As the market is ready to change, Blue Jays are ready to move

TORONTO — Everything is still in play at the moment. Nearly four weeks into the MLB off-season, all elite free agents are available, most mid-tier players remain unsigned, and the biggest trade chips are still up for grabs.

That doesn’t mean baseball departments were idle around the game — far from it. But the work they’ve put in so far is set to pay off later, perhaps as soon as next week when baseball’s biggest offseason gathering returns in-person for the first time since 2019.

“I would expect there to be some news from the winter meetings,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America on Wednesday.

“Even so, there’s no deadline (next) Thursday, and I think 10, 15 years ago there was more of a (self-imposed) deadline. Even maybe five years ago…it doesn’t feel like anything needs be ready by Thursday. But I would expect there to be some significant moves across the industry.”

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Aaron Judge in the Yankees? Trea Turner to the Phillies? Justin Verlander to the Dodgers? Any of these moves would have a major impact on the entire industry, including in Toronto. And eventually the Blue Jays will have their share of the action too.

Your needs are clear: add a starting pitcher, maybe two; add a positional player, likely an outfielder and ideally one who hits with the left hand or alternates; weighing offers on their three young catchers; and remain open to further upgrades to a bullpen already added by Erik Swanson (if the Blue Jays add here it would likely be a high-end option with a subsequent trade possible to free up space).

In other words, there’s a lot to consider for the Blue Jays. But if nothing else, they’re willing to spend with Atkins to say the team is in financially in a great position,” thanks to support from Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns Sportsnet.

While the Blue Jays are actively pursuing both trades and free-agent acquisitions, Atkins said the focus now is “probably more” on free agency than trade talks. Of course, one phone call can change that and there’s continued keen interest in catchers Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno. On that front, the Blue Jays have plenty of choices and can potentially time things as they please.

Meanwhile, in free agency, players and agents can control the pace, adding to what has been a slow-moving market so far.

“We’re just looking for good players,” Atkins said. “It’s definitely not a left-hander beating right fielder to take on the role of Teoscar Hernandez. Does it work? Secure. Can we also consider the midfield? Secure. Depending on the trading potential, can we think about it very differently? How do we think about running prevention? Is it just a start And then think about adding the bullpen? Is it some other combination of run prevention? We’ve talked a lot about many different ways we can improve our team and see many ways to do that, and we feel like our starting point is as good as any other team in baseball.

Admittedly, there is still work to be done for a team whose brightest off-season signing yet is bench coach Don Mattingly. In fact, the current issue of the Blue Jays is undoubtedly a lesser version of the team that ended the 2022 season as Hernandez, Ross Stripling, Jackie Bradley Jr., Raimel Tapia and David Phelps have all gone. Many moves are needed, and the same goes for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays.

This is where openness makes sense. Press Verlander like they did last winter. Explore the possibility of a deal with Cody Bellinger, who Mattingly knows from Los Angeles. Engage with Stripling and Andrew Heaney, with Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Kiermaier, with the Cardinals and the Guardians. See where it leads.

And soon it will be time to narrow the focus and shift from possibilities to concrete steps.

“We don’t yet have a complete picture of exactly how to do A, B and C to improve our team,” Atkins said. “But we have a very clear idea of ​​where we can take our next strategic step.”

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