LAS VEGAS – There’s always a degree of posturing in the public statements of baseball officials, particularly when it comes to the futures of players who may be up for trade. During the winter meetings especially, taking all that’s said with a grain of salt is highly recommended.
What’s important to track, however, is how the discourse around a specific situation changes over time because shifts are telling. And the way the trade chatter around Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez has evolved since the General Managers Meetings a month ago – when Ross Atkins unequivocally said “no one likes Marcus more than we do, we value him the most” – a deal for one of them, at least, suddenly seems a lot more tangible.
Consider that Monday, when asked if other teams were starting to value the two ace-calibre starters more similarly to the Blue Jays, Atkins replied: “I would say that’s fair.”
“It doesn’t by any means suggest that they’re going to be traded. Far from that,” he added. “As you start to understand in terms of the discussions you’re having, and offers that are made, or even in just talking about comparable trades, then it starts to make more sense to have continued discussions. The likelihood of those guys being moved is not high. It’s just we have to entertain if there’s a way to make the organization better.”
That’s a significant change in tenor, and a rapidly changing marketplace could easily accelerate the progress on that front.
The catalyst here may well have been Patrick Corbin’s $140-million, six-year deal from the Washington Nationals last week, taking an important high-end option out of the mix while simultaneously raising the floor for fellow free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel. Nathan Eovaldi’s $68-million, four-year deal with the Boston Red Sox also eliminated the best upper-mid-market upside play.
Contenders in need of impact are now left to choose between Keuchel, a veteran like J.A. Happ or trying to acquire one of Cleveland aces Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer via trade. All will be very costly in dollars or prospect capital, which makes Stroman and Sanchez, cost-effective talents just entering their peak years with two seasons of club control, intriguing alternatives.
There’s “significant interest,” in both, said Atkins, who made clear that the Blue Jays are deep enough into the off-season to have sussed out who’s legitimately interested in their players.
“Now it’s just determining how interested,” he said. “In terms of what it would take (to trade Stroman or Sanchez), there’s an objective equation to that and the talent return. Then it’s how it lines up with your needs. The short answer is that it would need to be a fair deal. It would mean we’re getting talent in return that we feel is fair for the talent that would be leaving. That’s the case for any player.”
There’s no deal right now. But it sure sounds like there’s a path to get there.
One rival executive who has spoken with the Blue Jays doesn’t believe they’re actively shopping either starter but were actively listening, while another said he could easily see them trading away one of the right-handers this winter.
The challenge in any such trade is that the Blue Jays are already perilously thin in the rotation and that they don’t have a similarly high-ceilinged arm due to arrive imminently from the farm system. They could spend the next few years trying to replicate the kind of impact both have already delivered at the big-league level, which is why trying to extend them also makes sense.
Atkins offered little on that front “out of respect for any negotiation, getting too public with that is too sensitive.” But he did note that an extension is “a two-way street” and “there are a lot of parties involved in that decision.”
The implication there is that Stroman has gone to an arbitration hearing in each of the past two seasons while Sanchez is represented by Scott Boras, who usually tends to take his players to market.
So, trading the best of what they have is a consideration, even as they focus on adding more pitching.
Some other news and notes gathered while scouring the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino:
• The Blue Jays met with five agencies – including Paul Cohen, Troy Tulowtizki’s agent – and five teams to talk trade in their Delano hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay resort. After saying last week that it was “unlikely” Tulowitzki could contribute at an above average level for 140 games, all Atkins offered on his recovering shortstop is that “he’s in an incredible state of mind, he feels great physically, he looks great, he’s moving around well, so all positive signs.”
• The Blue Jays have been drawing interest in their catching, including on Russell Martin, who’s due $20 million in 2019. A veteran rival executive believes Martin’s contract is movable because “he can still play and help somebody. The question is whether the Blue Jays will take back enough of the money.” After noting how much the Blue Jays like and appreciate the 36-year-old, Atkins added, “we would consider some opportunity if there was one to move him for talent that made sense for the organization.” The key term there is “for talent.” If the Blue Jays are going to eat a substantial amount of money, they want some level of prospect in return.
• A rival executive described Blue Jays closer Ken Giles as “available.” The hard-throwing right-hander went 14-for-14 in converting saves after coming over from Houston as part of the return for Roberto Osuna and has two years of control remaining. His market may not really develop until some of the free-agent relievers on the market start coming off the board.
• Unsurprisingly, Atkins said filling out the bullpen will be left until later in the off-season because “we would rather have complete flexibility to know what our opportunities will be on the starting pitching front before we are aggressive with relievers.” The Blue Jays did a good job of finding value-rebuild types last season, adding Seunghwan Oh, John Axford and Tyler Clippard during spring training.
• The Blue Jays have two holes to fill in their scouting department after promotions from other teams cost them a pair of valued members. Major-league scout Chuck LaMar left for an expanded role with the San Diego Padres, while pro scout Kevin Fox, responsible for selecting Kevin Pillar in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft, joined the Seattle Mariners to work on the international side.
• An agent, unprompted, on Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro. “Just give him time. What he’s doing is going to work.”