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Blue Jays exploring market for starters

LAS VEGAS — The market for starting pitchers gained more clarity on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, and while the Blue Jays were not involved in any of the transactions, the club does have some standing offers on the table.

J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn and Tanner Roark were among the starters who were reportedly either traded or signed new deals in Las Vegas. The Blue Jays remained inactive in official transactions, but they are in the market for a couple of starters, and behind-the-scenes conversations have continued.

LAS VEGAS — The market for starting pitchers gained more clarity on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, and while the Blue Jays were not involved in any of the transactions, the club does have some standing offers on the table.

J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn and Tanner Roark were among the starters who were reportedly either traded or signed new deals in Las Vegas. The Blue Jays remained inactive in official transactions, but they are in the market for a couple of starters, and behind-the-scenes conversations have continued.

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said he has options for both free agency and trades, and while he didn’t want to commit to one avenue over the other, it does sound like the Blue Jays might be getting closer to getting something done. It’s just not there quite yet.

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“I’d say it’s split,” Atkins said when asked about free agency vs. trades to find a starter. “Today, literally, we have made progress in both of those areas. … We definitely made progress today. We have offers out. There could be yes’s and no’s coming. There could be a negotiation that starts to move in a direction, and it also could all just go away or just hit pause.”

Veteran left-hander Dallas Keuchel remains the top starter available through free agency, but despite some previous rumors to the contrary, Toronto is not a realistic landing spot. The Blue Jays are instead expected to target a secondary tier of starters where some value can be found on short-term deals.

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Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi, the non-tendered Shelby Miller, Mike Fiers and Trevor Cahill are some of the starters who fall into that category, while former Blue Jays prospect Kendall Graveman, who underwent Tommy John surgery midway through last season, represents a longer-term play.

Toronto’s rotation currently includes Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki with a lot of uncertainty, but a decent amount of depth, behind them. Trent Thornton, Julian Merryweather, Sam Gaviglio, Thomas Pannone and Sean Reid-Foley are among those who could compete for a job, so the club won’t be pressured into any deals, but at least an arm or two is expected.

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“I feel like we have such a good starting point with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, traded for Trent Thornton, having a really good Triple-A rotation, there is enough pitching there that we feel like we would be able to add depth,” Atkins said.

Change of plans in the Rule 5
The Blue Jays initially were not expected to make a selection in this week’s Rule 5 Draft but Atkins’ stance appears to have changed in recent days. Toronto, which currently has two open spots on its 40-man roster following the release of Troy Tulowitzki, is now expected to make a selection.

Toronto also faces the strong likelihood of losing someone in the Rule 5 for the first time since 2011. The Blue Jays were forced to leave a large number of Rule 5 eligible players exposed, and names such as outfielder Forrest Wall, right-hander Jordan Romano and left-hander Travis Bergen might generate some interest.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Atkins conceded. “In protecting Jacob Waguespack, felt like that was mitigating that [risk] somewhat, but there are several other players that we really struggled to not protect I would imagine some other teams would have some interest in.”

The four-man outfield
The Blue Jays will be using a lot of different on-field strategies next season compared to the tactics previously used by former manager John Gibbons. New manager Charlie Montoyo suggested on Tuesday that his club might occasionally use the “opener” strategy of having a reliever start games. The following day, Atkins suggested the Blue Jays will be a lot more aggressive with shifts, including the use of a four-man outfield.

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The Twins were among the teams to use a three-man infield and four-man outfield when Justin Smoak was batting for Toronto. The Blue Jays are likely to follow suit in isolated situations with pull-heavy hitters.

“There will be an increase and uptick in that,” Atkins said. “John Gibbons was very traditional and was slower to move to that type of innovation. Not to say that he wouldn’t, but I think Charlie’s experience with it being successful, having already had that, he will be more apt to try things that are perceived as different.”

Quotable
“Each quarter, each year and each season is going to be different for us. We haven’t been working here for a long time, and we’ve had incredible support in the time that we have been here, it’s only been positive, but it will only get better from year in and year out, and it will turn into increasing the term of our vision and increasing how far we are looking out in terms of payroll.” — Atkins, when asked if he had permission from ownership to save money from 2019 payroll and re-allocate it to ’20 instead

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.



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