With baseball’s winter meetings on this week, it could be a busy time for Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays as they continue to build their 2019 roster.
Earlier this offseason I wrote about how I believed the Blue Jays would be very patient this winter, and would be more apt to make free agent signings in the new year. I still believe they’ll have an eye on some late bargains as well, but it feels like things have changed from a month ago.
Last winter we watched the free agent market move at the slowest point in my memory, with many premium free agents having to settle for less than stellar contracts, and many waiting until late in the offseason to get a legitimate offer. It wasn’t a good look for baseball and definitely didn’t please the MLBPA, but it seems like things are slightly better this winter so far. The majority of the movement has been on the trade block, but with the winter meetings scheduled to get underway on Sunday, things could change in a real hurry.
For the Blue Jays, these meetings could be an opportunity for Ross Atkins to look at a few different options, and maybe even pull an early trigger on a few pending decisions. For example, next week might be the setting the GM needs to negotiate a trade for his veteran catcher, Russell Martin. The 35 year old is in the final season of the five year contract he signed before the 2015 campaign, and still has something left to give to a contender. The Blue Jays are highly unlikely to offer him that opportunity next year, and with a pair of solid catching prospects in Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire ready to take the reigns, it seems like the right decision to give Martin an opportunity to play and win elsewhere.
That will require a bit of work on the part of the Blue Jays’ front office, mostly because Martin is owed 20 million in the final year of his deal. The Jays will undoubtedly have to eat a significant portion of that contract to make a trade, especially because Martin had a down year in 2018. That said, there is always a need for quality catching, and Martin’s resume speaks or itself even if he’s on the downside of his career at this point. For the right price there will definitely be suitors, and Atkins may need to jump at the opportunity this week. That may be especially true as other options like J.T. Realmoto will be a hot topic of discussion at the meetings.
It’s also possible that we could hear a little bit more discussion about pitchers like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, but I sincerely doubt either of them are going anywhere. Ross Atkins admitted earlier this week that either pitcher could be moved in the right scenario, but considering both would be sell-low candidates at this point, it’s hard to picture the Blue Jays getting enough value for either pitcher. When you also consider that the Blue Jays have a need in their rotation, dealing one of their young veteran starters makes even less sense.
Speaking of starters though, it’s possible that the Blue Jays could have some serious discussions this week. It’s hard to say if they are going to be a real contender for someone like Dallas Keuchel, but there are other options that could be available and would help the Blue Jays young rotation set for 2019. When you consider that both Stroman and Sanchez battled injuries last year, and that the rest of the depth chart is something like Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, and Sam Gaviglio, it makes sense for the Blue Jays to be aggressively seeking a starting pitcher, even if they don’t have designs on contending next season.
If it’s not someone they view as a long term piece, like a Keuchel, then I would expect the Blue Jays to wait on adding any significant free agent piece. However, it feels like the market is moving a little quicker than it was last season, so it’s possible the Blue Jays will want to get their checklist taken care of before the options before more limited.
To that end, it’s possible that if they plan on shopping other veterans like Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar, or Devon Travis, these meetings would likely be the time to do their sales pitch as well. I expect that all three will remain in Toronto for at least the start of the 2019 season, but that’s purely a guess on my part. There are teams in need of centre field and second base help though, and Smoak could be an upgrade at first for a lot of contending teams. It’ll be worth keeping an ear to the ground on the trio anyway.
Admittedly there’s a pretty good chance that things could be quiet for Atkins and the Blue Jays over the next week, but it feels more likely that there’s movement than it did a month ago. I’m very curious to see how this front office continues to build this roster, both for the 2019 campaign and for the long term, and I look forward to seeing how things play out.