DUNEDIN, Florida – General manager Alex Anthopulos was expected to return on Tuesday from a business trip to the Dominican Republic.
While he was away, it was the division-rival Baltimore Orioles conducting a little business of their own, scooping up Ubaldo Jimenez on Monday evening to a reported four-year, $50-million contract.
Jimenez's signing leaves only one remaining marquee starting pitcher on the market. That would be Ervin Santana, with whom the Jays have been linked for what feels like an eternity.
Santana is coming off a strong year for the Royals, in which he authored a 3.24 ERA and a 1.142 WHIP over 211 innings. He's exceeded the 200-inning plateau in four of the last six seasons, which reflects positively on his durability but would give a club pause when considering how much, and how long, to invest in a 31-year-old.
"Some things could still change but we're going forward with what we have unless something happens," said manager John Gibbons. "We like this group. That's not my department. You know, Alex is working hard. He's been doing it all winter, half of last season, looking at some different options."
It's anyone's guess who will fill out the back end of the Jays' rotation. Esmil Rogers (4-7, 4.89, 1.434 WHIP in 106 2/3 innings as a starter last season) and Todd Redmond (4-2, 4.41, 1.240 WHIP in 69 1/3 innings as a starter last season) appear to have the inside track, if only because both are out of options. Whoever doesn't win the starting job, if he isn't sent to the bullpen, could be lost on waivers if an attempt is made to send him to the minors.
There appears to be a preference for starting Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek, both of whom had Tommy John elbow surgery during the 2012 season but who have returned to full health, at Triple-A Buffalo. Marcus Stroman, a top prospect, doesn't expect to crack the opening day roster but hopes to prove in spring training he can compete with big league talent. Lefthander Sean Nolin, shelled in his one-off debut against the Orioles last May, could be a factor.
Chad Jenkins, who is effective more often than not when called upon, should be afforded consideration. Ricky Romero would have to show significant signs of improvement this spring to have a chance at cracking the roster.
Hutchison and Drabek come from similar backgrounds in that they've both had regular turns in the rotation, only to go down with injury. Now they're trying to work their way back to Toronto – this time for good – knowing the odds, at least initially, are stacked against them.
Drabek pays his predicament no mind.
"You just kind of have to go into it thinking it's your job," said Drabek. "I've won a job before and, you know, that's kind of how I prepare for it. That's how my Dad wanted me to. Just go in there, do every thing you can right and really not think about it."
"You obviously have to earn it," said Hutchison. "You got there once so you obviously know you're capable of it and you believe in yourself and you know what you can do. It's really about just coming out here and competing and getting the job done."
If Santana eludes them or the term and money prove to be too much of a gamble for Anthopoulos, the Jays will need one of their young pitchers to emerge a pleasant surprise.
It's not the situation a team built to win now wants but after a quiet offseason, it's the scenario which seems most favourable at the moment.