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Donaldson key to Blue Jays' rebound

Club eyes return to postseason in '18; teams eye Frazier, Kinsler as multipositional options
MLB.com @feinsand

After reaching the American League Championship Series in back-to-back seasons, the Blue Jays' 2017 campaign was nothing short of a disappointment.

Yet despite his team's 76-86 record, Toronto general manager Ross Atkins believes a return to the postseason in 2018 is only a roster tweak or two away, no matter how many Josh Donaldson trade rumors surface this winter.

After reaching the American League Championship Series in back-to-back seasons, the Blue Jays' 2017 campaign was nothing short of a disappointment.

Yet despite his team's 76-86 record, Toronto general manager Ross Atkins believes a return to the postseason in 2018 is only a roster tweak or two away, no matter how many Josh Donaldson trade rumors surface this winter.

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"We're just trying to build upon what is already very good here," Atkins said. "This team can absolutely win; there's no doubt about it."

The Donaldson rumors aren't likely to disappear any time soon, but Atkins pointed to the former AL MVP Award winner -- who is slated to become a free agent a year from now -- as one of the biggest factors in a potential bounceback campaign by the Blue Jays next season.

"Josh Donaldson is one of the better players in baseball and will continue to be for some time," Atkins said. "When he's on the field, we have an incredible chance to win."

Video: TOR@BOS: Donaldson hits a pair of homers off Sale

Unfortunately for Toronto, Donaldson was one of many players who struggled to stay on the field last season. Donaldson missed 38 games with a calf injury, while Russell Martin (42 games), Troy Tulowitzki (86 games) and Devon Travis (102 games) were also on the DL for significant chunks of time. Altogether, 25 players accounted for 31 DL stints, missing more than 1,400 games combined.

"There's a lot of discussion in and around the age of our roster," Atkins said. "We do have an older offensive roster with position players, and we had a lot of injuries. We have to do everything we can not only to try to prevent those, but to be prepared to overcome them. We feel we're in a better position to do that."

Outfielders Jay Bruce and Lorenzo Cain were among the first free agents attached to Toronto after the season, hardly a surprise given the Blue Jays' decision to let Jose Bautista become a free agent. The emergence of Justin Smoak last season gave the lineup another weapon, though it would not be shocking to see the Blue Jays add another big bat this winter via trade or free agency.

"We have the room to make our team better," Atkins said. "We're focused on all alternatives. We're just thinking about how to win and how we can sustain a winning team."

Just as Smoak was a pleasant surprise last season, Atkins pointed to a number of candidates who could be poised for similar breakouts in 2018.

Atkins noted several prospects, including outfielder Teoscar Hernandez -- acquired from the Astros in the Francisco Liriano deal -- and left-handers Ryan Borucki and Tom Pannone as players who could make an impact next season, though the GM said that adding middle infield depth and fine-tuning the pitching staff are among the priorities this offseason.

Two-dimensional men

Ben Zobrist has been the ultimate Swiss Army knife for Joe Maddon through the years, providing the flexibility to play at a number of different positions. Players of that ilk are few and far between, but it seems that teams are willing to think outside the box more than ever these days when it comes to moving their players around the field.

According to a source, free agent Todd Frazier is being pitched to teams as both a third baseman -- his primary position since he broke into the Majors in 2011 -- and first baseman, a position he's started at 82 times in his career.

Video: Frazier brings pop and a slick glove to free agency

Ian Kinsler, who has been the subject of multiple trade rumors, is reportedly being looked at not only as a second baseman, but potentially at third base, too.

Rockies GM Jeff Bridich took a similar approach last year, signing Ian Desmond -- a shortstop-turned-outfielder -- to a five-year, $70 million deal to be Colorado's first baseman, despite the fact that he had never played a single inning at first base in the Majors.

What allows a team to take such a leap of faith when it comes to acquiring a player to do something he's not accustomed to doing?

"Other than judging the athleticism of a player like that, in terms of whether he can physically excel at the new position, I think the most important part is having equal buy-in on the concept," Bridich said. "It takes hard work to make sure it goes well, and having one foot in and one out isn't good."

The communication between the player and club is the key, Bridich said. Why does this make sense? What is the plan to make this a reality during Spring Training, assuring that the move is a comfortable one by Opening Day?

"Especially with a veteran player -- who has probably done things a certain way for a long time -- the player needs to feel ownership in the change, because some parts will likely be uncomfortable at times," Bridich said.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Josh Donaldson