The Baseball Winter Meetings started Sunday in San Diego. Here is a summary of five Blue Jays-related rumours making the ‘hot stove’ rounds ahead of the gathering.
Get ready for some ‘hot stove’ action. Last year, there were four trades and 10 free agent signings during the Winter Meetings, including the Rays signing Charlie Morton for two years/$30 million with a third year vesting option based on his health.
Want a teaser? How is this:
So as the baseball world descends on San Diego, what should Jays fans expect over the next week?
1 – GM Ross Atkins is interested in free agent starters Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel.
While the Blue Jays front office’s stated offseason focus is on starting pitching, only 14 starters are left from MLBTR’s top 50 free agents list, and every big market team needs starting pitching. Assuming none of Gerrit Cole (see above), Stephen Strasburg or Madison Bumgarner sign with Toronto, that leaves only eleven starters on the board.
Ryu and Keuchel are the best remaining free agent starters, but after that the pickings get slimmer with Tanner Roark, Wade Miley and others not offering much upside beyond the currently constructed projected Jays 2020 rotation headed by Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki and Trent Thornton.
They could use a veteran to mentor the kids and reduce the wear and stress on young arms, including potential ace Nate Pearson. Or could General Manager Ross Atkins swing a trade for a top of the rotation starter?
The Blue Jays used 21 different starters in a dismal 67-95 season in 2019. However, with recent whispers that Atkins has “less urgency given their timeline”, will he use his payroll flexibility to be aggressive and sign either of soon to be 33-year old Ryu (MLBTR predicts three years/$54 million), or soon to be 32-year old Keuchel (MLBTR sees three years/$39 million), and break the Blue Jay free agent pitcher record of five years/$55 million for then 29-year old A.J. Burnett at the December 2005 Winter Meetings?
Agent Scott Boras represents both clients and has had a tenuous relationship with Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. Further, since 2008 the average date for Boras clients to sign free agent contracts worth $75 million or more is January 17th. Assuming the Jays will have to overpay on term and contract value, Ryu could certainly cost that much.
CBS Sports sees the Jays signing RHP Tanner Roark, LHP Alex Wood and 1B Eric Thames, and notes that the Jays “should have money to spend. Their projected $63.9 million Opening Day payroll is roughly $50 million – again, $50 million – below this year’s $114.5 million Opening Day payroll (per Cot’s Baseball Contracts).”
2 – The Blue Jays could use some of their catching depth to trade for starting pitching or for veteran help in CF and at 1B.
After non-tendering catcher Luke Maile, Atkins said that finding a veteran catcher for depth at Triple-A Buffalo is a priority. Could he either try to re-sign Maile as free agent or make a waiver claim for a third-string catcher?
While their have been rumours of trade interest in the young Jays catching platoon of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, Toronto also has good minor league prospect depth at catcher, with Baseball America recently ranking Alejandro Kirk as the #4 Jays prospect and Gabriel Moreno at #7. MLB Pipeline ranks Riley Adams as the #27 prospect in the Jays’ system. Both Moreno and Adams will need to be protected on the 40-man roster after the 2020 season, so could a deal with one of the Padres, Rays or Pirates, who are all looking for catching, make sense?
The Jays could also look to deal other prospects for pitching and veteran bats, with MLB Pipeline highlighting OF Anthony Alford as an impressive 25-year old athlete with some tools, and untapped potential that could be worth a shot even though he’s out of options.
They could also look to sign posted Japanese 1B/OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. The 28-year old has played 1B, 3B and LF in Japan, but they need to agree to terms by December 19th to pay a release fee to the Yokohama DeNA Baystars.
3 – While they may wait until the July trade deadline, closer Ken Giles could be traded.
Three prospects is the rumoured return required to move him. ESPN even dreamed up a trade with the Rockies: Giles for RHP Tommy Doyle, RHP Ryan Castellani and RHP Bryan Shaw.
4- Taking on a bad contract to maximize the return on a trade is a possibility.
The largest current payroll commitments for 2020 are OF Randal Grichuk at $13 million, RHP Chase Anderson at $8.5 million, and closer Ken Giles at $8.4 million (as per MLBTR predictions for arbitration awards), plus the $14 million in retained salary owed to Troy Tulowitzki.
The Blue Jays have the financial flexibility to sign multiple free agents, take on a bad contract to maximize the return on a trade deal, or buy out the arbitration eligible years of their young stars in return for some of their free agent years. According to Atkins:
"“The flexibility has been there, and it’s always a combination of how much revenue you’re creating. And now we’re in a situation where it just makes sense to start to be a lot more aggressive than we were last year."
Potential trade targets here include LHP David Price, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Joey Votto, 1B/OF Wil Myers, 1B Albert Pujols, CF Ender Inciarte, RHP Jeurys Familia and infielder Jed Lowrie.
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Teams including the Mets, Cubs and Red Sox have all been transparent about trying to reduce payroll, while the Astros, Nationals and Padres have all highlighted financial constraints as reason for not being able to chase more than one mega-deal free agent. Meanwhile the Blue Jays are amongst a group of teams including the Marlins, White Sox, Yankees and Dodgers who do clearly have either the payroll flexibility or willingness to add significant pieces and contracts.
5 – The Jays will be players in the Rule 5 Draft on December 12th.
After finding success with RHP Joe Biagini in 2015, and the unique circumstances that led to RHP Elvis Luciano in 2019, Atkins believes the 26th roster spot could lead to another pick, but with no changes to the 40-man roster size, it still has to be the right situation.
Rebuilding teams like Toronto could be more willing to work with raw talent in the hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. Here’s a list of some intriguing Rule 5 prospects from each team. Baseball America also recently updated their Rule 5 Draft preview here.