Toronto Star

No news could be good news for blue birds

GM says club is still in the hunt for all its off-season targets after quiet winter meetings

- Gregor Chisholm Twitter: @GregorChis­holm

Well, that ended up being a whole lot of nothing.

Major League Baseball’s virtual winter meetings wrapped up on Thursday and it failed to deliver any of the expected big moves. Almost every team, Blue Jays included, looks the same now as it did before the sport’s signature off-season event.

Ross Atkins kept a low profile throughout the week as reports continued to surface that his team was one of the most aggressive buyers in the market. For the first three days, his comments were limited to a brief appearance on MLB Network and he didn’t speak to the Toronto media until the meetings closed with the annual Rule 5 draft, one that saw the Jays lose right-handed reliever Dany Jimenez to the Oakland Athletics.

In other years, Atkins’ approach to public relations would have drawn the ire of analysts and print reporters alike. This year, not a big deal because what, exactly, is he supposed talk about? The questions have been asked, the topics have been covered and until some free agents start going off the board, the situation doesn’t change.

There used to be an appeal to MLB’s drawn-out free agency. When the top guys signed, other important dates like the non-tender deadline, Rule 5 draft and arbitratio­n cases kept fans invested. Now it seems like not only has November become a waste of time, but a bulk of December has, too. With no salary cap or deadline to incentiviz­e quick moves, all that’s left is a stalemate.

“We’re getting closer to decisions to be made, but we are only one part of it,” Atkins told reporters over Zoom. “We would certainly prefer to have clarity as soon as possible.”

Most of Atkins’ comments Thursday mirrored ones he made a week ago. He’s excited about the opportunit­ies the team has to get better, he elaborated on the strategy of sometimes putting deadlines on offers to avoid holding up other areas of the roster and he referenced last year’s late-December signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu as an example of why he isn’t stressed about the timing of their deals.

The biggest difference Thursday was he conceded there are scenarios where the Blue Jays don’t end up spending big on one “high impact” free agent and instead sprinkle the money around to address multiple spots of the roster.

Atkins’ top priority still appears to be adding a big name.

Centre-fielder George Springer is one known target, but he has received a lot of interest from the New York Mets, who are eager to spend. Catcher J.T. Realmuto has been linked to the club as well, which would lead to an upgrade elsewhere by using excess depth there as trade bait. Infielder D.J. LeMahieu is another possibilit­y, one that has less of a ripple effect elsewhere on the roster.

If the Blue Jays end up striking out on all three, they’ll likely shift their focus to the secondary market. That could involve beefing up the bullpen — Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand are both under considerat­ion, per a report from Sportsnet — while also exploring position player options such as outfielder­s Michael Brantley and Kyle Schwarber or a second baseman like Kolten Wong.

The starting pitching side remains as murky as ever. There have been few reports about where Trevor Bauer might be headed, and the rest of the market leaves a lot to be desired. There are high-risk, high-reward options like Canadian James Paxton, Chris Archer and to a lesser extent Jake Odorizzi, and lots of veteran back-end types in J.A. Happ, Mike Fiers and Matt Shoemaker, but not a lot of certainty.

The trade market should prove to be the better option.

Yu Darvish is being shopped by the Cubs, Sonny Gray reportedly is available from the Reds and lefty Blake Snell could be pried loose from the Rays in exchange for a king’s ransom. If there’s a move to be made for a front-line piece it will be found here and it will cost the Blue Jays more than money. Say goodbye to some prospect capital as well.

These are the same kinds of things that were said before the meetings began. The only developmen­ts this week saw the Rangers ship Lance Lynn to the White Sox and acquire first baseman Nate Lowe from Tampa, and closer Raisel Iglesias move from the Reds to the Angels. Outside of that, there wasn’t much to report.

In other slow winter meetings, and there have been a lot of them, there’s usually a slew of rumours that at least give the appearance the hot stove is in full swing. Even that didn’t happen this year, with catcher James McCann and a reported four-year offer from the Mets being the only major piece of news among top free agents.

With reporters working from home, and executives able to avoid the madness of a hotel lobby, this was just any other week on the schedule.

Atkins said Thursday they are still in on all their off-season targets and it’s easy to believe him as none of the upper-class guys have gone off the board. The Jays haven’t missed out on anybody and it’s impossible to judge the effectiven­ess of whatever strategy they are trying to implement until the first ball or two drops.

So, when is the pace finally going to pick up? Atkins had a prediction near the end of his media availabili­ty, albeit one that came with a big caveat.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re weeks away,” Atkins said. “Having said that, it still takes weeks even when things get close.”

In other words, settle in. It could be a matter of days before the Blue Jays’ off-season takes shape. But based on the recent pace, weeks seem like the safer bet.

 ?? THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Jays GM Ross Atkins was rumoured to be one of the most aggressive buyers at this week’s virtual winter meetings.
THE CANADIAN PRESS Jays GM Ross Atkins was rumoured to be one of the most aggressive buyers at this week’s virtual winter meetings.
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