LAS VEGAS -- Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins claims Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are generating "significant interest" from rival teams, but it remains "unlikely" either starter will be dealt this offseason.
Atkins continued a recent streak of being surprisingly candid with local reporters as he stated on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings on Monday that he was willing to entertain all offers. Listening to proposals and following through on blockbuster trades are two very different things, but it's clear all teams know there's a deal to be made if they want to ante up.
"There is significant interest in both of our starting pitchers," Atkins said in reference to Sanchez and Stroman. "A lot of teams, for a long time, have talked about those individuals. There is, by no means, a motivation on our part for them to be anything but Toronto Blue Jays. That's what we think about when we write out our rotation, it has them in it.
"But we know who's interested, and now it's determining how interested, in terms of what it would take. There's an objective equation to that and how it lines up with your needs. The short answer is, it would need to be a fair deal."
Stroman and Sanchez are just two names in a relatively large pool of starters reportedly on the trade block. The Indians have been entertaining offers for Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, the Yankees are shopping Sonny Gray, and there were rumors earlier this offseason about the Mets and Noah Syndergaard.
Add in a group of free agents headlined by Dallas Keuchel, which lacks a lot of big names, but contains plenty of depth, and it would appear to be a buyer's market for pitching. That doesn't bode well for a team looking to potentially score a big haul for two pitchers who each have two years of control remaining on their contracts, but Atkins insists that's not true.
"We wouldn't be having discussions if that were the case," Atkins said when asked if other teams were trying to buy low. "The only discussions we're having are the ones where we feel there is the potential for a good return."
The Blue Jays aren't expected to be very active at the Winter Meetings. The club remains in the market for at least one starting pitcher, possibly two, and there's a clear need for a couple of setup men for the bullpen, but it's quite possible some of those moves will not happen until the new year.
Atkins is being particularly careful with free agents, or trade targets, because he wants to leave space for his developing core of prospects to grow into Major Leaguers. Toronto began promoting some of its top Minor League talent last year, and it's the development of that youth which clearly has become the top priority.
"We would rather have more flexibility, or complete flexibility, to know what our opportunities would be on the starting pitching front before we are aggressive with relievers," Atkins said.
"I know it can feel not quite as exciting in an offseason for a fan that we're not acquiring free agents as frequently as we have the last few years. We're not as aggressive on the trade front, potentially, as some fans would like us to be, but we are also in a unique opportunity to make sure that we create the best possible environment and opportunity for our young players that will be transitioning."
Happ still an option?
The Blue Jays remain interested in a possible reunion with free-agent starter J.A. Happ, who reportedly is seeking a three-year deal on the open market. The Yankees have long been the presumptive favorite to re-sign Happ, but Toronto continues to monitor his market as a veteran leader for what is soon to become a very young Major League staff.
"J.A. is one of the most professional guys that I've been around," Atkins said. "He is very much that leader that could have that influence on young players, and already has here. The interest is there ... we have [talked]. There are a lot of representatives that we've met with, a lot of firms that we've met with, we've been in touch as well."
"We're not shopping any of our players. We feel like there's a good group of players that we can build around and look to complement, but at the same time, we'll entertain when a team has interest. ... We know which teams have interest in certain players. Other teams know which players we're interested in and that's happened long ago.
"Now it's just determining how you value them. We haven't found the need to shop any of our players. Specific to Russ, we're very glad to have him, glad he's here, all of those things which are very true, but we would consider some opportunity, if there was one, to move him for talent, that makes sense for the organization." -- Atkins, when asked about trade talks surrounding Russell Martin