The Toronto Blue Jays have been busy during baseball’s long winter, a time for teams to address needs and sell hope.
Following a 67-win season — their lowest total in 15 years — the Blue Jays stocked up on pitchers and cleared a whopping 22 retained salaries from their ledger. With a revamped rotation and a young corps of position players, there’s hope within the team that significant strides are coming in 2020.
“It takes time for us to get to a point where fans can see, ‘OK, this is turning,'” Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said Wednesday in an appearance on Tim and Sid. “You can start to see the buds popping out of the ground.”
Some of the buds have yet to surface, submerged in a farm system that has strengthened through the rebuild. And if the Blue Jays have any moves on the horizon, that farm system could play a key role.
Atkins noted that additional activity in free agency is “not likely,” and the probable route to a deal “that moves the needle in a significant way” is a trade.
With names like Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Nolan Arenado generating sustained trade chatter, a well-stocked prospect pool would be vital.
“We haven’t traded prospects away,” Atkins said. “So, having the ability to do that — still having a very good system to trade from — that’s really what moves the needle. If we were to make a move, it’s not going to deplete our system in a way that’s detrimental.”
In August, MLB.com ranked the Blue Jays’ prospect pool No. 10 in the league. Bo Bichette has since graduated from that group to the majors, but all the other notable prospects remain — including right-hander Nate Pearson and his 104-m.p.h. potential.
On Wednesday, Toronto had three prospects named to Baseball America’s Top 100: Pearson (No. 7), shortstop Jordan Groshans (No. 29) and pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 61).
Pearson is ready to come up as early as 2020, while others (Groshans, Woods Richardson and 2019 first-rounder Alek Manoah) are a few years away.
Toronto certainly believes it has options with its stable of youngsters. The word Atkins used a handful of times was “flexibility.”
That flexibility exists in the team’s finances, too, where despite some off-season additions (headlined by a four-year, $80-million deal for pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu) the Blue Jays still project to have the 11th cheapest payroll in baseball, per Spotrac.
Could a collection of prospects and some payroll freedom be enough to entice the front office to shore up its outfield with Betts? Or take the heat off Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third base by adding Arenado? Or secure one of the best shortstops in the league in Lindor?
Atkins, unsurprisingly, was nowhere near definitive in answering those questions. But with the position the Blue Jays find themselves in, opportunities abound.
“That feeling of, ‘Is there a way to add any of those players to our team?’ We have to be thinking that way,” Atkins said. “And we never stop. And we have the ability to do it.”