rogers Centre any time soon.
Improving the team is the continued mantra of the loquacious GM and god knows there are plenty of areas that need shoring up.
When you finish 81-81 overall and sit in the lower third in most of the major team statistics, improvement is the order of the day.
On Thursday, however, Anthopoulos stressed that his approach this winter will be the same as other winters — he will be working the phones for trades, keeping his eyes on the free agent market but isn’t prepared to throw big bucks at any one player at this stage of the team’s development.
It may not fill the long-suffering Blue Jays fans with cheer, but that’s the way it’s going to be.
“I get asked all the time: ‘How much money do I have to spend?’ ” Anthopoulos said concerning the overall team budget. “Paul’s (Beeston) words to me are ‘make your case’ irrespective of who the player is.
“I remember my first off-season he constantly asked me about (Jason) Bay and (John) Lackey and did we want to be players with them? I felt they were both good players but it wasn’t the right time for us to delve into that and from a contractual standpoint, it wasn’t going to make a whole lot of sense for us.
“At the same time, there’s a lot of good players out there in free agency. Again it has to line up. I guess the best way to explain it is we like a lot of players but we like them at a price and I think it’s easier to put it if you want to say, overpay, for someone if you feel you’re that final piece away. I don’t know that right now we’re one piece away from putting it all together.
“From our standpoint, ‘I don’t think we’re one player away’ may be the best way to put it. But I still think that there’s value out there and maybe things change if there’s trades that develop.”
But it’s best not to hold your breath.
Anthopoulos strongly believes in building the team via player development, making the odd deal here and there if he can acquire a young player with upside who is cost controlled — see Yunel Escobar and Colby Rasmus as examples — plus make judicious use of the free agent pool.
He just won’t be jumping into the deep end.
“I don’t believe in you have X amount of dollars to spend, so let’s find a way to spend it,” he said of doing a major increase in the team payroll. “You’re limiting yourself to one off-season and one pool of players. My case to Paul is this is going to make us a stronger team and the value of the contract makes sense and it lines up long term, it’s not going to hamstring us.”
That’s not to say he won’t be looking for upgrades as the rotation needs beefing up, the bullpen will need to be completely re-built, a closer identified and secured. Anthopoulos will probably also be beating the bushes for a second baseman and a backup catcher but it’s the pitching that needs the most attention.
“Ideally we’re looking to acquire a middle-to-front-of-the-rotation type starter,” he said. “It’s something we’ll look for and try to upgrade. The bullpen is the same.
“The bullpen is an area where we definitely need to try to improve. Potentially there will be a lot of turnover there with the free agents (that the Jays have there now). More than anything else hopefully we’ll have some improvements internally with the rotation and if we can add somebody from outside, that would be great.
“We certainly have to go the free agent route in the bullpen.”
In other areas:
• He has made contract offers to all of the coaches.
• He hopes to acquire or sign a ‘bonafide’ closer. “It’s definitely an area where we’d love to have one person take the reins start to finish. It’s an area where we can improve and it’s an area we need to improve.”
• Anthopoulos will explore the prospect of signing free agent second baseman Kelly Johnson. If they pass on Johnson or Johnson passes on them? “Right now we don’t see anybody being an internal option at second base so we’d either have to bring Kelly back or go out and get somebody else.”
All in all, Anthopoulos believes the Jays are in better shape now than they were a year ago at this time even though they won fewer games.
“I think we have a better core right now and the minor leagues have taken a large step forward,” he said. “We’re in a better spot.”
To the fans, though, it’s just another fourth-place finish.