Work remains heading into Winter Meetings
TORONTO -- Ross Atkins has only been on the job for one day, but he'll have to work quickly to address the Blue Jays' needs when Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings officially get underway next week in Nashville, Tenn.
Atkins was officially hired as Toronto's general manager on Thursday evening, and his first big task will take place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center starting Monday.
Toronto heads into the Meetings with some pressing needs on a team that is built to contend and will look to defend its 2015 American League East title. Some of the offseason work was done by interim GM Tony LaCava as the Blue Jays re-signed Marco Estrada, signed lefty J.A. Happ and traded for right-hander Jesse Chavez, but more challenges are ahead.
The pitching needs aren't as great as they were before, but Toronto still wants to add more. At least one more starter and one reliever are required while the Blue Jays also search for a utility infielder, a backup catcher and more depth in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.
Starting rotation: Toronto currently has a projected rotation of Marcus Stroman, Estrada, R.A. Dickey and Happ, with Chavez, Drew Hutchison and to a lesser extent Aaron Sanchez as the prime candidates to compete for the final spot. Ideally, the Blue Jays will add at least one more starter through free agency or trade to complete its rotation and secure enough depth to get through the year.
Bullpen: The bullpen currently features a lot of high-caliber arms in closer Roberto Osuna and setup men Sanchez and Brett Cecil. Outside of those three, there isn't a lot of depth. Toronto either needs to replace or re-sign free agent Mark Lowe, and finding an upgrade over Aaron Loup for the club's second lefty would go a long way in solidifying the relief corps.
Utility infielder: Rookie Devon Travis isn't expected to be ready for the start of the season after he recently underwent left shoulder surgery. Ryan Goins is a capable fill-in at second, but the Blue Jays will need to add a backup infielder. It likely won't be someone on a guaranteed deal, and instead the Blue Jays could audition several Minor League signings for the role. A similar approach could be taken to the backup catcher spot.
Who they can trade if necessary
OF Ben Revere: Revere was a candidate to be non-tendered prior to Wednesday's deadline, but he remained with the organization and is projected to earn $6.7 million through arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors. With Michael Saunders also in the fold, Toronto could opt to deal Revere to open up additional funds for other spots on the roster.
OF Dalton Pompey: Pompey is ready for the big leagues, but he seems destined to start the year in the Minors. His path is currently blocked, and he'll likely need to wait for an injury before receiving playing time. That could open the door for a trade, but with Jose Bautista entering the final year of his contract, the Blue Jays likely will be hesitant to part with one of their top young players.
OF Kevin Pillar: It would be a major shock if Toronto dealt Pillar after his breakout season in 2015, but outfield is one of the only spots on the roster where there is a lot of depth. If the Blue Jays are able to make a move for a prominent pitcher they might be able to use Pillar in the deal, but Toronto would want a lot in return for its Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, especially since he won't hit free agency for five more years.
The Blue Jays dealt away a lot of their top prospects to make a run at the 2015 division title, but the cupboard isn't completely bare. Right-hander Jon Harris is ranked as the club's top prospect by MLBPipeline.com after he was taken in the first round of the 2015 Draft. Promising outfielder Anthony Alford and right-hander Sean Reid-Foley round out the top three.
A couple of other names to watch this year are right-hander Conner Greene and slugger Rowdy Tellez. Both players saw their stocks rise in 2015, and another strong year would go a long way in improving their overall rankings.
Rule 5 Draft
Toronto currently has four open spots on its 40-man roster, but the Blue Jays haven't used a Rule 5 pick since 2013, and even that was just to facilitate a deal with the Angels. If Toronto does add someone, expect it to be a pitcher to compete for a job in the bullpen.
Big contracts they might unload
The Blue Jays have a lot of hefty contracts, but the team is in win-now mode, which makes it extremely unlikely the club would look to cut salary. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki occasionally pops up in trade rumors, but his departure would create a big hole up the middle, especially with Travis questionable to start the year. Expect Toronto to hold onto its high-priced offensive talent and instead find other ways to upgrade the pitching staff.
Toronto does not publicly disclose its payroll limitations, but the 2016 figure is expected to be similar to the one used this season. The Blue Jays finished the year with a payroll of approximately $140 million, and the team currently had an estimated $130 million tied up for next year, plus an additional $5 million for its pre-arbitration players.
That should be enough money to add another reliever, but a big upgrade to the roster likely will require some financial flexibility. One option is that the Blue Jays could slightly backload a free-agent contract with a lot of money coming off the books at the end of 2016.