Atkins eyes another 'aggressive' offseason

Ray signing shows Blue Jays will be active in market

November 10th, 2020

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays got the party started this offseason, signing starter to a one-year, $8 million deal over the weekend, and there’s more to come.

Widely expected to be one of the more aggressive teams in the coming months, the Blue Jays find themselves in a sweet spot where they aren’t carrying many large contracts and their young core is still on affordable, pre-arbitration salaries.

This presents an opportunity to make another “jump” that this club has talked about throughout the rebuilding process, the first of which came between the past two seasons as the Blue Jays went from 67-95 to 32-28, including their first postseason appearance since 2016. This winter will challenge many organizations because of the economic uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, but the Blue Jays hope to continue their push. This offseason doesn’t just exist in a bubble for them, either, it’s the continuation of something they’ve already started.

“Much like last year, when we were active -- and to categorize it as aggressive is relatively fair -- we will do that again this year and continue doing it until we are in a position where we’re contending year in and year out,” general manager Ross Atkins said on Monday.

This echoes what we’ve heard from club president and CEO Mark Shapiro, and although the Blue Jays have yet to set a final payroll for 2021 -- that meeting with ownership is happening soon -- the signing of Ray shows that the money is there if the Blue Jays find short-term deals they like.

“The reality of the pandemic clearly changes the dynamic of our revenues. However, there has been consistent support from our ownership and consistent encouragement that we continue to progress in our plan, that we continue to move forward,” Shapiro said recently. “That was evident with [signing of ], and that was evident at the Trade Deadline in a very truncated season.”

As Atkins was quick to point out, “aggression” can mean different things to different clubs. All Major League teams are aggressive in their individual pursuits of player development or roster construction, for example, but what we’re talking about here is dollars and cents. With the pandemic presenting economic uncertainties that will likely stretch beyond a few months, the Blue Jays are staring at a massive opportunity to flex some financial muscle.

They’re aware of the market’s realities, too. While some decisions need to be made in a bubble, with clubs sticking to their processes, this offseason is an example of how the Blue Jays will hope to adapt to the landscape around them. There will still be other major spenders, of course, but the Blue Jays realize that this door is cracked open further than it typically is.

“Strategy is a key aspect of key execution on anything,” Atkins said. “We’ve worked hard to understand the market, and we definitely have to factor in what we think other teams are going to be doing.”

The Ray deal sets this up clearly, and Toronto’s starting-pitching depth frames it even better. By jumping out in front of the market and getting Ray at a number they like, the Blue Jays have done something similar to when thy acquired in early November last season. It’s a move that, in theory, solidifies a back-end rotation spot, but their path from here will be different.

Entering 2020, even with Ryu atop the rotation, the Blue Jays needed more depth. That’s where a signing like came in, along with the club’s interest in several other back-end arms. There’s suddenly enough depth in-house, which has been built over years of trading and development.

Names like , , Julian Merryweather, T.J. Zeuch and will all be ready to step in when needed, mostly negating the need to spend money on further depth. Instead, it’s time to hunt for upside.

“We feel good about our ability to cover innings,” Atkins said. “Now, we’d like to increase our ability to prevent runs.”

The Blue Jays are talking to just about every available starter, Atkins says, and keeping in regular contact with other MLB clubs to gauge prices on the trade market. If they’re able to land another solid, No. 2-caliber arm to put atop the rotation with Ryu and No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson, this team suddenly takes on a much different look.

Keep October in mind, too. The Blue Jays have had their taste of postseason baseball now, but they’ve also seen the type of rotations that go deep. The Blue Jays aren’t there yet, but if they’re as aggressive as many expect them to be, that big swing could be coming soon.