Blue Jays: Expect Ross Atkins to wait out the free agent market a bit
Now that the official start of free agency begins today, the MLB hot stove should heat up in a hurry. When it comes to the Blue Jays though, expect Ross Atkins to be patient.
Free agency begins five days after the conclusion of the World Series, which means things officially get underway today. There are headliners like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to keep things interesting for the bigger players, but already a couple names have elected to stay with their teams, including Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers (new three year, 93 million deal with bonuses), and David Price (declining his opt-out).
For the Blue Jays, it’s a much different position than they’ve been in for the last few years. Last season the front office was looking to add to the roster and get them back into contention after a disappointing 2017 season. Before that there were cases like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, David Price, and other additions from outside to consider.
Because the Blue Jays are going through a rebuild at the moment, fans shouldn’t really expect any big splashes in free agency. It’s possible that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have their eyes on some longer term pieces, but more likely they’ll be pursuing some short term help to aid their talented young roster. The priority will be giving valuable experience to the budding young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, and many more, but having some balance on the roster has many benefits, in particular when it comes to the starting rotation.
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The Blue Jays are expected to return Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, and some combination of Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, and Sam Gaviglio to the fold next year. Sanchez’s health has been precarious at best, and even Stroman had two visits to the DL last year. There are other talented arms in the MLB pipeline, but the Jays could definitely benefit from having a veteran arm or two to eat some innings and take some pressure of the young pitchers.
Our own Brendan Pannikar suggested that someone like James Shields would be a good fit for a role like this, and I’d have to agree that he would fit the mold of what I think Atkins will be looking for. MLBtraderumors.com put out their predictions yesterday and suggested that Trevor Cahill could head to Toronto on something like a two year, 22 million dollar deal, which make some similar sense, I suppose.
Whatever ends up happening, I fully expect that the Blue Jays will wait out the market a bit and see how aggressive the anticipated contenders are going to get. Last year’s market was incredibly slow, and there were a lot of veterans who had to settle for well below market value last year because of the way GM’s restricted their spending. I don’t anticipate things will be as tepid as they were last winter, but there’s no reason for the Blue Jays to rush out of the gate this winter.
The unfortunate reality is, the Blue Jays will be prioritizing the ability to stay healthy and eat innings, and maybe a track record of mentorship. Overpaying for a rotation arm would only make sense if they were looking at a “pillow contract” situation, where they would be looking to flip a player signed to a one year contract for trade value. They could use that same practice with someone like Cahill or Shields though too, and I would expect that Atkins would prefer a one year deal on a free agent arm.
Waiting out the market will allow the front office to get the best bargain as well, and since there isn’t much urgency as far as contending, I expect that’s exactly what will happen. That doesn’t sound as exciting as dreaming on bigger free agents like we’ve been able to for the past few seasons, but it’s also not a big surprise considering the franchise is going through a rebuild.
It’ll take some time and patience before this team is ready to truly compete again, and I expect that mantra will be applied to the free agent as well.