Toronto to be aggressive at Winter Meetings

December 5th, 2019

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays dipped into the offseason market with November’s trade for right-handed starter , but the club is expected to be busy over the coming weeks, beginning with the Winter Meetings next week in San Diego.

Going young in 2019 led Toronto to a 67-95 season, but it also left the Blue Jays with plenty of financial flexibility to fill out their rotation and surround their talented young core with the pieces to eventually help put them over the top.

Here’s a look at where the Blue Jays stand as they enter the Winter Meetings, and a peek at what might come next.

Club needs: Starting pitching and starting pitching. Toronto used 21 starters in 2019, including a heavy dose of openers, but it would like to find some reliability. Anderson will surely be part of that, but the rest of the picture isn’t as clear.

, and are in a similar category that they could make up one or two spots, depending on the rest of our offseason,” general manager Ross Atkins said. “They might even make up three depending on this offseason.”

The club could choose to go in a few different directions with its positional group, especially in an outfield that’s become a bit crowded and doesn’t feature a true centre fielder. But Toronto's hard “needs” beyond the rotation are for more complementary roles. The bullpen needs some help -- as most teams' do -- and Atkins has said that finding a veteran catcher for depth at Triple-A Buffalo is a priority. Expect the starting rotation to be the top priority, though.

Whom might they trade? The Blue Jays seem to prefer the free-agent market right now, but if they turn to trades, there have certainly been teams kicking the tires on their young catching tandem of and . Toronto has even more depth at that position, too, with No. 8 prospect Gabriel Moreno and No. 12 prospect Alejandro Kirk on the way.

Keep an eye on the dollars involved in any Blue Jays trade,. The club has made plenty of deals involving a financial component in recent years and, given their available payroll, there could be a scenario where they take on a contract to maximize a deal.

Prospects to know: Beyond the catching prospects, No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson (No. 10 in MLB) will be a hot name all winter -- but not in trade talks. Pearson has ace potential, and while Toronto will likely keep him at Triple-A next season, he must be considered part of the 2020 rotation at some point. The Blue Jays’ belief in No. 4 prospect Anthony Kay matters this offseason, too. Does the club think he can win a rotation spot in spring?

Rule 5 Draft: Toronto nailed its experiment in 2019, carrying the 19-year-old through the season and finding low-leverage spots for him. Atkins believes the 26th roster spot could lead to more action in the Rule 5 Draft, but he notes that the 40-man roster size hasn’t changed, so it still has to be the right situation.

Payroll summary: 's $13 million, Anderson’s $8.5 million and the $14 million owed to top the Blue Jays’ books, with Ken Giles' arbitration number likely to come in around Anderson’s salary. Beyond that, Toronto is loaded with pre-arbitration players. The club should have enough payroll available to freely engage with any player on the market or make multiple significant moves.

“The flexibility has been there, and it’s always a combination of how much revenue you’re creating," Atkins said. "And now we’re in a situation where it just makes sense to start to be a lot more aggressive than we were last year."

One question: When will the club be competitive?

Answer: We’ll have a much clearer picture in a few weeks. Pay particular attention to the length of deals the Blue Jays explore. This is no longer about “getting to” the next phase. Toronto is in the early stages of the phase it hopes to win in, so this offseason is about much more than 2020. Anything can happen, but a big offseason and additional year of development for the young core could make 2021 an exciting year.