Blue Jays remain on hunt for SP upgrades

Atkins: 'In an ideal world we would like to acquire more than one of them'

December 10th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- As the starting-pitching market builds momentum at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego this week, the Blue Jays are balancing their own glaring need on the mound against a ticking clock and a crowded room of buyers.

Stephen Strasburg’s record-setting seven-year, reported $245 million contract signed on Monday with the Nationals is well beyond what the Blue Jays are expected to commit to one player, but the tiers below Strasburg and Gerrit Cole present an opportunity for the Blue Jays to add not just one, but multiple starters. Those opportunities won’t last, though, with the recent signings of Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Michael Pineda representing a quick-moving market for mid-range starters, with many teams involved.

The Blue Jays have some young arms of their own moving closer to the big leagues, too, a list topped by No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson (No. 10 in MLB, per MLB Pipeline), which the club is also considering throughout the process.

“In an ideal world we would like to acquire more than one of them, and that's why we traded for Chase Anderson,” general manager Ross Atkins said. “Again, we feel like we do have some depth but would like to make sure that we have depth for a long time, so transitioning our young players at the right time, when they are absolutely pounding down the door, and that young pitching is a goal of ours.”

Many of those young arms were already exposed to the big leagues in 2019, as the Blue Jays rolled out 21 different starters, including openers and bullpen games. Toronto’s payroll -- the product of a very young roster -- suggests that the door is wide open to add controllable arms via free agency or trade, but the front office is looking well beyond just 2020 and the five starters they’ll roll out on Opening Day. 

“There are so many good, young pitchers who are going to contribute in some significant way,” Atkins said. “But our goal is to acquire and support our pitching.”

Beyond the general need itself, Atkins and the Blue Jays are also balancing upside versus reliability. The pitchers at the top of the market offer plenty of both, but as teams look further down their lists, they’ll soon find pitchers who live on one side of that equation. The Blue Jays would love to find some upside and hit on it, but for now, a safe and steady source of quality innings would be a major upgrade in a rotation filled by question marks.

Engagement and aggressively pursuing deals are steps, but eventually, that will need to result in real acquisitions for the Blue Jays. Manager Charlie Montoyo also met with the media on Monday in San Diego, and remains very optimistic that the Blue Jays will make a splash.

“I know we haven't signed many guys yet, but Ross has been aggressive,” Montoyo said. “He has been aggressive and I've been there watching it. We've been aggressive and we've touched every player so far that's a free agent. We'll see who we end up signing."