LAS VEGAS — If there’s one thing Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkin isn’t known for, it’s being blunt.
Atkins tends to choose his words exceedingly carefully, winding around his points to allow for a number of interpretations without making much explicit. That’s why it was a little bit surprising when he made his primary goal at the Winter Meetings crystal clear on Monday.
“We would rather have more flexibility or complete flexibility to know what our opportunities will be on the starting pitching front before we are aggressive with relievers,” he said, after acknowledging slow-playing the relief market like he did last year was a probable strategy for the Blue Jays.
Another rare definitive statement came in a declaration that the starting talent on hand simply isn’t good enough.
We can put together a major league rotation and a Triple-A rotation without going into free agency,” Atkins said. “We need to make it much better than the one that exists, and we will.”
It’s hard to dispute those words. Right now, the Blue Jays have a rotation headed by two talented starters coming off rough years in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, with a lot of uncertainty behind them.
Will Ryan Borucki be able to repeat his strong rookie season despite the lack of a swing-and-miss breaking ball? Is Sean Reid-Foley ready to hold down a rotation spot all year with his inconsistent command? Can Sam Gaviglio break through his presumed sixth-starter ceiling?
Only an unrealistic optimist would assume all of these things will be true in 2019. The Blue Jays know they need to add. Whether they do that in Vegas or not is up for debate.
The latest on Troy Tulowitzki
Given that Tulowitzki lives in Las Vegas, the possibility for a meeting with the Blue Jays front office is there. That hasn’t happened yet, though. Instead, Atkins met with Tulowitzski’s agent on Monday.
“He’s in incredible state of mind and he feels great physically,” the general manager said. “He looks great, he’s moving around well. All positive signs.”
Tulowitzki didn’t play at all in 2018, managed 66 games in 2017, and at 34 he’s ancient for a shortstop. It’s hard to imagine him playing much of a role for the Blue Jays in 2019.
The Blue Jays ‘aren’t shopping anyone’
Despite trade rumours surrounding both Russell Martin and the Stroman-Sanchez duo, Atkins insisted his club isn’t shopping anyone. That doesn’t mean he isn’t leaving the door open.
“We would consider some opportunity if there was one to move him for talent that makes sense for the organization,” he said on Martin.
He also described trading one of his top two starters as “unlikely” but hinted that other teams were getting closer to valuing him as highly as the Blue Jays. That sounds rather innocuous, but when two clubs value a player at the same level, that’s when trades happen.
Atkins says Blue Jays won’t sign players with flipping them in mind
On a day where the Detroit Tigers signed Tyson Ross to a one-year deal, implicitly with the idea of moving him at the deadline, Atkins dismissed the notion the Blue Jays might sign free agents with a mid-season deal in mind.
“I don’t expect us to be acquiring someone to trade them. I think we’ll being acquiring guys who can help make the organization better,” he said. “If we are then in the position where it makes sense to move them we would consider that. Looking for free agent pieces with the goal of trading them is not where we are today.”
That leaves the door open, though, and it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see Toronto peddling some rentals come deadline time.