Toronto Blue Jays News

Blue Jays: The plans may have changed just before the lockout

TORONTO, ON - JULY 6: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays checks his phone during batting practice before the start of MLB game action against the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre on July 6, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 6: General manager Ross Atkins of the Toronto Blue Jays checks his phone during batting practice before the start of MLB game action against the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre on July 6, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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It’s all speculation until the lockout ends and the Blue Jays are allowed to resume their pursuit of roster upgrades, but things may have changed just before, and because of the lockout.

I don’t know this for certain, but yesterday’s news from TSN’s Scott Mitchell got me thinking about how the lockout may have altered the plans for a lot of teams, including the Blue Jays. We already knew that to a certain extent because of the flurry of signings that happened right before the expiration of the last CBA, but it may be more extensive than we realize, especially in the big picture.

The news from Mitchell was that the Blue Jays were very interested in Tyler Mahle from the Cincinnati Reds, who is arguably one of the more underrated starters in baseball. The right-hander went 13-6 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.233 WHIP over 33 starts, fanning 210 batters across 180.0 innings in 2021. The 27 year old is under contract for two more seasons before he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2023 campaign, and he could carry a lot of trade value if the Reds are actually shopping him.

As for the Blue Jays, I can’t help but wonder if this rumour is a little dated, at least in terms of their plans going forward. It’s possible that they’re still looking at Mahle to help round out their rotation, but I’m not so sure I believe that now that they also have Kevin Gausman under contract, who was signed just ahead of the start of the lockout. With Gausman joining Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Alek Manoah in the rotation, they have a very strong group of four. You can never have enough pitching, but Mahle would be a luxury at this point, and I’m not sure I see the Blue Jays investing in that kind of trade at this stage. If they hadn’t been able to sign Gausman, then I think it’s a totally different story.

Instead, I think the Blue Jays are far more likely to look for an impact infielder to help soften the blow of losing Marcus Semien in free agency. As things currently stand you could probably pencil Cavan Biggio in at second base and Santiago Espinal at the hot corner, but one can assume they’d prefer to find an upgrade and let that pair battle for playing time at the other spot. It’s been a frequent topic among Blue Jays fans throughout the offseason, and here at Jays Journal, and names like Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, Arizona’s Ketel Marte, and Oakland’s Matt Chapman will likely continue to circulate until at least the start of the regular season, whenever that takes place.

For now, my guess is that we can take the Mahle news with a grain of salt, and that likely goes for most of the higher-end pitching targets that Ross Atkins could have in mind. I’m not saying that they won’t dip into free agency or even make a trade to strengthen the rotation, but I doubt that it’s the same priority that it was before they convinced Gausman to ink a 5-year pact. Instead I would expect that addressing the infield will be the greater priority, and likely the bullpen as well. I still think they’ll bring in some depth in the rotation, I’d just be surprised to see it come in the form of someone with as much upside as Mahle.

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Having said all of that, I also believe that the Blue Jays have entered a clear “win-now” phase as a franchise, so maybe Atkins will continue to be aggressive in forming one of baseball’s best rotations. All we need is for this blasted lockout to come to an end so we can find out.

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