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GM Meetings can jump-start Blue Jays' offseason

TORONTO -- Tony LaCava's first real test as interim general manager for the Blue Jays is underway with the start of Major League Baseball's General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

The meetings run through Thursday, and while completed deals are somewhat rare at this point, the GM Meetings can often be where the groundwork for future transactions begins. It was at the GM Meetings that Alex Anthopoulos laid the foundation for a blockbuster 12-player 2012 trade with Miami that netted Toronto Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes among its five-player haul.

LaCava, team president Mark Shapiro and the rest of the Blue Jays' front office have a strong core in place for 2016, but there are holes on the pitching staff and some very important decisions on the way. Here's a look at a few of the top issues the group must consider.

Free-agent pitchers
Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Drew Hutchison are the only holdovers from the 2015 rotation. Toronto needs to acquire at least a couple of starters, and free agency seems to be the best bet. LaCava will need to determine whether the Blue Jays have a realistic shot at re-signing David Price and what type of resources that would require before other pitchers start going off the board. LaCava also will need to determine whether right-hander Marco Estrada figures to accept Toronto's $15.8 million qualifying offer prior to Friday's deadline.

This offseason may be a good time to be shopping for pitching. Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals), Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners), Yovani Gallardo (Rangers), Jeff Samardzija (White Sox) and John Lackey (Cardinals) are among the free agents on the market. However, they all received qualifying offers, which means a team will have to forfeit a top Draft pick to sign them. Johnny Cueto (Royals), Mike Leake (Giants), Scott Kazmir (Astros) and Doug Fister (Nationals) are top free agents who don't require Draft-pick compensation.

Dealing from a strength
The Blue Jays have a lot of uncertainty on the pitching side, but the same can't be said for the lineup. Toronto has the ability to keep all nine of its regular hitters in the fold next year, along with most of its bench. The league's best offense will be a strength again in 2016, but the front office will have to decide whether it makes sense to break up some of the big bats.

Third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Russell Martin aren't going anywhere, and the same likely can be said about right fielder Jose Bautista and first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. The two sluggers are entering the last year of their contracts, but they also possess full no-trade protection because of their service time (10 years in the league, at least the past five with the same team). That leaves shortstop Troy Tulowitzki as the lone big bat who might conceivably be dangled, but if LaCava has enough money at his disposal, he can avoid going down that path.

Left field/second base
The Blue Jays have to make a decision on whether Ben Revere or Michael Saunders is their starting left fielder. The cost of keeping both doesn't make a lot of sense, especially considering the club has Dalton Pompey waiting in the wings. The arbitration-eligible Revere could earn more than $6 million next season, while Saunders -- also arb-eligible -- will be closer to $3 million, and this is one area where some flexibility could be created in the budget.

Toronto has a similar issue for playing time at second base, with Devon Travis and Ryan Goins, but it's not as pressing. Goins and Travis will combine to earn barely over $1 million next year, so unless the Blue Jays are blown away with a trade offer, they likely won't make a move here. Goins also likely would become Toronto's shortstop if Tulowitzki were to be moved.

Expect the unexpected
Anthopoulos always seemed to operate in stealth mode, and most of his moves caught the league off-guard. The Martin signing wasn't entirely unpredictable, but the recent trades with Miami and Oakland (Donaldson acquired for a package including Brett Lawrie) came out of left field. LaCava follows a similar discreet approach to the job, and another big move this offseason can't be ruled out.

Names like Kevin Pillar, Travis and Pompey aren't what you expect in the rumor mill this offseason, but if it means they open the door for pitching help, then they also can't be ruled out. The Blue Jays' offseason is never dull, but this one seems likely to be even more entertaining than most.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.
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