The Blue Jays were one of baseball’s most aggressive teams in free agency last winter, spending $181 million to bring in George Springer, Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Kirby Yates. Now coming off a season in which it missed the postseason by one game, Toronto is prepared to spend again to improve one of MLB's most exciting young rosters.
“It does seem like it's going to be very competitive this offseason,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told reporters Tuesday at the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. “It feels like we’re going to have opportunities to make our team better.”
Much of that competition is likely to come from their own division, with the Yankees and Red Sox both expected to loom large in free agency after taking relative back seats in last winter’s market. The Mariners, Angels and Rangers are among the AL teams with more money to spend than in recent years. The White Sox and Astros are expected to remain active as well, as are several National League contenders.
All of which means the Blue Jays will face competition when it comes to filling their biggest needs. Ray and Semien are back on the market coming off spectacular seasons, with Ray a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award and Semien an AL MVP Award finalist alongside teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. A top-end starter and impact infielder -- whether that’s at second base, third or both -- top Toronto's list of needs this winter.
Semien was a first-time All-Star last season while hitting .265/.334/.538 with 45 home runs and 102 RBIs playing second base, and he is now part of one of the most loaded free agent shortstop classes in MLB history alongside Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. Ray led AL hurlers in ERA (2.84) and innings (193 1/3) and paced MLB starters in strikeouts (248) in ’21, vaulting himself to the top of the starting-pitching market, which also includes Justin Verlander, Kevin Gausman, and others.
"It's too early to say where they're going, but I'm sure they'll have a lot of interest,” Atkins said of Ray and Semien. “I don’t want to go down the list of who we’ve engaged with, but as we’ve already stated, we have a lot of interest in both individuals.”
The Blue Jays extended $18.4 million qualifying offers to both Ray and Semien, but not to Steven Matz, who enjoyed a career year behind Ray in Toronto’s rotation. The club remains open to bringing back Matz after the 30-year-old left-hander went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 150 2/3 innings in this past season. He could command a multiyear deal this winter.
On Tuesday, Atkins called filling the two rotation spots “a high priority.”
“We love Steven,” Atkins said. “I am a huge fan of his work ethic, of the year that he had. I think he enjoyed the time here, really appreciated his time in Toronto and Buffalo and Dunedin. It’s remarkable to think about what he did in those three stadiums and in the AL East, made some solid adjustments that he benefited from. We will absolutely stay engaged with him.”
Toronto will also be in the market for bullpen help and has the flexibility to add a third baseman and an outfielder for a bench role. The club could also be active in the trade market, given its attractive farm system.
In short, the Blue Jays expect to be busy, building on the strides they made in 2021.
“It feels like we're at a really favorable position,” Atkins said. “We've always been so excited at every opportunity to acquire talent, and there's always good energy, it's always a lot of fun to think about improving the team. But I think, definitely, the energy and the excitement around our team in particular has momentum, and there's something to that, where the engagement is different. Part of that is certainly our team, where we are as an organization, the past couple of seasons that we've had and how others are viewing our talent. … Every year feels just better and better.”