Blue Jays: When does the front office decide whether or not to deal?

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays speaks to the media before introducing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 before his MLB debut later tonight against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 26, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays speaks to the media before introducing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 before his MLB debut later tonight against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 26, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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As more discussion about future trade plans for the Blue Jays came up on Monday, one of the bigger questions may be when the front office has to make a decision.

Like it or not, the discussion about the Blue Jays being an active seller this summer is going to headline a lot of talk about this team for the next few months. That happens when you’re at the beginning of a roster rebuild, and it was part of the plan for Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro this offseason.

With July 31st now representing the only trade deadline for Major League Baseball, the Blue Jays’ front office will probably receive a lot of phone calls from contenders, especially if everyone can stay healthy. If you’re looking at a list of players on expiring deals or contracts with less than two years remaining, Atkins could be dealing from a pool that includes Justin Smoak, Freddy Galvis, Clay Buchholz, Clayton Richard, and more.

Of course, the highlight pieces that Atkins can dangle on the market are Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, two talented right-handers who won’t hit the free agent market until after the 2020 season. At 28 and 26 years old respectively (Sanchez will turn 27 on July 1st), the duo is young enough that they could arguably be a part of the next generation of this team, and that debate will be a hot topic among Canadian baseball fans until something happens one way or another.

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There are really only two (smart) courses of action for the front office. We’re into the second last season of each pitcher’s contract control, so the sooner you make a move the better in terms of getting a significant package in return. Buster Olney argued as much on Monday (via Sportnet) when talking about the Blue Jays, suggesting the front office should make the move sooner than later. That is, if they’re going to trade the top two pitchers in their rotation.

The first question is whether or not they’re going to make a deal at all, and there will be a lot of variables at play there. Obviously the returns offered by interested parties will be the most significant factor, but timing could be an important variable in the whole situation too, especially in light of what’s gone on with free agency in the last couple of years.

Many prominent future free agents decided to forego the chance to hit the open market and sign for guaranteed dollars with their current club, and the Blue Jays could explore the same thing with Stroman and Sanchez if they choose. They’re already done that with Randal Grichuk, who they locked up for five years not long after the season began. There’s a good argument that they should do just that with their pitchers as well, but there’s a lot to work out there too including future salary, whether they want to stay in Toronto for the long term (I think Stroman does, but who knows about Sanchez), and the biggest variable, their health.

Let’s say the front office is interested in extending one or both of their starters beyond the 2020 season. If that’s the case, I’d be working hard to get that extension signed right now, and hopefully no later than a month from now. If the extension(s) gets hammered out then the discussion becomes moot, and they can focus on moving their other veteran pieces.

If they aren’t interested in extending Stroman and/or Sanchez, I would have to agree with Olney that they may as well actively shop them on the trade market now, if they aren’t already. Both pitchers have started the season healthy and strong, and there may be no better time to explore their trade value, especially with several teams in need of rotation help.

The third scenario is that there’s mutual interest in an extension, but both parties can’t get something worked out in the near future, or maybe don’t even want to discuss it during the season. Some players choose not to entertain contract offers during the season so there are no distractions from their performance on the field, and both Sanchez and Stroman know that how they pitch right now will go a long way to determining their market value. If a deal can’t be reached, then that’s when the front office will have to make the tough decision on whether to wait and try again later, or to capitalize this summer before the deadline.

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As I said, this topic is not going to go away until Stroman and Sanchez either sign extensions or are traded before the July 31st deadline. At least we know we won’t have to speculate beyond that if it doesn’t happen before then, but my guess is that something happens either way in the near future. In fact, the clock may already be ticking for Aktins and company.

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