With a postseason run the clear expectation, the Blue Jays don't need to have all the answers by the time Spring Training opens later this month in Dunedin, Fla. Just as Toronto has been one of the few clubs spending big this offseason, it could continue to flex that financial muscle into the regular season, especially near the Trade Deadline.
Doing so would require the Blue Jays to carry some flexibility into the season, of course, but the ability to drive that market has to be appealing. It's not a simple equation, though, especially in 2021.
"With every day with every week we have more information," general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday. "Operating a business in the entertainment world during a pandemic is obviously another challenge, so I think that every decision that we make of some significant magnitude as it relates to impacting our payroll. [Team president and CEO] Mark [Shapiro] is constantly communicating with ownership on that front, and we we've been in very fortunate positions and have felt agile to date and expect to feel that way moving forward."
By doing most of their work on the free-agent market, the Blue Jays have protected their farm system. It's not as deep as it was prior to the graduation of their young core, but with four prospects on MLB Pipeline's new Top 100 list, they have the top-end asset to consider nearly anything. They've also built deep groups of young catchers and pitching prospects, two of baseball's most valuable commodities. Pair that with the ability to take on contracts, and the trade market could be very appealing come June and July.
The rotation remains the Blue Jays' biggest need. They have depth stretching well beyond the five-man rotation, but the group still needs an arm with upside to pitch in the top half, possibly behind ace Hyun Jin Ryu. It's a complicated process, and for most free agents, it's been a long one, but Toronto is still looking.
"There's so much work that goes into that, and that work that has been ongoing, it's not stopped," Atkins said. "We are working just as hard today as we were five weeks ago, and we'll continue to do that. We are just as active as we were. There hasn't been a pause button that has been hit."
Creativity key to 2021 pitching strategy
Even for pitchers who worked full seasons and have a history of durability, the shortened 2020 campaign will be a major factor as they try to ramp back up to a full workload over 162 games.
That challenge will be even greater for pitchers who missed time in 2019 or '20, which applies to several pitchers competing for a role with the Blue Jays. Last season, the club leaned heavily on a piggyback strategy with several young arms, including Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, Julian Merryweather and Ryan Borucki, operating in a "bridge" role, throwing multiple innings between the starter and back end of the bullpen.
"We'll have to be open to considering different ways just to put guys in positions to get outs and then to stay healthy. So the shape of that is hard to say," Atkins said. "I think we'll have a much better idea about two weeks prior to the season starting on what that outcome is, but we're thinking about all the different ways to do that. The best outcome is that five to seven of those guys are in positions to give us five to eight innings on a regular basis, and that will be the starting point and that's the ideal [situation]."
This will be one of the biggest decisions facing the club in Spring Training. Atkins and the front office will be forced to balance the long-term benefits of developing these young pitchers as starters versus the short-term need of the roster, which is constructed to win now. It's another good problem for the organization to have, but pulling the right strings in this situation will have a major impact on Toronto's 2021 success.
All of this gets much simpler, of course, if the Blue Jays are able to land a quality starter.
Coaching staff announced
The Blue Jays announced their coaching staff for 2021 under manager Charlie Montoyo, with no changes from last season. The full staff will be:
• Dave Hudgens, bench coach
• Guillermo Martinez, hitting coach
• Pete Walker, pitching coach
• Mark Budzinski, First-base coach
• Luis Rivera, Third-base coach
• Matt Buschmann, Director of pitching development and bullpen coach
• John Schneider, Major League coach
• Gil Kim, Director, player development
Dante Bichette will also return to the club as a special assistant and "continue to have an impact on players throughout multiple levels of the organization," the Blue Jays announced. Bichette emerged in that role last season and earned praise from many of the club's young hitters, who say that Bichette's mentorship on their mental approach, not just nuts-and-bolts swing mechanics, was a major asset.