A quick signing at the start of baseball’s free-agency period has been followed by a month-long period of relative inactivity for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Baseball’s ongoing virtual winter meetings could change that as the quiet market could turn with one big signing or trade. The Blue Jays, who planned to be proactive this off-season, appear to be biding their time as they wait for the right opportunity.
“I think aggression is sort of in the eye of the beholder,” said Blue Jays assistant general manager Joe Sheehan. “Teams can think they’re being aggressive or teams can think they’re browsing and the agent or the other team might feel differently.
“I think some of that momentum is, in our heads at least, kind of developing but you never really know until something is there, (until) it’s done.”
Sheehan spoke in rather general terms during a half-hour video conference Tuesday, avoiding specifics on potential plans or progress.
The winter meetings are being held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally scheduled for a convention centre/hotel in Dallas, the remote interactions follow a similar model to last month’s GM meetings.
Both gatherings traditionally set the stage for free-agent signings and trade talks. This year, however, the hotel lobby buzz between agents, executives and media members has been replaced by Zoom chats and phone calls.
For now, big names like George Springer, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto are still available and the trade rumblings should soon find a higher gear. It appears to be a matter of when the first big domino will fall.
“The deals that we have seen haven’t been out of line with what we’ve seen the past few years,” Sheehan said. “I think there’s a good amount of competition in those (top) players and that segment of the market just because they’d make any team better.”
The Blue Jays have several areas where they’re looking to improve, including starting pitching, outfield depth and overall team defence.
“I think we’re really fortunate that our roster is flexible and that we can pursue good players in a lot of areas and then have the ability to take them on the roster after that,” Sheehan said.
General manager Ross Atkins has the prospect capital and appears to have the financial means to make some big moves. The big question remains whether the team makes a firm push to truly contend in 2021 or builds up more gradually after returning to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2016.
The Blue Jays were the first team to sign a free agent this fall when they inked left-hander Robbie Ray to a one-year deal a month ago. He became the first of 181 free agents to get a new contract.
Toronto made a couple minor moves this week by adding pitchers Anthony Castro and Walker Lockett from the waiver wire to create a full 40-man roster. Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft is set for Thursday.
It’s possible the Blue Jays will wait a few weeks or even into the New Year to address their needs. Toronto’s big free-agent signing last year — a US$80-million, four-year deal for ace Hyun-Jin Ryu — wasn’t completed until Dec. 27.
Training camp begins in just over two months and the pre-season opener is set for Feb. 27 against Philadelphia. The Blue Jays, who were 32-28 last season, will open the 2021 campaign on April 1 against the New York Yankees.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press