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GM thinks Blue Jays are on the cusp of success

Anthopoulos discusses state of the team at year-end news conference

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays put the finishing touches on a disappointing season on Sunday afternoon, but the message general manager Alex Anthopoulos wants everybody to hear is that "we're close."

In his final news conference of the season, Anthopoulos didn't shy away from the fact Toronto didn't to live up to expectations in 2014. The team, which held a six-game lead in the American League East on June 6, didn't find a way to crack the postseason for the first time since 1993. However, Anthopoulos believes there is plenty of hope for the future.

He talked at length about the current core that is already in place and all of the young pitching that has emerged over the past few months. What he likes the most about the offseason, though, is the supposed flexibility of the roster that will make upgrades more possible than a year ago.

"I'm pretty excited about this offseason," Anthopoulos said. "It's probably the first time I've said it as much, because there's going to need to be some turnover in certain areas. We're going to have some flexibility, just because we had a set roster coming into the year -- whether it was guys who were coming back, guys who were under contract.

"As much as it seems like we've got some looming free agents -- and we do -- or some guys with options -- and those decisions need to be made -- there's also an opportunity to add some players and to have some turnover with some guys that I think are going to continue to take a step forward. It can be really exciting."

Anthopoulos might be excited, but this will likely prove to be his most difficult offseason as general manager to date. The 37-year-old has several pending free agents, players with expensive club options and some overall uncertainty surrounding at least five positions on the field.

The first order of business will be making some tough calls on the team options. It seems unlikely that Dustin McGowan ($4 million) and Brandon Morrow ($10 million) will have their options picked up. But the future isn't nearly as certain for Adam Lind ($7.5 million) and J.A. Happ ($6.7 million).

Then, there are the free agents. Outfielder Colby Rasmus and closer Casey Janssen are all but officially guaranteed of heading elsewhere in the offseason, but the team would still like to work out a contract with left fielder Melky Cabrera. That might be easier said than done. But if Cabrera leaves, it will open up another hole that needs to be filled -- and that's the last thing the Blue Jays need.

When looking at the future, Anthopoulos seems at least relatively content with his core group of starters -- which includes R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and possibly Happ. There's less confidence in a bullpen that struggled for long stretches this season and is without a legitimate closer now that Janssen is on his way out.

"I do think we have some relievers -- and I think there's some guys out there that might not be quote-unquote closers, that if given the opportunity can close," Anthopoulos said. "We're going to look to add relievers, and there may be someone that we add via trade or add through free agency that we announce as the closer. There may be a bunch of guys that we add or sign and say they're going to compete to be the closer, depending on who they are."

In a lot of ways, the Blue Jays' 2014 season will be looked at as a missed opportunity. Toronto held onto first place in the AL East until July 3, and were a Wild Card team until early August. For a long time, it seemed like an almost foregone conclusion that this would finally be the year the club would end its prolonged postseason drought.

That didn't end up being the case, and it's Anthopoulos' job to figure out why. The club needs a second baseman, some help in the bullpen, possibly an outfielder and maybe even a designated hitter -- depending on what happens with Lind. It won't be an easy task, but Anthopoulos says he's prepared for the difficult road that lies ahead.

"We know the free agents that are out there," Anthopoulos said. "I have a sense of some of the players that could be available [via] trade. Once you get to the offseason, I expect a whole other group of players to be available. That gets done in the month of October. At some point, we'll come up with where the payroll is going to be, all that kind of stuff. But I expect us to continue to try to build and add and put a World Series team on the field."

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