LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – At this point it should be clear that the Toronto Blue Jays aren’t simply posturing when they talk about Josh Donaldson’s short-term future. Barring an impossible-to-say-no bounty from a club desperate to push itself over the top, he’s not going anywhere, and we’ll find out where that leads in a 2018 season in which their opportunities seem limited to wild card or bust.
Even after the New York Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton offered another opportunity to shift course – the 59-homer monster’s Hulk, Smash! rage at Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins on Monday should send shivers down the spines of American League pitchers – the Blue Jays stayed on message.
They have the resources they need and all they want to do is push forward on next year.
And, "If we’re thinking about making this organization better every day, it’s really hard to imagine making it better without Josh," general manager Ross Atkins said after the first day of winter meetings business at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort. "The team, as it stands, would be extremely difficult to make better – he’s one of the best players in the game."
Repeating that sentiment as often as they have since the non-waiver trade deadline passed in July makes it an incredibly difficult pronouncement to walk back from, even if the managing of such a valuable asset as he heads into his walk year is so critical.
Should Donaldson leave after next season, all the Blue Jays would get for him is a compensatory second-round draft pick. Given what the window of opportunity looks like – Houston should win the AL West, Cleveland the Central, one of Boston or the Yankees the East with the other claiming a wild card – a case can be made that they would be better off turning Donaldson into some pieces with more control.
Atkins is having none of it – "There’s nothing I care less about," he said of the perception that the Yankees have sown things up – and isn’t buying the notion that if the Blue Jays plan to keep Donaldson, they had better add significantly to bolster the roster around him, lest they waste him.
"We’re not thinking about it solely that way, but that is certainly part of the equation," he said. "Every decision you make there’s short-term and long-term and you’re factoring in both."
That begs the question that in absence of the kind of bold stroke adding Stanton was for the Yankees, how will the Blue Jays augment a 76-86 roster that was decimated by injuries?
Atkins, understandably, was far more coy about those plans, and the sense drawn from his 35-minute conversation with media Monday is that the Blue Jays are simultaneously working on a few different puzzles, waiting to see where a corner piece sets first before deciding which set to complete.
Their wants, even after the recent acquisition of infielder Aledmys Díaz, remain the same as they’ve been since the season ended: a versatile middle infielder with some offensive game; a starter; a reliever; an outfielder; and, perhaps, an upgrade at backup catcher.
Which is closest to happening?
"They’re all similar in terms of where we could move," said Atkins. "It depends on the piece, if it’s more infield than outfield, or maybe there’s a piece that’s more outfield versus infield. We’re currently talking to multiple starting pitchers, multiple relief pitchers on many levels. Now it’s more about the cost versus the alternatives."
Rather than rush to make a move, they have a chance "to be smart and patient."
There’s some depth in the middle infielder market, with potential options such Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis of the Phillies, Jonathan Villar of the Brewers, Josh Harrison of the Pirates and Ian Kinsler of the Tigers (whose no-trade clause scuttled a Blue Jays attempt to trade for him after the 2013 season) all possibilities.
The relief market is also stuffed with options and the Blue Jays have cast a wide net in search for value-play bullpen arms that can compete for jobs or serve as depth at triple-A Buffalo, while the outfield market has enough surplus that they don’t need to immediately plunge in.
On all fronts, they can wait at present for something to fall to them, a position of strength that prompted one agent who has spoken to them to say that it’s been very difficult to read their intentions.
The market for starting pitchers is less bountiful, which may help explain, in part, why Atkins described Joe Biagini as "a hard guy to upgrade" as the team’s fifth starter.
"It’s remarkable what he’s accomplished in the two years he’s been here," said Atkins. "We’re confident he’s going to continue to make a significant impact. If we have to start the year with him as our fifth starter and Tom Pannone and Ryan Borucki and (Taylor Guerreri, Luis Santos, Deck McGuire and Chris Rowley) in triple-A, that’s not the worst-case scenario for us."
And so, the Blue Jays wait, ready to pounce when they feel the moment is right.
"There are things we could probably speed up, but we also have enough alternatives around the ones that we could speed up that we don’t feel as though it’s necessary to do so today," said Atkins. "That could change tonight and it could change tomorrow.
"Right now we’re not staring down the gun on anything."
Other than the cannon the Yankees acquired for their lineup that threatens to help blow the rest of the American League away, and a Donaldson walk year that could leave a void nearly impossible to fill.