LAS VEGAS — Figuratively at least like their brethren in Major League Baseball the Blue Jays will have a seat at the high rollers table for the annual winter meetings swap and sign fest here in Sin City this week.
Appropriately, as we wait to see who pushes the most chips in to land prized free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the convention is being held at the swank Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino where money is of little object.
Given their current devalued status however, the Jays and general manager Ross Atkins would be a better fit up the street at the earthy, low-roller Fremont Street casinos such as Binion’s Gambling Hall or the El Cortez.
The Jays will be as active within reason, of course, but aren’t expected to be involved in anything resembling a blockbuster.
As for free agents, the team is shedding salary and saving it for when (if?) the youth movement well underway yields a competitive enough team. With that in mind, any shopping done this week will be of the modest variety.
“We have a lot of flexibility,” Atkins said. “The young core we have coming up, we could not be more excited about. And having flexibility now and doing forward, we are in a great position.
“We will be able to be aggressive and be opportunistic.”
Aggression and opportunism from the Jays view is all relative, of course. Much as they did the past two seasons, the AL East have-not team is most likely to looking in the bargain bin, though there is certainly a near dire need for starting pitching.
As it stands now, the rather threadbare rotation includes Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Ryan Borucki, each with individual concerns.
Sanchez hasn’t been a competitive starter for two seasons as he battled blister and finger issues, Stroman struggled mightily at times in 2018, a clear regression in his form. And Atkins acknowledged that while the team is thrilled with the development of lefty Borucki, a step back is often possible for a young pitcher.
“Young, controllable pitching is very difficult to acquire so we’re not going to easily and readily acquire more Ryan Borucki or Sean Reid-Foley types,” Atkins said. “Adding at the free agent level is more realistic and something we’ll be looking to do.”
The hope, of course, is that any addition to the starting five would be more suited to the big leagues than last year’s disaster, Jaime Garcia.
“We are focused on (pitching) and it is our priority,” Atkins said. “We are absolutely open-minded to (add) in any way to get outs.”
Atkins rather candidly has made it clear that he’ll be part of the swap shop talk, with several possible trade chips if he can make the appropriate deal. It’s no secret that the team would be thrilled to unload veteran catcher Russell Martin. The Jays would have to pay a large chunk of the Canadian’s $20 million US salary but if a credible prospect comes back in return Atkins and his staff would be fine with that.
Given the glut of infielders on the roster the team at least has some limited currency for helping make a deal.
And perhaps surprisingly, Atkins has acknowledged that he’s willing to part with Sanchez and/or Stroman in the unlikely event that the price is right for either young, controllable arm.
“What we are really trying not to do is put any firm timelines on anything and trying to fine tune the depth that we have,” Atkins said. “We feel strongly about the position player group and wanting to complement that with pitching is a priority.”
Still, don’t expect anything that unfolds here to precipitate a rush for season tickets after last season’s sharp drop at the gate. More likely, Atkins will have his nose in on the bit players such as 2017 off-season acquisitions Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte, both of whom have moved on. (Diaz came in a trade with the Cardinals prior to last year’s winter meetings while Solarte came over in a swap with the Padres in January.)
The most notable move Atkins made at the past two winter meetings was to acquire utility man Steve Pearce back in 2016, a player the team felt expendable last summer by sending him to Boston to become World Series MVP.
The meetings will also be an opportunity for new manager Charlie Montoyo to get better acquainted with the Jays management and player development staff. Pitching coach Pete Walker, who was spared the purge following manager John Gibbons’ dismissal, is also expected to be on hand.
It’s all with an eye to what Jays brass hopes will be a not-too-distant future when the prospects are legitimate major leaguers. In keeping with the town we’re in however, the Jays are decided long shots to do anything in 2019, no matter what happens this week.
At one casino on the strip, Toronto’s odds to win the World Series are pegged at 75-1, 20th overall in MLB. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?
DON’T EXPECT JAYS TO BE AGGRESSIVE
As a potential hint to the Blue Jays managerial mindset entering baseball’s annual winter meetings, general manager Ross Atkins sure sounds like the level of urgency isn’t high.
Readily acknowledging the future of the franchise will be driven by the promise of prospects already in the organization, Atkins suggested Toronto management won’t be bullish here among rival teams.
“Right now if you think about the outfielders that we could have going into the season and if you thing about the (infielders) and catchers that we have, we could go into the year without making an addition and field a major league team,” Atkins said. “It’s not our goal, but we could field a major league team that could be relatively competitive — not competitive enough — but that’s a good starting point.”