Anthopoulos on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings

Day 1 of the Winter Meetings is now in the blocks. On the main site, you’ll find my article on Blue Jays’ likely choosing minor additions over another blockbuster move and a piece about John Gibbons entering the season with a lot of pressure to perform.

Here’s a full rundown of what GM Alex Anthopoulos had to say to the media on Monday afternoon:

How do these meetings compare to the first ones you attended in Indy?

“Didn’t enjoy the first meetings in Indy, Roy Halladay, getting grilled by you guys daily, trying to keep it quiet, I didn’t feel pressure the first meeting because it was what it was, it was just hard with the media focus and the frenzy to try and keep things quiet. The tough part of that one is you’re coming here trying to trade a player that has a full no-trade clause, so it’s not one hand tied behind your back, it’s both. Just not an enjoyable process and I think that really cemented my belief in no no-trade clauses, I wouldn’t want to be in that position again.”

Change after payroll jump?

“I haven’t seen that yet from a financial standpoint, I have seen more interest in all of a sudden coming to the Toronto Blue Jays by players. I’ve had other players call me and say so and so wants to come here, free agents, that’s exciting to see. Paul always talked about this, whether it’s the hot water in the bathrooms, or the field, or that stadium, and it’s winning. We haven’t won anything or played a (playoff) game, but it’s the attempt to win and be competitive and be a contending team has opened eyes and that’s exciting. Paul’s right, we have to go out and do it and win, but there’s definitely been more interest because of the commitment that ownership has made and it’s clear everyone believes we’re trying to move forward and make the club better.

Depth to rotation, minor-league free agents, why not aim higher?

“I think you can do both. I always get asked about payroll and it’s not a bottomless pit and we talked about the parameters or the areas, and for where we’re at not, we blew by whatever the area was, that’s in the dust, the rear-view mirror of where I thought we were going to be. The Marlins trade really changed that. It’s not a bottomless pit but I also know the right trade, the right player, I always have that ability to have the conversation with Paul and he in turn takes that up to ownership.

“We’re happy with the five starters we have, it’s the reality of you’re probably going to need more than five, someone’s not going to perform, someone is going to get hurt, so it’s more starters 6, 7, 8, at least and no team is motivated to trade those types of players. They don’t make any money, they have options left, so you’re looking to trade young player for young player or conversely you’re talking about signing a minor-league free agent. It’s important but it’s hard to do. Sure if somebody came up that would push someone out of the rotation, great, I just don’t necessarily see that occurring, and we’re happy with the talent of the starting five.”

Would you look at guys like Kevin Slowey?

“Anyone that qualifies as a minor-league free agent we would look at. The challenge is that we do have five established starters in the rotation right now, so it’s not about selling the opportunity, the opportunity is right there and it speaks for itself. That’s certainly a challenge. The fact that there’s not a lot of upper-level depth, anybody can look at it and say, ‘you know what? I’m one pitch away from being called up, one 6.00 ERA from being called up, and that certainly can happen.’ And it’s probably going to happen.

“The fact that we don’t have a lot of bodies at the higher levels to compete with can open it up. Again, most of those deals to minor-league free agents, at least the ones that have a chance to have the greatest impact, they’re going to wait as long as they can to get a 40-man spot, to get a big-league deal, and those deals might get done in January. The meetings aren’t normally where you get those deals done.”

Carlos Villanueva — Could he be the depth SP/swing man you guys are looking for?

“Yeah, he could. After we made the trades, I called him just to check in with him and just to see where he’s at. He still wants to start but I think, at the same time, with the changes that we made to the team and to the roster, he’s a little more open to coming in and competing for a spot. Carlos wants to win, he has always been adamant about that. Clearly he wants an opportunity to start as well but because he feels better about the team he was a little more open-minded.

“I probably don’t have anything more to report on that front. I just wanted to check in on him and see if he was adamant that he needed a guaranteed spot or if he was a little more open to competing. From my conversation with him, was a little more open but it didn’t go any further than that at that point. I told him this during the summer, that the reason I couldn’t lock into a spot is one, if I did, I would keep my word to him, but I didn’t want to be prevented if a trade presented itself, all of a sudden we made a commitment and I had to turn down a trade.”

Open to the idea of bringing back Brandon Lyon or Jason Frasor?

“Early in the process, all of our free agents, whether it’s the agent or the player, depending on my relationships. Obviously Brandon Lyon I don’t know as well but a guy like Jason Frasor or Darren Oliver I’ve gotten to know a little bit more. We’re open to all of those guys we’re just trying to work through a few things. There’s still some trade opportunities and it’s just like what I talked about earlier, if you still have some options and you make a trade, all of a sudden it may eliminate an opportunity. We want to make sure that some of the trade options, we vet those out and we know that they’re not going to happen. Then we can maybe go back to some of our free agents if they’re still around.”

On whether Oliver’s informed the club whether he’ll be back or not in 2013…

“He’s not sure yet. I talked to him a week or two ago, he’s open to coming back to Toronto, so I think it’s more a decision on whether he’s going to play or not. It’s very consistent to what we talked about last offseason when we signed him, it’s family considerations more than anything else. His boys are getting older and it’s hard being away from home.

“I think he’s encouraged and excited by the changes that we’ve made to the team but I think it’s going to go to January. I just talked to him before we left and he’s going on holidays for a week or so. It may go to January. I think most likely it will go to January. We’re going to continue to have dialogue but right now I’d say it’s a coin flip whether he’s going to be back or whether he’s going to play again.”

On whether a deal for a frontline starter seems likely…

“We always look but I would just say right now, unlikely. If something changed tonight, tomorrow, the day after. I just think there is so much going on. There’s so many teams having dialogue it’s hard to really pin anybody down. I think it’s harder to get things done here. I think free agents, I think the Winter Meetings have become a place where free agents sign, more than trades get made.”

On Eli Whiteside essentially replacing the recently non-tendered Bobby Wilson…

“Pretty much. The Yankees signed him to a deal where they guaranteed some Minor League dollars. We talked about doing the same thing with Bobby Wilson on Friday, where we would have signed him to a pre-tender deal, he may have come off the roster, if he cleared he would have provided us depth. He wanted to see his options, test the market a little bit. So, Whiteside is someone that we think is similar. We like him and we have depth and we’ll just see how the offseason continues to move forward.”

This rules you out of the Rule 5, correct?

“We’re going to be at 40. Today was the day. We could have not claimed Whiteside and left the spot open but we decided to go ahead with it. So, unless we release someone, which we don’t play on doing (we’ll pass on Rule 5).”

On reaction to the news that Alex Rodriguez is undergoing another hip surgery…

“I wasn’t surprised. Maybe slightly on the level of what they say – four to six months. I heard grumblings that there may have been some rumors and things like that  but it doesn’t really change what we do. The Yankees are great. They’re good every year. They continue to be good every single year. Brian Cashman does an unbelievable job of continuing to sign players to short term contracts that produce, so it doesn’t change anything for us.

On whether Janssen’s recent surgery increased desire for more depth in the bullpen…

“No, I find, last year, I mean I talked about this a lot. Transitioning to a team that we hope is a contender year in and year out, starting to place more of an emphasis on the bullpen and building that depth. Again, the more options you have, the greater likelihood that you don’t have to overuse a reliever when the manager has more options.

“We have some guys in the bullpen that have options, so if we have more relievers. That’s why you see us claiming guys on outright waivers, whether it be Cory Wade, we just took off or Jeremy Jeffress and so on. Building that depth is so important, like I said. You know guys are going to get hurt and you need to try to build as much depth as we can.”

On whether it will be tough to replace Oliver in free agency or if club could go with status quo…

“Right now we’re fine with the group that we have with or without him. We’re better if we have him, clearly.But we’re fine with the group that we have. Again, it’s about what do we have behind those guys. Maybe it’s just last season, all the injuries and the changes.I know you can’t have depth all over the place, but depth on the mound is so important. I do think better performance out of the rotation is certainly going to help the bullpen as well. We had so many starts where guys were going an inning and a third, a third of an inning. The bullpen would get crushed for six days. The adage is the bullpen’s only as good as your starting rotation. There’s definitely some merit to that.

“So the more options we have, we’ve talked about right now Loup would be one of the left-handers. Cecil is out of options. He’d have to make the team. You need another left-handed reliever but you have a bunch of righties that can get lefties out. Rogers can get lefties out. Delabar can get lefties out. Lincoln can get lefties out. So, we like the depth. We like the sawing-and-miss ability. I’d just like to have another two or three guys waiting in the wings in case we have to make some changes.”

Update on Joel Carreno (who was struck near the eye by a ball during a game in the Dominican Republic)…

“He’s having surgery tomorrow in the Dominican. He should recover. His eyesight is pretty much come back, He should be recovered in three weeks and ready for spring.”

Update on search for a bullpen coach…

“Gibby and I, we’ve talked about it on and off. Before the meetings. We’ve talked to Pete as well. Pete’s going to have very strong, probably the most important voice because he’s the one that has to work with him day in and day out. We have a short group of candidates. I would expect it to get done before the holidays. There’s a lot of trade stuff going on. There’s a liort of things we were trying to work on before we got here. We just figured when we get to the meetings, we’ll just talk about it more, so it’ll certainly get done before the new year.

On whether there has been more trade talks than a year ago…

“I have to sit back and think about what we did last year, but maybe in my mind I feel like we’re much more specific about who we’re really engaging n trade. I don’t think we’re casting as wide a net. You always cast a wide net at the beginning. You talk to every club. What are your needs? Once I realize we don’t really fit with certain clubs, I really won’t follow up as much as I would have. I’ll stick with the teams I really feel like there’s a really good chance of there being a deal. It doesn’t mean deals get done, but like I mentioned at the GM meetings, there may be 10 teams I feel could be a deal with, but two have a stronger likelihood. Then I push the eight teams to the side and concentrate on the two.”

On who is the favorite in the AL East…

“I would say the way the division ended up last year. You have to go that way. I don’t like to get caught up in what people do in the winter. People talk about Anaheim last year, Boston two years ago. I was here when they signed Crawford and Gonzalez. We were all saying wow, nobody’s going to win a game again. To me you show respect to the teams that already won. The other thing too, is the changes that we made, we’ve got a larger gap to make up. We won 73 games. It’s one thing if we’re within a win or two of each other, but we still have a large mountain to climb. Till we start playing games and guys stay healthy and have good seasons, we’re the fourth best team in my opinion because the other three teams haven’t gotten worse.”

Trading Molina last year make it easier to part with prospects this offseason? You were extremely reluctant to part with Molina but were eventually convinced to pull the trigger…

“I don’t think Molina had an impact on that, I think it was more where the team was. We consciously went into last season….we had our own scouts see our own affiliates more than we ever have. I remember Charlie Wilson saying ‘Man, someone’s running through our affiliates every day, pretty much’ we had a scout there and I really wanted to have as much information on our own players ‘cause we felt like the organization was starting to shift in that direction, and clearly it was going to be the focus was going to be on big-league players rather than Minor-League players. And that’s what…at the trade deadline, because we have a larger staff, by the time we got to July, we already had seen every minor-league team multiple times, so we would have gotten a 3rd or 4th look the last month or two, and we really didn’t need, we had enough.

“So it was let’s now get a 3rd or 4th look at the big-league level instead of a 3rd or 4th look at the minor-league level, because we had all the information so, ummm, I probably spent more time with our affiliates and so on. I think it’s just where you’re at as an organization. 2010 when we started we had a lot of holes to fill – the age of the players, the contractual status – you don’t want to be in the middle, it’s one or the other. I don’t think it’s ever easy to trade prospects and young kids, especially when you have your staff around you that believes so strongly in them.”

More likely to trade or sign for a bullpen piece?

“I think we’re more likely to not do anything in the pen, if I had to guess. If something presents itself, great, but it’s not something that’s a front-burner issue for us. It’d be nice to get a little more depth, it’d be nice to get a little more starting depth.”

On Triple-A affiliate being in Buffalo and how that improves club’s chances at Minor League free agents…

“I think it’s helped. I think the hard part about the PCL is, as a minor-lg free agent, you sign a contract, and if you end up spending the bulk of the year there – you’re signing a one-year deal – you always think about how you’re going to hit the market the following year. Unfortunately, the ERAs are so inflated, you’re not as appealing if you’re coming off a 6 ERA in that league and I think it allows you to maintain your value a bit more, being in the IL. From some of the feedback we’ve gotten, people have great things to say about the operation, the way players are treated, the stadium and so on, that certainly helped as well. I think it’s been a help all over the place.”

Update on Santos…

“I asked our staff that the other day, and again, until he’s off a mound in Spring Training, but they think he’s going to be fine, so we’re encouraged. But again, in my mind, until guys are out there doing it, it’s more of a wait and see approach on all these guys.”

Platoon partner for Lind a top priority?

“I think Davis certainly can do that. We’ve talked about it, I think Gibby’s thought – we were talking about it a little bit today – I think his thought would be to give him one more crack at facing some left-handers early but knowing that obviously we have some other options. But his thought today, and obviously he’ll make those decisions going forward and he could change his mind in the spring and during the season, but he did bring it up today that he thought you know what, maybe to let those guys get the Abs early even against some left-handers, take a look at the results and maybe then make the adjustment, but clearly you look at the left-right splits and we do have some options with some right-handed bats and we’ve looked at who’s our 25th guy going to be and it might make sense to get a right-handed bat. We don’t really have anybody right now who would be the 25th guy.”

On trainer Hap Hudson leaving. Did it have anything to do with the injuries?

“No, no, not at all. Hap’s been a trainer for a long time and he has some other opportunities that he wanted to pursue as well but no, it’s not related at all. Hap could have absolutely stayed in the organization but he wanted to pursue some other things. He was outstanding for us, a valuable and experienced trainer.”

Can you rely on McGowan next season?

“I hope so, but again, anyone who has been injured, I don’t want to go into Spring Training counting on them. That’s not to take anything away from them, but I think we’re better to prepare in the winter that way and if they all factor, I’d love to be in a position that we didn’t count on the injured players and all of a sudden they all come back and we’re stuck and we have too many guys. That’d be a great set-up for us.”

Cecil strictly a reliever now?

“I think so. I think the thought right now is just strictly pen and he’s got to make the team out of Spring Training.”

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