The Toronto Blue Jays were the champions of the offseason after making two major trades. First was the blockbuster deal with the Florida Marlins that brought shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and outfielder Emilio Bonifacio up north in exchange for seven players. General manager Alex Anthopoulos also acquired 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, giving up two of their top three prospects in return.
Those trades made the Blue Jays a trendy pick to win the AL East or at least a wild-card playoff spot, but they never played up to those expectations. By early May, Toronto was 10.5 games out of first place in its division and could never dig itself out of that hole. Reyes, Johnson, Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera all suffered significant or nagging injuries that prevented them from any sort of impact. For all the changes made, the Blue Jays lost 88 games and finished last in the AL East.
Most of the players that Anthopoulos picked up last winter will get another chance to show they can be part of a playoff team. Only Johnson's contract is up, and he could be re-signed to a bargain deal as he attempts to prove he can stay healthy. That leaves a hole to be filled in the Blue Jays' rotation, where there are at least two spots to be filled after the top three of Dickey, Buehrle and Brandon Morrow. Another glaring hole on the roster is at catcher. J.P. Arencibia batted .194 with 148 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances. He's under team control through 2016, but doesn't look like a starter at the position.
Second base may also need to be addresssed. Maicer Izturis is signed for two more years, but is probably a backup after hitting .236 with a .537 OPS. Toronto could also be in the market for a DH if the team decides not to pick up Adam Lind's $7 million option. But with a $2 million buyout and Lind's 23 homers this season, the Blue Jays will likely decide to keep him.
Anthopoulos hasn't typically pursued top free agents, preferring to change his roster through trades. Perhaps attracting players to Toronto is a concern. But if the Blue Jays want to make a major upgrade at catcher, such players are available. Could they make a run at Brian McCann, one of the best free-agent hitters on the market? Jarrod Saltalamacchia is another appealing long-term option. If Toronto prefers to sign someone for one to two years, hoping Arencibia can eventually develop, A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz are possibilities to consider.
On the pitching side, the open market could favor Toronto in that there aren't many No. 1 starters available. But there are plenty of very good No. 2 guys that the Blue Jays could slot in behind Dickey, namely Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. Matt Garza is another possibility, as are Bronson Arroyo and Jason Vargas. Toronto may also pursue Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Anthopoulos lost out on Yu Darvish when he was available two years ago, and could relish another opportunity to bid on a top Japanese pitcher.
If Arencibia isn't the starter at catcher, the Blue Jays should be able to find a taker for a 28-year-old backstop under team control for three more seasons. Kyle Drabek is another player who hasn't lived up to his promise that another team might be interested in, especially since he won't be a free agent for another four seasons. Could Anthopoulos convince one of his fellow GMs that Ricky Romero would benefit from a change of scenery and possibly rediscover his All-Star form of 2011? That could be a tough sell, especially since Romero is owed $15 million over the next two seasons. But cost-controlled young pitching does have its appeal.
There aren't many prospects left to trade after last year's big trades, though pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez could conceivably be included in a deal. Outfielders Anthony Gose (who was almost a part of the Dickey trade) and Moises Sierra may draw interest from other teams as well.
It's difficult to imagine that the Rays would trade David Price to another AL East team. Toronto could offer young, cost-controlled pitching in return, but doesn't have any minor league phenoms that Tampa Bay would surely want in return for its ace. A more realistic target might be the Tigers' Rick Porcello, coming off the best season of his career with two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining. Considering Detroit's need for bullpen help, perhaps the Blue Jays could tap into its deep corps of relievers to put together a trade package.
After trading Travis d'Arnaud to the Mets, could Toronto be looking for another catcher of the future? The Braves probably don't want to give up their top catcher prospect, Christian Bethancourt. But with Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird on Atlanta's roster, perhaps he's expendable for some young pitching. Atlanta could also possibly help with the Blue Jays' concerns at second base, as Dan Uggla figures to be available after his disappointing 2013 season. Other second basemen Toronto could pursue include the Nationals' Danny Espinosa and Howie Kendrick of the Angels.