SAN DIEGO – To say that the Toronto Blue Jays were all about pitching at the recently concluded winter meetings would not be entirely correct. They continued to inquire about players in the position of a free agent while they were investigating trades.
But in the team suites of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, the focus of the Blue Jays was clear: add starters. On Wednesday morning they were seriously involved on at least three different fronts and had offers for starters Rick Porcello, Josh Lindblom and Tanner Roark. By Thursday, they had signed one of these starters, Roark, while losing Porcello and Lindblom to the Mets and Brewers despite competitive offers.
After the Blue Jays have added at least one trusted free agent to their rotation, their focus may widen slightly. While the Blue Jays will continue talks with free agents such as Hyun-Jin Ryu, position players will also have priority over the coming days.
"We are active for anyone we believe can improve," GM Assistant Joe Sheehan said after the meeting that ended on Thursday. "It's top pitching: trades, free agents, top hitter: trades, free agents, anyone we believe may move our needle."
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With Roark, who has signed a two-year $ 24 million contract, the club has come one step closer to integrity. His contract – the rival manager as a fair deal, but never referred to as a bargain – ensures that it is not necessary to act out of desperation. Adding a pitcher is much easier than adding two pitchers, even though it is difficult to make a bargain in this market.
"It was probably a bit higher than we suspected in September or October," Sheehan admitted. "But I think once you've seen how early it starts to break, you can adapt."
Regardless of how these newly signed contracts turn out, after a busy week in San Diego, undeniably less pitching is available in the freelance agency. Apart from Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, Wade Miley, and Julio Tehran are on the Blue Jays' radar, without any top priority.
After days of immersion in the pitching market, the club now has a little more freedom to explore movements on the side of the position players – both as buyers and as sellers.
As always, the Blue Jays control and hear everyone. They have received many calls from the young catchers on their depth map: Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. At this time, the price seems to be high for both catchers, and the Blue Jays would certainly want a long-term play with an uptrend if they were to trade one of them.
Although he had problems at the beginning of the 2019 season, Jansen's track record has been fascinating the teams. McGuire's minor league rally is not nearly as impressive, but some with the Blue Jays see him as a late bloke capable of building on a strong 2019 finish and becoming the # 1 catcher.
In the field outside the Blue Jays could buy or sell. Although apparently no deal has been made, they listened to offers from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. earlier in the winter. Given this possibility, they have been in demand for outfielders of the free-agent corner such as Kole Calhoun, Corey Dickerson and even Nick Castellanos.
Some of these calls are only due diligence, but they illustrate the range of options considered. The real interest shown in Mike Moustakas and Didi Gregorius reinforces the belief that the Blue Jays are serious about improving the player's position as well.
While the most likely result for the Blue Jays low season could still be a medium rotation starter (say Wade Miley), a first base type (Edwin Encarnacion, for the sake of argument) and a certain relief depth, a single move might set in motion a whole series of other events.
Let's say Cleveland is suddenly motivated to add an outfielder and they offer a controllable young pitcher for Gurriel. At that point, the Blue Jays would be less motivated to add rotation assistance, and it would be more serious to add an outfielder. Or when the pirates overwhelm the Blue Jays with an offer for McGuire, Toronto may enter the market for an experienced free agent backstop.
The addition of Roark opens up all these possibilities a bit. In itself, the signing was completely predictable, but the next should be a little more difficult to plan. At least theoretically, more stability in the rotation of the Blue Jays should allow more creativity in their front office.