TORONTO -- A real sense of optimism surrounded the Toronto Blue Jays last spring. The feeling vanished in mid-June after a spate of injuries and would not return as the team settled for yet another mediocre season.
The Blue Jays closed things out Wednesday with a 2-1 win over Minnesota and settled for a fourth-place finish in the American League East at 73-89. The focus now turns to general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who will spend the off-season trying to build on a decent foundation via trade or free agency.
He has his work cut out for him.
The starting rotation needs a significant upgrade, questions have been raised about clubhouse leadership and there are several areas that need improvement for this team to be a contender.
What's clear is the days of banking prospects for the future appear to be over. Anthopoulos is prepared to be a buyer this winter and has confirmed the team's payroll will rise.
"It's not a bottomless pit," Anthopoulos said at his season-ending media availability. "It doesn't mean we can have everybody we want. We're going to have to be creative and make some things fit.
"But it's definitely more to work with than we did last year and that will certainly be exciting."
Manager John Farrell, who has one year left on his contract, didn't hesitate when asked what he'd like to see Anthopoulos target in the off-season.
"Same as a year ago," Farrell said. "Starting pitching."
The starters were hammered by injuries this season. Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchinson all missed significant chunks of the season.
Making matters worse were inconsistent results from Henderson Alvarez and an off-year by ace Ricky Romero. The injury woes didn't help the overworked bullpen, which had to deal with major injuries to closer Sergio Santos and Luis Perez.
Toronto used 12 different starting pitchers and a franchise-high 54 different players during the season.
"Stability and continuity always lend to the potential for more success," Farrell said. "But when changes were needed because of injury, we went to the next depth player and in some cases they might not have been fully ready or up to the same type of production to the player they were replacing."
Romero struggled mightily over the second half, finishing with a 9-14 record and a bloated 5.77 earned-run average. Morrow (10-7, 2.96 ERA), meanwhile, was one of the few bright lights in the rotation this season.
The GM does have several building blocks in place.
The farm system is considered deep and there are a number of prospects who might make good trade bait. Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season, Jose Bautista was impressive before going down with a wrist injury and Casey Janssen did a great job after taking on the closer's role.
Catcher J.P. Arencibia and third baseman Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., have plenty of potential. Fellow youngsters Anthony Gose and Adeiny Hechavarria showed impressive flashes after being called up.
It will likely take around 90-95 wins to book a ticket to the post-season next year. Farrell said the team's performance on the mound will be key in determining whether that goal can be met.
Retiring infielder Omar Vizquel said the Blue Jays may just be a few players away from contending in the always-tough East Division.
"I think that we're pretty close," he said. "A little help here and there and I think this team can be one of the surprising teams of the American League next year."
-- The Associated Press