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Blue Jays: Speculating on who the Jays were “close” to signing

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 25: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays talks to television analyst Pat Tabler during batting practice before the start of MLB game action against the Chicago White Sox on April 25, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 25: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays talks to television analyst Pat Tabler during batting practice before the start of MLB game action against the Chicago White Sox on April 25, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins spoke to the media on Thursday, mentioning that they almost signed another player already this offseason. Who might that have been?

The Blue Jays are one of the few teams that have already struck since free agency opened up, as they re-signed Robbie Ray to a one-year deal, a pitcher they acquired at this year’s trade deadline. However, according to Ross Atkins, they were close to making a second addition to the roster in the early going.

The GM is entering his 6th offseason in the seat for the Blue Jays, and by now we should know that he’s not one to give away a lot of information. There have been times that he’s driven me crazy with the way he avoids answering questions, as most good baseball executives do. It leads me to believe that dropping that little nugget on Thursday was a calculated decision, and a signal to other free agents that they’re ready to do business in the early part of the offseason calendar. However, it also begs the question: Who did nearly sign?

There are a few places we can look for clues, and industry speculation is a decent place to start. Sportnet’s Shi Davidi talked about how it could have been Kevin Gausman, who accepted the Qualifying Offer to stay in San Francisco in 2021. I tend to agree with that prediction for a few reasons.

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Realistically, for Atkins to come out and say that they almost signed a player all but guarantees that option is now off the market. For example, if they were trying to re-sign Taijuan Walker, it wouldn’t make any sense to state in the media that you missed out on the opportunity. In theory, Walker is still available until he signs elsewhere, unless his agent has directly told the Blue Jays he won’t consider a return. In that case, I doubt Atkins is describing it as something that was “close”.

If we continue with this logic, there’s really only one other player that would fit the mold of a free agent that’s come off the board. I don’t know this for certain, but I’m very confident that Atkins wasn’t referring to Marcus Stroman, who agreed to return to the New York Mets on the one-year QO as well. As you’re likely aware, the relationship between Stroman and the Blue Jays ain’t what it used to be, and I sincerely doubt that either party was interested in a reunion.

Other than Gausman and Stroman, there haven’t been many names to come off the board yet this offseason. You can check out a full list on MLB.com’s transactions page, but I doubt that Atkins was referring to Josh Tomlin either, who is probably the third biggest name to sign a deal so far.

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It makes sense if it was in fact Gausman that the Blue Jays were interested in, as he had a renaissance year in San Francisco in 2020 and was bound to command interest on the open market if he chose that route. You can’t blame him for taking a QO right now though, especially with the volatility of the winter ahead. However, as Atkins also talked about with the media on Thursday, there are plenty of options available to the Blue Jays this winter, and it’s not the end of the world if they’re just 1-2 this offseason.

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