Blue Jays’ Atkins seeks pitching, doesn’t expect further staff changes

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca joins Arash Madani to discuss the direction the Toronto Blue Jays are heading with their new regime.

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Amid ongoing work to fill out Charlie Montoyo’s coaching staff — Ross Atkins isn’t “anticipating” further changes but didn’t close off the possibility — the Toronto Blue Jays begin seeking ways to bolster their pitching staff at the General Managers Meetings this week.

The dismissals of hitting coach Brook Jacoby and first base coach Tim Leiper over the weekend created two vacancies and, at a minimum, the expectation is that pitching coach Pete Walker and third base coach Luis Rivera will return to provide some continuity on the staff.

To varying degrees, what happens with bench coach DeMarlo Hale, bullpen coach Dane Johnson and quality control coach Mike Mordecai is less certain. The Blue Jays are sure to seek coaches who are fluent in the advanced metrics and new trends in the game to work alongside a rookie manager in Montoyo.

“I’ve had interactions with every individual and we’re interviewing for opportunities to make our staff better,” Atkins said Monday after arriving at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa, where the GM Meetings begin Tuesday. “The hitting coach role and the outfield/baserunning role are two areas that are open. There are other opportunities that there still could be changes. I’m not anticipating them at this point.

“Feel very good about Pete Walker as our pitching coach and confident that he’ll be back. Dane (Johnson) has done a great job for us, DeMarlo has been fantastic and he’s got different alternatives he wants to think about, as well. Really, it’s just thinking through all the alternatives we have and the opportunities we have to complement Charlie’s staff in the best way we can.”

The bigger challenge will be in strengthening the roster Montoyo and whomever ends up coaching with him get to work with.

In that regard, Atkins said acquiring more pitching is the priority and, notably, pointed to the free agent market as a secondary option.

That makes some sense given that last year’s crop of free agents lingered unsigned for an extended period and patient clubs were able to find value later in the off-season, and that the Blue Jays have a surplus of position players that can be converted to pitching in trades.

“Looking to build around a lot of the young pitching we do have and create more depth will be our focus,” said Atkins. “That can come in several ways – it could be via free agency, it could be via trade. Any way that we could possibly get more depth for our pitching will really set us up to complement that young position player core well.”

As things stand now, the Blue Jays have veterans Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, swingman Sam Gaviglio and rookies Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone and Sean Reid-Foley for a rotation in dire need of a stable innings-eater.

Closer Ken Giles, a potential trade chip, anchors a bullpen that also includes Ryan Tepera and could use a couple of other reliable arms given the relative lack of experience elsewhere.

A couple of arms for both roles makes sense, but Atkins insisted the team doesn’t have a defined shopping list in mind.

“Whether that ends up being one or two major-league starters or one or two major-league relievers, we’ll see,” he said. “Really, we have the flexibility to do it in free agency. Time will tell. But we also want to understand what opportunities we have via trade, as well, before we’re aggressive there.”

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Like Giles, Stroman and Sanchez could emerge as trade chips for the Blue Jays given that, since each only has two years of club control remaining, they may not time with the emerging core.

Atkins didn’t sound like he’s actively shopping the pitchers, but he certainly didn’t dismiss the notion that one of them could be traded, either.

“That’s not a focus that we’re sitting around thinking about trading players that we have been very successful here and that we value greatly,” said Atkins. “At the same time we can’t close off opportunity and if there is one, if something is presented to us that makes some sense we’ll have to consider it but not what we’re spending our energy on.”

Complicating matters is that neither pitcher is anywhere near peak value at the moment. Stroman posted a 5.54 ERA in 102.1 innings while fighting shoulder and blister troubles while Sanchez had a 4.89 ERA over 105 innings before ligament damage in his index finger ended his season.

Sanchez underwent surgery in September and Atkins said his recovery “has been great. I talked to him last week, he sounds like he’s in a great place mentally and just glad to have clarity.”

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