Blue Jays might have to build through the trade market this off-season
CARLSBAD, CALIF—The Blue Jays spent each of the last two off-seasons doing everything possible to acquire impact players via free agency. This year, they might have no choice but to take a similar approach through trade.
The first preference for every general manager is to upgrade his or her team with cash. If there’s enough payroll flexibility, the best strategy is always using money to improve the ball club because it avoids trading away prospects in deals that erode depth.
The Jays started using that plan of attack two years ago when they handed Hyun-Jin Ryu a four-year deal. They did more of the same last off-season by signing George Springer, Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Kirby Yates. In a perfect world, general manager Ross Atkins would follow that path again, but with multiple holes to fill and a very competitive free-agent market, it might be a luxury he can no longer afford.
“I would prefer to just use money, but that’s not unlimited,” Atkins said from the general managers’ meetings. “We’ve also learned more, and we’ve developed more. A big part of that strategy of wanting guys to have the rope and the chance to grow and improve, is creating consistency with them. As we’ve learned more about them, as we’ve built out some depth in certain areas, that does create more opportunities for us.”
The big takeaway for the Jays from this week’s meetings was the level of interest other teams have in their catchers. The free-agent market behind the plate is almost completely bare, with veteran Yan Gomes one of the only viable solutions. That means a lot of teams have been reaching out to the Jays about whether they would be willing to deal from their excess depth.
The Jays currently have incumbent Danny Jansen as their likely starting catcher with Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire as possible backups. Then there’s hotshot prospect Gabriel Moreno, who is currently lighting up the Arizona Fall League and, as one of the top prospects in the game, figures to be the best of the group.
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Jays would deal Moreno, who is just a couple notches below Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette on their list of untouchables. One of the other three, however, could be very much up for grabs. Kirk has the most value and could be used as part of a bigger package that nets an impact player.
Similar things could be said about the Jays’ outfield, which also has garnered interest. They currently have a starting three of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer and Teoscar Hernández, with Randal Grichuk as the high-priced reserve. Teams shopping in this market have more options than the ones trying to acquire catching, but there were at least a few teams who reached out to see what the Jays plan to do.
Hernandez and Gurriel only have two years of control remaining on their deals, a term that’s too short for rebuilding teams. That means if the Jays really wanted to work something out, they’d need to find a club that is actively trying to win, with one impact player being swapped out for another.
One option that has been gaining steam in recent days is a potential trade with the Miami Marlins for one of their young starters, something they’re flush with in Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Elieser Hernández and Trevor Rogers. The Marlins are looking to upgrade their offence, which means a package that involves Kirk and Gurriel could eventually make sense for both sides.
Then there are the Cleveland Guardians, who are once again entertaining the idea of dealing José Ramirez. The Guardians don’t appear intent on waving the white flag next season, so if they’re going to be talked into moving the perennial MVP candidate they’re going to want pieces who can contribute right away, which is something the Jays can accommodate.
Another obvious pairing centres around the Oakland A’s, who need to cut salary and are expected to field offers on Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas. The A’s front office typically thinks outside the box but it’s not immediately clear whether they are looking to retool with cheaper big-league players, or if they’re inclined to pursue prospects farther away.
“This is the cycle for the A’s,” Oakland GM David Forst said this week of his cash-strapped organization. “We have to listen and be open to whatever comes out of this. This is our lot in Oakland until it’s not.”
The Cincinnati Reds also appear to be planning to trade away a lot of their big names, but the fit there is less ideal. The Reds are headed for a rebuild, which means they might have interest in Kirk but have no need for Gurriel or Hernández. Instead, they’d likely targets prospects like Orelvis Martinez, Jordan Groshans, or Moreno, which isn’t happening.
Atkins declined to get into any specifics about potential trade targets this week, or comment on which players he might be willing to deal. But he did say some progress was made in California and there are moves at his disposal, just not ones he’s preparing to execute.
“There are always things you can act on,” Atkins said Thursday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if teams are close. There are things that clearly we could push forward, but we still have a lot of opportunities and different things to consider, where we don’t have something imminent tonight.”
The Jays were very active at least year’s trade deadline but it has been several years since they have pulled off a major trade during the off-season. There are a lot of reasons to believe a few months from now it will be a much different story.