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Anthopoulos: Blue Jays need starting pitching

TOR View Full Game Coverage ONTO -- Alex Anthopoulos prides himself on discretion and keeping team matters in house, but on Wednesday night there was no point in hiding what his club needs in order to make the next step.

Toronto's general manager openly expressed his desire to upgrade the starting rotation. He wants to acquire at least two -- if not more -- starters to help bolster an underachieving roster and get his team back into postseason contention as soon as possible.

It was somewhat of a rare admission for Anthopoulos to go on record with his top priority, but the main reason behind the disclosure is that the lack of overall pitching depth in Toronto isn't exactly a secret around the league.

"I think if I sat here and said we were going to get these three free agents and we don't, that would be a problem," Anthopoulos said. "Or we guarantee certain things, that would be a problem. But I think I'm stating the obvious. I mean people look at the numbers, every team, every GM, look at it like we do.

"I don't see how with a straight face I can tell anybody we're all set in the starting rotation. I think I'm stating the obvious, to the fans, to the guy on the corner, to every GM in the league. There might be some other areas that discreetly, quietly I have some concerns with that might not be as apparent. Those are the things I would keep quiet."

Anthopoulos entered last offseason with a similar desire to upgrade the starting rotation, but the club fell short in its pursuit of Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos and to a lesser extent, Yu Darvish.

At the time the Blue Jays were somewhat OK going forward with the status quo. The rotation was expected to be anchored by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, while the likes of Drew Hutchison, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan and Brett Cecil provided some much-needed depth and the possibility of high-end potential.

The problem is that Hutchison, Drabek and McGowan all got injured and can no longer be relied upon for 2013. Romero, Alvarez and Cecil also all arguably took a step back this season, and suddenly adding top starting pitching is no longer just a desire -- it's a requirement.

"We just need quality," Anthopoulos said when asked if he had a specific kind of starter in mind. "If we can go get five front of the rotation guys we're certainly going to do it. You're always looking at the best quality you can get, and that's all it's going to come down to. The guys that are at the front or middle of the rotation, those are guys that are going to chew up innings with good ERAs, all that kind of stuff. We just need to improve."

Anthopoulos' goal will be easier said than done to achieve. It's a difficult asset to acquire at any point, but particularly this offseason, because there are a countless number of teams looking to upgrade on the mound. That will inflate the asking prices in free agency and trades, and Anthopoulos will be forced into being aggressive on both fronts.

The one thing working in Anthopoulos' favor is that he should have more money to work with this offseason. The Blue Jays ranked 23rd in the Major Leagues this season with a $75.5 million payroll, but that will go up in 2013.

Anthopoulos won't reveal exactly how much more money he'll be allowed to spend, but an increase in attendance this season created more overall flexibility. The Blue Jays concluded the 2012 season by selling 2,099,663 tickets, which is an increase of 15.49 percent from 2011, representing the biggest jump in attendance from year-to-year since the Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome) opened in 1989.

The extra revenue from those ticket sales will be invested back into the ballclub, according to the third-year GM.

"Revenues for this organization have gone up, and those revenues are going to be plowed back into the payroll," Anthopoulos said. "We talked about that last offseason, I think everything has been up across the board, and the exciting part is we get to re-allocate that into payroll.

"In terms of pressure and things like that, I don't look at that way at all, it's more opportunities, maybe being able to look at players we may not have looked at in the past. That's an exciting thing."

Toronto entered the final day of the season ranked third-to-last in the American League with 908 innings pitched from its starting pitchers. The starting staff also ranked 10th in ERA (4.86) and opponents' batting average (.267). Those are all numbers that will need to improve if the Blue Jays intend on taking a step forward next season.

That's one reason why there isn't necessarily a prototypical pitcher that the team in targeting. It doesn't matter where the new guys slot in, it just matters that more quality arms are acquired and the depth continues to be improve.

"From starting pitchers, innings are the most important thing," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "That doesn't mean you can keep running them out there when things aren't going well, but quality innings, yes. Does that mean every starter has to be a No. 1 type of starter, well it's probably not realistic that you're going to get that guy unless it's a blockbuster trade.

"That guy is not readily available without a unique set of circumstances in terms of paying or acquiring. So, going to that next step, innings by starters allow you to have a stronger bullpen just by sheer rest. That's a cornerstone for building a contending team."

Toronto Blue Jays