Looking ahead to the trade deadline…

The Blue Jays aren’t expected to make any major moves at this year’s Non-Waiver Trade Deadline but with just over two weeks to go until July 31st there’s still time for things to change. General manager Alex Anthopoulos continues to look for potential fits but at this point doesn’t anticipate making any deals.

“At this point … I don’t think we’re close to doing anything,” Anthopoulos told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “If I had to handicap it right now, I’d say I don’t expect us to do anything but that could change quickly and I hope I’m wrong.”

Toronto was in a similar situation last year but pulled off a surprising mid-season deal for Yunel Escobar. The club took advantage of a Braves organization that had grown tired of waiting for Escobar to fulfill his potential. Atlanta was looking to make a playoff push in Bobby Cox’s last year with the team and opted to go with veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez instead.

Anthopoulos will monitor similar situations this season and said he is still keeping all of his options open.

“If we can improve the club we’ll always look to do that,” Anthopoulos said. “It always comes down to the assessment, or the value, and what you’re giving up.

“If we feel that the value is there for us, even if it’s an incremental upgrade, we’ll end up doing it even if it’s short term. Even if you get someone here for two months, maybe you get to know them for a little bit. Maybe they get to know the city, their teammates and maybe even if it’s a prospective free agent you get a chance to sign them back because you do have that window of exclusive negotiating rights.”

Here’s a quick rundown of potential Blue Jays players that could become bargaining chips in the next couple of weeks:

Frank Francisco — Unlikely to be on the move because he is currently ranked as a Type-B free agent and could net the Blue Jays a compensatory pick in next year’s First-Year Player Draft. The right-hander’s struggles this year also have impacted his trade value but if a team feels inclined Anthopoulos likely will listen to all offers.

Jason Frasor — Frasor also is currently ranked as a Type-B free agent and would net the Blue Jays a draft pick if he leaves via free agency. He also has a team-friendly option on his contract and it’s still not completely out of the realm of possibilities that he is back with the club next year. For what it’s worth, Frasor is just one appearance shy of tying Duane Ward for the most all-time appearances (452) in club history.

Shawn Camp — Another one of the Blue Jays potential Type-B free agents in of the bullpen. He would be in line to receive a raise on his $2.25 million contract through arbitration but likely will receive better offers on the open market. Anthopoulos would need to receive similar or greater value to a compensation-round pick in order to pull the trigger on any deal.

Octavio Dotel — Dotel is the likeliest Blue Jays reliever to be on the move before the end of the month. Dotel makes $2.75  million (with a $750,000 buyout) this season and would almost definitely accept arbitration at the end of the year because — at age 37 — he’s unlikely to get a multiyear offer in free agency. That negates his Type-B status but Anthopoulos could move Dotel to a team in the market for a right-handed specialist out of the ‘pen.

Jon Rauch — The final player with Type-B status in the bullpen that could become a free agent at the end of the year. Rauch is also signed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with a club option in 2012. If Anthopoulos receives an offer he can’t refuse then he’ll obviously make the deal but it’s hard to imagine a team giving up value equal to that of a compensation pick to acquire his services.

Other potential trade candidates

Carlos Villanueva and Jo-Jo Reyes could be available to contending teams in need of some help at the back end of their starting rotations. That seems unlikely — even with Villanueva’s recent success — because of their limited track records. Teams in the playoff hunt likely will want more of a guaranteed commodity. A more likely scenario is that the Blue Jays continue starting the two hurlers in an attempt to boost their trade value heading into the offseason.

Last year, Toronto had a series of veteran players that were obvious trade candidates. The 2011 team is much younger and doesn’t have the same type of obvious veteran presence that would normally be on the block. Corey Patterson likely would be available for a team in need of a fourth outfielder while Jose Molina could be had for similar reasons behind the plate. The dark horse candidate could be Aaron Hill if another team believes he can turnaround what was a lackluster performance in the first half of the year.

 Misc. Anthopoulos notes from Thursday afternoon:

Update on negotiations with 2011 top draft picks: “The baseball calendar really dictates the ebbs and flows of the season and the timing of doing everything. You can still multitask and talk about drafted players. But no one is in a rush to do anything. It seems like no one is motivated to do anything, everyone seems to want to wait until the end. That’s why I think each year, more and more, we see players signing closer to the deadline. I would definitely say that the focus of most, if not all front offices, is on the trade deadlines, sending scouts out to see players, teams, things like that.”

Expectations for the second half: “Obviously you always want to win and that’s what you’re going to be judged on but you do want to see improvement and strides especially from the young players. You realize with young players they have options and there’s a reason they have them and any young player we call them up I expect them to be optioned down at some point. It’s not that I want them to, it’s that reality dictates that they will.”

Update on Kyle Drabek: “The last few outings have been very good. He’s throwing a lot of strikes, curveball has been very good. Hopefully he can keep it going but he has done a very good job there. The stuff is still the same, up to 97, plus curveball, I like the fact that the cutter is not an option because it forces him to continue to work on his changeup. Even though the cutter is a great pitch for him, it has great action … it allows him to focus on getting ahead with the fastball. If he does, everything else is going to play up because he has got a fastball that can dominate a lineup.”

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