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Blue Jays will look to retain either Frasor or Lyon

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are set to begin the offseason with plenty of holes to fill, but only a handful of their own pending free agents to worry about.

Toronto only has four players -- Jason Frasor, Brandon Lyon, Carlos Villanueva and Kelly Johnson -- preparing to hit the open market now that the World Series has come to an end.

It's possible that the organization will part ways with the entire group, but if anyone returns the odds are on the veteran bullpen arms in Lyon and Frasor.

"They both did great jobs," general manager Alex Anthopoulos recently said when looking back on their seasons. "Jason got hurt in the middle, but he's been here a long time. He leads in career appearances for this organization and everything else he does bring.

"But the bullpen is an area of depth. It's going to be important that we have some relievers that have a chance to be here for a while. Both guys we'll strongly take a look at. I don't know where that's going to go."

Each player approaches free agency a little bit differently. Some are nervous or apprehensive about the state of affairs, while others relish the opportunity to immerse themselves in the business aspects of the sport.

Lyon chooses to take the latter approach, and has been through the process enough to understand its intricacies. The 11-year veteran previously hit the open market in 2009, and then again the following offseason, when he secured a three-year contract that is rare for a reliever.

The Blue Jays have strong interest in bringing him back into the fold, but it remains to be seen whether the two sides can agree to terms. Lyon is seeking another multi-year contract, but likely will have to take a pay cut from his $5.5 million salary in order to find an interested suitor.

"Not stressed out about it, that's the last thing," said Lyon, who posted a 2.88 ERA in 30 appearances with the Blue Jays. "I've made it this far in my career that I understand what free agency can consist of. You'd like it to work out perfectly every time and it doesn't, but I'm excited to go into this offseason, see what it holds for me and where I'll be next season."

Frasor, meanwhile, hits free agency for just the second time in his career. The Blue Jays' all-time leader appearances would prefer to remain in Toronto, but still isn't sure whether there will be mutual interest this offseason.

The non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisitions of Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln, plus the potential return of injured closer Sergio Santos, means Toronto has a little bit of flexibility this offseason when piecing together a bullpen. It seems extremely unlikely the Blue Jays would be able to find a spot for both Lyon and Frasor, so there will be at least one reliever left out in the cold.

The uncertainty and the seemingly endless hours of waiting for the phone to ring is exactly what Frasor hates the most about free agency. Frasor has no idea where he'll be playing next season, and the fact that everything is so open in the air clearly weighs on his mind.

"It stinks, it's stressful," Frasor said of free agency. "The market is just flooded with guys like me -- middle relievers. There's just so much competition, there aren't enough jobs to go around and that's when you see split contracts, Minor League deals, and that's tough.

"It's tough for a middle reliever, somebody's who not a superstar, there aren't any seven-year contracts, I'm not expecting that. I'm just looking for what I deserve."

Players can start signing with other clubs after midnight ET on Friday.

Contract issues
Unlike past offseasons, the Blue Jays don't have a lot of money tied up in players that aren't expected to play a key role in the future. First baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind is the lone exception, as he is owed an additional $5 million in 2013 with a $2 million buyout at the end of the year.

Left-hander Ricky Romero will see his salary go from $5 million to $7.5 million next season, but he isn't expected to be shopped. The Blue Jays have no intention on selling Romero when his value is at an all-time low following a disappointing 2012 campaign that saw him post a 5.77 ERA.

Areas of need
Second base: There isn't expected to be a lot of interest in bringing back free agent starter Kelly Johnson for another season. Johnson is coming off a frustrating year in Toronto, which saw him hit just .225 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs, while tying Jose Canseco's strikeout record with 159.

Johnson, who made $6.375 million in 2012, likely will seek out a fresh start with another organization, while the Blue Jays look for alternatives. The club could turn to an outside solution, or possibly hand the job to either Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechavarria or utility infielder Mike Aviles. Pending free agent Marco Scutaro was considered a possibility, but he's likely priced himself out of Toronto following an impressive postseason in San Francisco.

Left field: The Blue Jays could open next season with Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis platooning in left, but the club is still open to the idea of upgrading the position. Veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera could be an interesting candidate, as he will be looking to re-establish his value following a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and likely can be had on a short-team deal.

Former Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino could be another option the club would look at, but he'll likely be seeking a lucrative multi-year contract. The Blue Jays would ideally add someone with a high on-base percentage to slot near the top of their lineup.

Starting pitching: Villanueva is seeking a multi-year contract and an opportunity to start, but that's not something the Blue Jays are prepared to offer. The club is currently looking for upgrades to its rotation and doesn't want to tie itself down this early in the process.

That's one of the reasons why Toronto didn't extend Villanueva's contract prior to the end of the year. Villanueva will instead likely be forced to look elsewhere as he tries to put the emphasis on the way his starting gig began (3.03 ERA in his first 11 starts) compared to the way it came to an end (8.10 in final five starts).

Starters like Dan Haren and Jake Peavy could become targets if their clubs options for 2013 are declined. Detroit's Anibal Sanchez is also expected to get an extended look, but Anthopoulos will attempt to get most of his upgrades via trade instead of free agency.

2013 payroll
The term "payroll parameters" became a hot topic of conversation last offseason, when Anthopoulos described his club's financial affairs. Toronto does not operate under a set payroll, but there is a range the club needs to work within, and anything above that would need approval from ownership.

Anthopoulos is already on record saying the payroll will go up in 2013, but that was already a given considering players that are due raises either through arbitration or as part of their long-term contracts. There's still some wiggle room to spend more, but the likelihood on a big-name signing like Zack Greinke remains remote at best.

Toronto Blue Jays, Jason Frasor, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Lyon, Carlos Villanueva