Upgrading pitching staff atop Blue Jays' list

Club would love to keep Price, but bidding war will be highly competitive

Upgrading pitching staff atop Blue Jays' list

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' front office might be in a state of flux this week, but they intend to operate in "business as usual" mode now that the Hot Stove season is officially under way.

Toronto settled some of its off-field business Monday afternoon by officially introducing Mark Shapiro as president and CEO. The Blue Jays also announced that longtime assistant Tony LaCava had been promoted to interim GM while manager John Gibbons would return for 2016.

Blue Jays Hot Stove Tracker

The search for a permanent GM is under way, and LaCava likely will be considered, but the immediate priority is finalizing plans for the offseason. Toronto has most of its position-player core intact for 2016, but there are a number of holes on the pitching staff that will needed to be addressed.

Here's a closer look at what lies ahead for Toronto's offseason:

Free agents: IF Cliff Pennington, C Dioner Navarro, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Marco Estrada, LHP David Price, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Jeff Francis.

The Blue Jays are saying all the right things about wanting Price to return, but his bidding war will be highly competitive and could exceed $200 million. The Cubs are an early favorite, though negotiations could last into December.

Price's quality start

Estrada is hitting the market at the perfect time after a career season. The Blue Jays face a difficult decision of whether to make a qualifying offer to the veteran righty. That could come with the price tag of $15.8 million, but would guarantee Draft-pick compensation if Estrada left.

Lowe and Navarro need to be either re-signed or replaced. Hawkins previously announced his retirement, while it's possible Buehrle will do the same in the coming weeks. Pennington is expected to depart as a free agent, while Francis likely will seek another Minor League deal.

Team options: RF Jose Bautista ($14 million), 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion ($10 million), RHP R.A. Dickey ($12 million), IF Maicer Izturis ($3 million).

The team options for Bautista and Encarnacion are guaranteed to be picked up, while Izturis is a lock to have his contract bought out for $1 million. Dickey's status is less certain, but it seems likely his option will be picked up after the veteran knuckleballer posted a 2.80 ERA during the second half.

Dickey strikes out Perez

Needs: Marcus Stroman is the only member of the rotation that seems guaranteed to return. Price, Estrada and Buehrle are free agents, and while Dickey likely will be retained via a club option, it's not a foregone conclusion. Drew Hutchison is the only other member of the organization who could step into a starting role, so at least a couple of pitchers need to be added.

One solution would be moving young right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna to the rotation, but if that happens, the club would need to add a couple of more arms to the bullpen.

Potential targets: The list of free agent pitchers is headlined by Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and Zack Greinke, who is expected to opt out of his contract with the Dodgers this week. Beyond the top candidates, there's a second tier with intriguing options such as Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, Hisashi Iwakuma, John Lackey, Yovani Gallardo and Doug Fister. There will be no shortage of candidates this winter, and in Toronto, there will be no shortage of rumors.

Trade assets: The Blue Jays dealt a lot of their top prospects before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the cupboard isn't exactly bare. Top Minor Leaguers include OF Dalton Pompey, OF Anthony Alford, C Max Penticost, RHP Connor Greene and slugger Rowdy Tellez. Major League trade candidates include Ben Revere, Michael Saunders and second baseman Devon Travis or infielder Ryan Goins.

Revere's outstanding catch

Financial situation: Toronto's budget remains unknown, but it seems unlikely to be decreased after the club's overwhelming success in 2015. The Blue Jays finished with a payroll in the range of $140 million and a similar number should be expected next season. Once team options and arbitration raises are considered, that would leave approximately $30-40 million to work with this winter. It's a big sum, but one that is spent quickly in free agency.

Bottom line: The focus will be on pitching, pitching and more pitching. The Blue Jays' offense was the best in baseball, and it's possible that every major contributor returns. However, upgrades will have to be found in both the rotation and bullpen for the team to again be considered a legitimate threat in 2016.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.