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Anthopoulos: Blue Jays unlikely to add free-agent starter; feel good about internal options

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DUNEDIN, Fla. - Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said if Toronto adds another arm to their starting rotation before the regular season it probably won't come through free agency.

Anthopoulos said while the team isn't opposed to making a move, he is convinced it can compete with the current options.

"We'd like to do it, but we're not going to do it at all costs," Anthopoulos said Thursday. "I think it's unlikely at this point. We're getting so late into spring training, (it's) unlikely unless a trade emerges. But again, as the off-season has progressed, we've felt better about the internal options."

It's a little different from where the Blue Jays were one year ago.

Last winter, Toronto attempted to bolster its starting rotation for a potential playoff push by acquiring 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets, and Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins.

But after a series of injuries — including a season-ender to right-hander Brandon Morrow in May — and a surprisingly poor season from Johnson (2-8, 6.20 ERA), the rotation finished with a 4.81 ERA, second-worst in the majors to only the Minnesota Twins (5.26).

This spring, questions regarding pitching still remain.

Johnson bolted for the San Diego Padres on a one-year, $8 million deal, leaving a spot vacant in the rotation that manager John Gibbons says is not yet filled.

And, with the exception of signing 2008 All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro, Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays were not close to making deals with any other major free agents this off-season, despite rumoured interest in righty Ervin Santana.

Still, Anthopoulos is more confident now than he was at the conclusion of last season and feels good moving forward with younger players like right-handers Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek to help fill the void.

"We're going to go as far as our rotation can take us," he said. "I think the guys that we have are going to surprise. I feel better about it today than we did in October when we didn't know what Morrow's status was going to be, how Drew was going to look in the fall league, how Stroman was going to look in the fall league, or how Drabek was going to emerge from the off-season and how he's throwing the ball now."

Anthopoulos said he understands the ire of fans, who have criticized both him and the organization's lack of activity in the free-agent market. However, he believes the team has enough pitching to contend in the American League East this season and, with time, the moves will pan out as planned.

"We believe in these guys, believe it's going to come, and these guys are going to be successful, especially some of the young guys we have," Anthopoulos said.

"There's a reason they were drafted as high as they were, there's a reason they were as highly touted as they've been. The skepticism and all that, I totally understand. It comes with the territory. But I think these guys might really surprise."

NOTES: Gibbons said all position players reported on time Thursday. He expects the first full-squad workout to take place on Friday morning. . OF Melky Cabrera arrived to camp looking noticeably slimmer and more muscular. On Tuesday, SS Jose Reyes said the 2012 All-Star Game MVP told him he's in "the best shape of his life" and Gibbons echoed that, adding that Cabrera has recovered from surgery in September to remove a benign tumour from his spine. "All indications are that was the cause of it and he should be fine," Gibbons said. "He should be back to normal. He's a big part of this team."

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