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Winter Meetings offer Blue Jays new opportunities

TORONTO -- The heavy lifting is over and the roster appears mostly set. But with more than two months remaining in the offseason, there is still plenty of time for the Blue Jays to make further adjustments.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos will head to next week's Winter Meetings with most of his offseason needs already fulfilled. Toronto has been by far the most active team since the end of the 2012 campaign and there aren't many items left on its to-do list.

That doesn't mean Anthopoulos is prepared to close up shop, though. There's still a desire for more organizational depth on the mound, and the fourth-year GM still has plenty of trade chips at his disposal to make it happen.

"We have so much time left in the offseason, this sets us up and it really makes my job significantly easier now, because it eliminates a lot of options," Anthopoulos said last week. "We know what we have to work with. We'll continue to be active, I'm not saying you'll see any more 12-player deals, but we're going to try and continue to improve the club.

"It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but we have plenty of time left in the offseason and until we get to the end of January we're not going to stop trying to improve the club."

Toronto entered this offseason in desperate need of a makeover following a disappointing 2012 season. A series of devastating injuries and subpar seasons from some of the club's core players put Anthopoulos in the unenviable position of needing to make wholesale changes.

The Blue Jays had a clear need for a pair of frontline starting pitchers and a lineup that needed players with an ability to get on base in front of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. It seemed like a daunting task, but within the span of a week almost every hole has been filled.

Toronto pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal with Miami that saw Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck head to the Blue Jays. Later in the week, the club added another piece to the puzzle by signing free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year contract.

Despite the onslaught of moves early in the offseason, there are still some holes that need to be filled. Anthopoulos is open to the idea of looking for an upgrade over J.A. Happ as the club's fifth starter and there is an obvious need for more depth in the rotation.

Last season, the Blue Jays used 12 starting pitchers. That was in large part because of a fluke year with injuries, but the club still wants to be prepared in case history repeats itself. Outside of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero and Happ there aren't a lot of options.

Right-hander Chad Jenkins appears ready to take on a replacement role should the need arise, but Triple-A Buffalo needs to be stocked with more high-calibre arms.

"I think we can still use some depth in the starting rotation," Anthopoulos said. "I like the five guys we have right now, but we don't have a lot of depth behind those guys. We certainly can improve there and I think we can always get better in the bullpen, which is something that we'll look to do as well.

"From a position player standpoint, I think there are always areas to improve. Anytime there's a chance to improve we're going to do that."

The Blue Jays aren't expected to make a run at any of the remaining major free agents. The club's payroll appears as though it will be north of $120 million, which represents a massive bump over its approximately $80 million total from 2012 and there's skepticism that it can go much higher.

That's why the Blue Jays likely will take a run at improving their pitching through trades. Mets starter R.A. Dickey remains a possibility if he cannot work out an extension in New York, while other pitchers could be put in play during the upcoming Winter Meetings.

Even though Toronto dealt three of its top 20 prospects in the recent trade with Miami, there is still plenty of Minor League talent left over. The Blue Jays also could use some of its catching depth to strike a deal, with J.P. Arencibia, Buck, Bobby Wilson all on the 40-man roster and top prospect Travis d'Arnaud waiting in the wings.

Anthopoulos will no longer be forced into making any moves. In some ways, he's in the perfect position to possibly strike again.

Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes