SPORTS

With retooled bullpen, Blue Jays GM says off-season shopping probably done

01/10/2012 01:30 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - After a busy off-season, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays says he's probably done tinkering with the roster for now.

Speaking at a winter caravan stop in his hometown of Montreal, Alex Anthopoulos said he does not expect to make any more significant changes to the club's roster ahead of spring training.

Anthopoulos has been active in recent weeks, overhauling the team's bullpen and making a few additions to strengthen the bench.

He said the team as it stands now is likely the one fans can expect to see when camp opens next month in Dunedin, Fla.

"I think we've filled all the positions, but there are always areas to improve," Anthopoulos said Tuesday. "I wouldn't anticipate any free agent signings anymore at this point ... there's some focus on the trade market but as we sit here today, I don't see us doing anything else between now and spring training."

But as always, Anthopoulos noted: "that can change with one phone call."

The team added veteran left-hander Darren Oliver to the bullpen mix on Monday. Toronto also acquired closer Sergio Santos and brought back reliever Jason Frasor in separate deals with the White Sox earlier in the off-season.

Anthopoulos has also retooled the Jays bench, notably with the additions of outfielder Ben Francisco and backup catcher Jeff Mathis.

Last season, the Jays had a deep lineup that finished in the top five in runs scored but they also had an erratic bullpen. Toronto finished fourth in the American League East with an 81-81 record.

Manager John Farrell said he likes the depth in the outfield with the only question mark being who will start in left field: Eric Thames or Travis Snider.

But having a group of relievers with defined roles in 2012 should help, he said.

"Acquiring Sergio Santos gives us that ninth-inning guy that we can bridge to," Farrell said, adding the continuity should translate into better performances.

"When they are accustomed to being used in certain situations or certain innings late in the game, they can prepare themselves mentally knowing their time of the game is about to come to them."

Anthopoulos said he wasn't concerned about being unable to find another starter. The Jays were linked to a number of starting pitchers but the GM said he wouldn't comment on rumours.

"What we started with last year and what we're going into camp with this year and the inventory we have behind that group — a nice collection of nice arms in New Hampshire (double-A) one phone call away from a call up — there's a lot more ceiling, a lot more upside," Anthopoulos said.

Farrell is expecting quality innings from the current crop of starters.

"For us to narrow the gap between Tampa, New York and Boston, we've got to have those innings come out of that rotation," the manager said.

Anthopoulos and Farrell joined starter Ricky Romero, reliever Casey Janssen, catcher J.P. Arencibia and Canadian third baseman Brett Lawrie as part of the caravan that has already made stops in Ottawa and Toronto.

Other players will join the tour at stops in Halifax and St. John's later this week.

Lawrie, a native of Langley B.C., said he's fully recovered from a broken finger that saw him miss the final few weeks of the season.

While he's slotted in as the starting third baseman, Lawrie said he won't put any added pressure on himself. His bosses said the same.

"This year is a little bit different but I'm not worried about (playing in the majors), I'm just worried about the playing the game, winning and helping these guys," Lawrie said.

The visit to Montreal marked the first time the Blue Jays have made it to the area since the Expos' departure following the 2004 season.

Anthopoulos, a Montreal native who worked previously for the now-defunct Expos and counts the 2002 and 2003 campaigns among his most memorable baseball seasons, said there's a place for the Jays among Montreal fans.

Blue Jays reps visited Quebec City last year and broadcast 60 games on radio in Montreal last season. This year, ball games will be broadcast on French television as well.

Anthopoulos spent the morning switching back and forth from English to French as he answered questions from reporters.

"There's an appetite from a French fan base, we had games on the radio the last two years and the ratings were outstanding, I think they were two-thirds of what the Canadiens get," Anthopoulos said.

He added that going across the country has been an excellent experience for players too — who spend their time primarily in Toronto during the season.

"They are starting to understand this country — it's not just about one city — we are the only team left in Canada and it's important that we give back."

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