Blue Jays lay groundwork for bigger moves at Winter Meetings

December 8th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- It was a quiet week for the Blue Jays at the Winter Meetings, as they entered and exited without making a move.

There’s plenty of offseason left, of course. And the Blue Jays got an early start by trading Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners for reliever and lefty pitching prospect on Nov. 16, though that only relocated a need instead of eliminating one. More will come, of course, so it’s a matter of when Toronto will enter a fast-moving market.

That’s especially true on the pitching front, where the Blue Jays are in need of a starter. Toronto is expected to have some financial flexibility to work with here -- at least enough for one major move. But its greatest asset remains the young catching trio of , and , one of whom could be dealt.

As the baseball world spills out of San Diego and the Blue Jays look to turn some of this groundwork into action, here’s where they (still) stand:

Biggest remaining needs

1. Starting pitching
Toronto leaves San Diego without acquiring a starter, which remains its most glaring need. Starters have been flying off the board, from top-end options like Justin Verlander to the mid-range upside plays like Andrew Heaney, whom the Blue Jays were in on. All that matters are real acquisitions, though, and Toronto still has plenty of work to do.

The trade market doesn’t offer many options. Young ones are among baseball’s most valuable commodities and typically the cornerstone of rebuilds. Veterans are typically part of winning teams if they’re talented enough to have signed big deals. The Blue Jays will likely need to find a way to address this issue in free agency. And given the uncertain depth behind , and José Berríos, this club might need two starters, not just one.

2. Outfield
With Hernández traded, the Blue Jays need to do something in their outfield. This is an intentionally vague “something,” because they could take this in a few different directions.

One of those could be adding two outfielders who complement one another. could be moved to right field part-time if needed, but it’s more likely that Toronto will add a right fielder. Keep in mind that could be moved to right field, too, so there are a lot ways this could break. This is the Blue Jays' big opportunity to balance their lineup and improve their defense.

3. Pitching depth
This applies to both the bullpen and rotation. In the ‘pen, the Blue Jays are deep, but there’s always a handful of fringe additions to be made. Rotation depth is more important, because beyond the big addition this club hopes to make, you always need a seventh, eighth or ninth starter. and are on the 40-man roster, but a stronger Triple-A group of starters could be valuable come July.

Rule 5 Draft
The Blue Jays made no Rule 5 Draft selections in the MLB portion, but they also lost no players, which is a win given that they weren’t expected to add.

In the Minor League portion, Toronto lost , a first-round Draft pick in 2017, to the Mariners. The Blue Jays added catcher from the Dodgers, a 25-year-old who should offer some depth in the upper Minors.

GM’s bottom line
Ross Atkins on the market
: “I think the key is sticking to your plan, but making sure you’ve worked through every scenario. Understanding where those opportunities are going to be, and where they are after someone comes off the market, is really important to work through before it happens.”

Atkins on starting pitching: “If it were just one piece of the equation, then I would take some combination of durability and upside. It would be great with someone who has good playoff potential for a team like ours as well. But then, you have to factor in what the acquisition costs and what that means for the rest of your team.”

Assistant GM Joe Sheehan on the starting pitching market: “I think it’s about staying engaged. Some of the players who have signed are really good pitchers, and there’s still a lot of really good pitchers out there. We’re still engaged with, hopefully, the good ones and the right ones. It’s a lot of conversations with teams, with agents, and trying to find someone who’s a good fit and thinks we’re a good fit.”