Blue Jays have quiet Winter Meetings, remain confident in opportunities to improve


SAN DIEGO — There was speculation among the baseball industry that plenty of news would come out of this year’s Winter Meetings.

That speculation proved correct. A lot of deals — and a lot of expensive deals — were agreed upon at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego this week as the baseball world gathered for the first in-person edition of the Winter Meetings in three years.

The Blue Jays were engaged in talks with free agents and continued communicating with fellow major-league clubs, but ultimately remained quiet, having not completed any deals — no signings nor trades — as the third and final day of the meetings wrapped up on Wednesday. However, as the front office prepared to end their time in southern California and fly north, the feeling among the group was the three-day event had nonetheless been a success thanks to what they’d come away learning.

“The information that we’re getting and the context on how this team values their player, or our player, (how) this free agent is seeing their market, I think it’s kind of a learning experience through the whole offseason as you’re kind of working through these things,” Blue Jays assistant general manager Joe Sheehan said.

Still, seeing the Blue Jays end the meetings just as they started, with noticeable holes in the rotation and outfield, understandably feels anti-climatic for fans. Especially so, considering during the last few offseasons, the Blue Jays have been major players at the top of the free-agent market, successfully signing guys like Hyun Jin Ryu, George Springer and Kevin Gausman.

Toronto’s relative inaction may further stand out to anxious fans when viewed against the work the rest of their division accomplished.

The New York Yankees did what many speculated they would and brought back Aaron Judge on a record nine-year, $360 million deal. He joined Anthony Rizzo, who re-signed earlier in the offseason. The Boston Red Sox made a couple of moves, signing veteran reliever Kenley Jansen and Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida to multi-year deals.

The Orioles added right-hander starter Kyle Gibson, who according to The Athletic’s Dan Connolly, chose Baltimore over Toronto even though the teams offered identical one-year, $10-million deals. The Rays were relatively quiet, although they added pitcher Zach Eflin in the days before the meetings.

The Blue Jays showed interest in a number of players — from the aforementioned Gibson, lefty starter Andrew Heaney and outfielder Cody Bellinger — who came off the board this week, although there was a sense the team wasn’t heartbroken about losing out at any one of them.

The Blue Jays missed out on Bellinger but options for left-handed hitting centre fielders remain. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

Only a day ago, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro told reporters the club doesn’t view the competitive balance tax (CBT) threshold of $233 million as an “obstacle” and “it’s not what will limit us.” In other words, the team has the full support of owners, Rogers Communications, to go out and spend money to build a winning team. But, presumably, none of the potential targets compelled them enough to want to significantly outbid teams for them.

The tenor of the Blue Jays’ offseason priorities is also different than the recent past.

In previous winters, the Blue Jays have had a more clear-cut priority to hone in on. A year ago, they wanted an ace pitcher and got Gausman. Before the 2021 season, the team was targeting an impact position player and signed Springer to a franchise-record deal. When a club’s needs are so targeted, and only a few players match the specific description, it can help to narrow the focus.

This year, the Blue Jays have a nearly complete roster returning for the 2023 season, so there aren’t many big gaps to fill. The open spot in the rotation is for a backend starter, which is a fairly robust market. Even with a flurry of starters signing in recent days, including Jameson Taillon, Taijuan Walker and José Quintana, the Blue Jays are still confident there can find at least one, if not two pitchers, to fill out the back of their rotation and add to their organizational pitching depth.

“There’s still a lot of really good pitchers out there and we’re sort of engaged with, hopefully, the good ones, the right ones,” Sheehan said. “But it’s a lot of conversations with teams and agents and just trying to find somebody that is a good fit.”

While the Blue Jays tend to keep the possibilities wide open in terms of how they can build their team, if there is a specific need, it’s a left-handed bat, who ideally can play centre field. While Bellinger is off the board, Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi and Michael Conforto all remain unsigned and could be fits in Toronto.

On the trade front, the Blue Jays may have seen one potential suitor for one of their three catchers — should they choose to trade one — go off the board after the St. Louis Cardinals signed Willson Contreas to a five-year, $87.5 million deal. But, teams like the Guardians, Brewers, Twins or Padres could be looking to upgrade at catcher, so that path in all likelihood still remains open.

Even if other teams have left San Diego with their to-do lists complete, the Blue Jays approached these meetings without feeling compelled to treat Wednesday as a deadline to get something done. In years past, Toronto’s front office has been comfortable waiting out the market and making signings in late December and into the new year and they appear willing to take that same approach this year, too.

“We (traded) Teoscar Hernández a couple weeks ago. We were comfortable going early if there’s an opportunity we like, and we’re comfortable sort of waiting on that,” the Blue Jays assistant GM said.

The grand return of the Winter Meetings led to a flurry of free agent signings and even if the Blue Jays didn’t get in on the action, they’re confident by the end of the offseason, they’ll have improved their team.

“There’s a lot of good players that are that are still free agents. There’s a lot of good players that are available in trade,” Sheehan said. “I think we’re in a fortunate position where we don’t have 16 holes to fill. We’ve got a pretty complete team returning, obviously traded Teoscar, added a good reliever (in Erik Swanson), but I think there’s still good players available still in free agency, trade — all the avenues.”

(File photo of Shapiro (right): Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)


Related posts

Leave a Comment