Blue Jays extend playoff drought to 21 years, changes expected after stumble from early lead

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TORONTO — Since general manager Alex Anthopoulos engineered a major roster overhaul before the 2013 season, the Blue Jays have gone 0 for 2 in chasing a playoff berth.

Expect some changes before Toronto tries again in 2015.

Before the Blue Jays wrapped up their season Sunday, Anthopoulos said he's "pretty excited" about what lies ahead this offseason. Especially after a quiet winter last year, when his only notable move was signing catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million deal.

"I expect us to continue to try to build and add and put a World Series team on the field," Anthopoulos said.

Even a postseason team would be a welcome change. The Blue Jays went 83-79 this year and finished out of the playoffs for a 21st straight season, the longest active drought in baseball.

"We didn't achieve our goals," Anthopoulos said. "It's probably more disheartening this season just because I felt we were close."

Toronto was 38-24 on the morning of June 7, six games ahead of Baltimore in the AL East standings. At that time, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were providing the power while Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey were pitching well.

The Blue Jays went 45-55 the rest of the way, including a 9-17 slide in August that all but ended their postseason hopes.

"Every team goes into the season optimistically, but realistically not all 30 have a shot," manager John Gibbons said before Sunday's finale. "We felt we had a shot."

If the Blue Jays want a better shot in 2015, they'll have to shore up a shaky bullpen, close a revolving door at second base situation and fill one or two vacancies in the outfield.

"We've got to improve in multiple areas," Gibbons acknowledged.

Closer Casey Janssen is eligible for free agency, as are left fielder Melky Cabrera and center fielder Colby Rasmus. Of the three, only Cabrera is likely to be retained.

"Melky has sincerely expressed a desire to be back," Anthopoulos said. "He's expressed we're his first choice. I don't think it's lip service."

Cabrera's .301 average this season was the highest of any Blue Jays regular. While he suffered a season-ending finger injury on Sept. 5, Cabrera's entire game improved vastly from 2013, when he was bothered by a tumor on his spine.

In pursuing Cabrera, or any free agent, Anthopoulos doesn't intend to break Toronto's club policy and offer a contract longer than five years.

"Our five-year policy is still firmly in place," Anthopoulos said. "That's not going to change. I understand that will take us out of some players, but it's something we're philosophically opposed to."

The Blue Jays also face decisions on whether to pick up contract options on oft-injured right-hander Brandon Morrow, who missed four months with a torn tendon in his index finger, and righty Dustin McGowan. Morrow, who pitched out of the bullpen following his return and has been touted as a potential closer, would cost the Blue Jays $10 million next season, while McGowan's option is for $4 million.

"We're going to look to add relievers," Anthopoulos said, "and there may be someone that we add via trade or add through free agency that we announce as the closer."

Two players whose options look more secure are first baseman/DH Adam Lind ($7.5 million) and left-hander J.A. Happ ($6.7 million).

Toronto used seven different players at second base in 2014. Perhaps the most intriguing was Brett Lawrie, who made 26 starts at second and 44 at third, but saw his season derailed by injuries for the third straight year. Three innings after returning from a broken finger on Aug. 5, Lawrie suffered a strained oblique, his third in three years, and was lost for the rest of the season.

Anthopoulos said he'd consider making Lawrie's move to second base permanent if he could acquire a third baseman.

"We won't close the door on that," he said.

Starting pitching, Toronto's biggest area of concern last winter, has since turned into a strength thanks to the emergence of rookie right-handers Marcus Stroman (11-6, 3.65) and Aaron Sanchez (3 saves, 1.09 ERA in 24 relief appearances). That doesn't mean, however, that the Blue Jays are eager to trade pitching prospects in order to fill holes.

"I want to hoard as much as we can," Anthopoulos said.

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