DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' options in free agency have been slowly dwindling over the past several weeks, and all of a sudden there is just one remaining big-name pitcher still left on the board.
Right-hander Ervin Santana is the only viable solution that remains on the open market after Baltimore signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year contract on Monday night. The talent pool was never all that deep to begin with this offseason, but over the course of several months, the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett and Jimenez have signed elsewhere.
Santana is still available, but that is expected to change in the relatively near future with camps across baseball already open for business this spring. Toronto reportedly still has interest, but it's possible there will be competition from the likes of the Yankees and Mariners.
"Some things could still change, but we're going forward with what we have, unless something happens," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We like this group. That's not my department. [General manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] is working hard, he has been doing it all winter and half of last season, looking at some different options. Whether something happens or not, nobody knows -- we just approach it with, 'Let's get after it with what we have.'"
At the end of last season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion the Blue Jays would upgrade their rotation. The question wasn't if Toronto would add another starter, but how many pitchers the club would be able to acquire.
There was a seemingly endless list of rumors associated with the club over the winter months. Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs was one target, while a deal with the A's for left-hander Brett Anderson reportedly fell through because of an issue with his physical.
Then there were the constant links to the available free agents, but to date, nothing has happened. That has unsettled some of the fan base. Those are the type of things the players can't concern themselves with, but it does become a problem if the disappointment seeps into the clubhouse as well.
According to Gibbons, he doesn't think that has happened but admitted it's really up to each individual how he will react to the moves or lack thereof.
"Some people might look at it that way, others won't," Gibbons said. "There's no question, we struggled with starting pitching last year, so naturally you're looking to upgrade that. But it's not easy to do. There were a couple of deals in the works that ended up falling through -- I'm talking trade route -- and then there's the free agents. There's a little bit of a bidding war out there, so it's not automatic that you're going to get those guys."
The one thing Gibbons went out of his way to clarify was that his GM has done everything possible to upgrade the team. It hasn't worked out yet, but things could change rather quickly, depending on whether an agreement can be reached with Santana or a trade scenario suddenly surfaces.
"The guys that are gone, that signed with other guys -- Garza and Jimenez -- Alex worked hard to try and sign those guys," Gibbons revealed. "It just didn't happen. But we'll see. You watch what happened last year, everybody thinks that easy and you can bring in guys any time you want, and it doesn't work that way. And it has to fit, it has to fit with what you're trying to do, with your plan."
Gibbons to stretch out starters a little quicker
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker have made a slight adjustment to this year's Spring Training schedule, but for the most part camp will resemble the one from 2013.
The lone exception is that the Blue Jays starting pitchers are expected to throw two innings during their first start of the Grapefruit League season, as opposed to just one. That will build up their stamina a little bit quicker and potentially provide a tad more strength before Opening Day.
Two innings is more in line with what other teams across baseball normally do, and that was also the plan when former manager John Farrell and pitching coach Bruce Walton ran things from 2011-12. Gibbons stressed the change is very minor, though, and he certainly doesn't feel conditioning was one of the reason for his club's slow start last year.
"They all need to get on a program to get ready for Opening Day," Gibbons said. "Even last year, where we struggled, it wasn't a question of fatigue. We got beat up so early in the game. If we had pitched better, you'd see some guys go six or seven innings, but that wasn't the case.
"Two innings, that's probably the biggest adjustment you'll see. Health wise and stamina wise, they were ready to go last year, they just got beat up so early in the game, we didn't want to leave them out there."
Toronto will officially open its spring schedule with a game against the Phillies on Feb. 26. Exhibition games will continue until the Grapefruit League season wraps up with a short series in Montreal against the Mets from March 28-29.
The starters will begin at two innings and then gradually build up their endurance by likely adding an inning each time out.