TORONTO -- With the offseason in full swing for the Blue Jays, the organization is embracing the positives it saw in the second half of the season, while focusing on the tasks that lie ahead in order to improve.
“There’s been a lot of excitement in and around this team over the last couple of months; certainly in the second half,” general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday. “Having transitioned this young core is very exciting for us.
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“Having said that, it did not come without frustration. Obviously we understand how tough this was for fans and it was tough for us, but now we shift our focus to building upon that core and we’re very excited about what that means for our future.”
What exactly does that mean for the Canadian club?
“On a global level, it’s moving from competing to winning,” president and CEO Mark Shapiro said. “And certainly when you look at where the needs are on our team, it doesn’t take a whole lot of in-depth analysis to know starting pitching is probably our greatest opportunity to make those leaps.”
What are the Blue Jays looking for, and will they be active in free agency?
There’s no doubt that Toronto is looking for arms. Encouraged by some of the young hurlers who joined the Major League roster throughout this season, the Blue Jays are hoping to acquire additional pitchers and will look to do so via trades and free agency.
While neither Atkins nor Shapiro would commit to any names that have piqued their interest on the free-agent market, many of the available arms would seemingly be options for the Blue Jays.
Gerrit Cole is the top free-agent pitcher this winter. His asking price is likely to be unpalatable to the Blue Jays, but he’s far from the only one available. Also poised for free agency are Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, Zack Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood.
“Our offseason will look much more like the season after ’15, after ’16,” Atkins said. “We’re much more open to different structure and term. And whether or not that [free-agent] name is also a year-in-year-out All-Star name is too hard to say yes or no to. But I can say that we need to acquire pitching that we can count on. …
“We would be open to taking on salary in the right circumstance, if that was a way to make our team better. And that flexibility is a strength of ours. That comes from one, the nature of our roster and how it’s currently constructed, and then two, having flexibility from the support of the fan base.”
Which Blue Jays are free agents?
They have just two: Justin Smoak and Clay Buchholz.
Smoak, who will turn 33 in December, became a fan favorite through his five seasons in Toronto, joining the club ahead of the 2015 season and helping it make its first postseason run in more than two decades. With Rowdy Tellez taking the majority of the playing time at first base in September, Smoak doesn’t have an obvious fit moving forward. The Blue Jays, however, haven’t ruled out a reunion.
Buchholz, who was shelved for the bulk of the year with right shoulder inflammation, made 12 starts and threw 59 innings. The 13-year big league veteran went 2-5 with a 6.56 ERA with 16 walks and 39 strikeouts, and while he made significant contributions in aiding the transition of some of the team’s young hurlers to the Majors, it doesn’t seem likely that the club will try to re-sign him.
Neither player will be extended a qualifying offer, which is expected to be around $18 million this year.
Who might be a non-tender candidate?
The Blue Jays have until Dec. 2 to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, allowing them to go through salary arbitration with the players of their choosing. If Toronto isn’t interested in offering a raise to those players, they can non-tender them and send them into free agency.
Eligible this year are relievers Ken Giles, Ryan Dull and Ryan Tepera; starter Matt Shoemaker; infielders Brandon Drury and Devon Travis; and catcher Luke Maile. Reliever Derek Law is also likely to qualify as a Super Two candidate. Of this group, Dull, Maile and Travis are candidates to be non-tendered.
The situation with Shoemaker, 33, is also a little complicated. Asked if the club intends to go through arbitration with Shoemaker, who tore his left ACL after five starts, Atkins replied, “We’ll see what happens there,” despite earlier alluding to a return of the hurler in the spring.
“We certainly value his contribution, what he was able to do,” the general manager said. “And we’re extremely confident that the arm issue is behind him. So he has made incredible progress with his knee, he’s already throwing again and he’s very strong. So we’re hopeful that we are in a similar position with him as we start Spring Training.”
Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
A pair of former first-round Draft picks are the most intriguing among those Blue Jays who could be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if not protected by the club, with Forrest Wall and Jon Harris potentially available for the taking.
Wall, the No. 35 overall pick in the 2014 Draft, was acquired by Toronto from the Rockies ahead of last year’s Trade Deadline. Between 109 games at Double-A New Hampshire and 14 matchups with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons this season, the 23-year-old outfielder hit .268/.351/.422 with 11 home runs, 30 doubles and four triples, driving in 45 runs.
Harris only managed to get 17 innings on the mound this year as he battled shoulder issues. The 25-year-old right-hander was Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2015 Draft, selected 29th overall. In five Minor League seasons, Harris has compiled a 4.65 ERA over 474 innings with 372 strikeouts.
Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.