TORONTO — For months, much of the discussion surrounding the Toronto Blue Jays revolved around the team’s front office. Executives Alex Anthopoulos, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins dominated headlines immediately following the club’s best season in 22 years.
That trend seemingly relented at Thursday night’s season ticket holder forum, where Blue Jays fans met Shapiro and Atkins with polite applause, indicating they’re ready to look ahead at 2016 with renewed focus on the field. Not that the Blue Jays’ roster is necessarily set. Even with a competitive roster in place, the club continues eyeing additional arms while weighing multi-year deals for three elite hitters.
By now we’ve heard enough from Shapiro to know how much he prizes versatility and depth, so it should come as no surprise that the Blue Jays continue exploring possible moves.
“You’re never satisfied with the roster regardless of the result unless you win the last game of the year,” Shapiro said. “That’s the only time you should be satisfied.”
Shapiro said the team has had “substantive” conversations within the last few days, perhaps alluding to two depth moves. The Blue Jays bought low on a pair of experienced arms, agreeing to terms with right-handers Gavin Floyd and David Aardsma.
Considering the Blue Jays led all MLB teams in scoring by 127 runs last year, upgrading the pitching staff will be easier than upgrading the offence. Atkins said the club would like to improve its run prevention if possible.
“If there’s any way to increase depth there, we’re going to do it,” Atkins said.
Even after bolstering their triple-A roster in minor-league free agency, the club could use starting depth, relievers with upside and even an additional experienced catcher.
Aaron Sanchez will be stretched out in Spring Training, when he’ll compete for a starting job alongside Drew Hutchison and Jesse Chavez. While Sanchez has no guarantees, he intrigues the Blue Jays as a rotation option. Toronto can contemplate a starting role for Sanchez thanks to the pickup of Drew Storen, who was acquired from Washington in January.
“He definitely makes [the bullpen] better and that’s one of the reasons we acquired him. There was that one piece missing,” manager John Gibbons said. "We needed that one more good reliever.”
Between Storen and Roberto Osuna the Blue Jays have two players who picked up 20-plus saves in 2015. Asked who will close games in 2016, Gibbons said he didn’t know yet. Asked who will bat leadoff, he gave the same answer. But specifics or not, the crowd of approximately 2,200 fans applauded Gibbons loudly throughout the evening, showing appreciation for the team’s 2015 run to the ALCS.
“What’s great about it is guys like [Jose] Bautista and Eddie [Encarnacion] and some of those guys that had been some of the best players in baseball finally got their true recognition in the spotlight,” Gibbons said.
Not coincidentally, it will soon be time for the Blue Jays to discuss possible contract extensions with Bautista and Encarnacion, who are both just one year from free agency. A year from now they will be headlining an otherwise weak free-agent class barring long-term deals with the Blue Jays. Shapiro said it’s a no-brainer to talk long-term deal with Encarnacion and Bautista, “two of the best right-handed run producers in the game.”
Though Shapiro and Atkins already met with both players, more substantive talks aren’t slated to take place until Spring Training. In the meantime, the focus remains on the club’s two remaining arbitration-eligible players, Jesse Chavez and Josh Donaldson. Chavez’s arbitration hearing took place Thursday, which leaves Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP.
For now the team and player are separated by $450,000 with a hearing scheduled for later in the month, but Atkins said the Blue Jays would ideally work toward a multi-year deal with Donaldson, who has three seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining.
"You could build an entire organization around [Mike] Trout,” Atkins said. "I want Donaldson.”
Reassuring words for fans who worried that the new regime was missing the big picture with Donaldson. Regardless of whether the sides reach a multi-year deal, the talk has gradually shifted back to the players themselves, a welcome trend that will only continue when Spring Training opens in a couple of weeks.