LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When John Gibbons gets the chance to meet with prospective additions to the Toronto Blue Jays, he pitches them on a talented veteran team backed by the support of a strong fan base.
“We’re coming off a tough year, no doubt, but you got guys like Russell Martin, (Josh) Donaldson,” the manager said Wednesday. “It’s a good veteran team, it’s got the potential and chance to win some. It’s a pretty good group and really it’s one team, one country; that’s a selling point.”
Some persuasive recruiting could help the Blue Jays address their multiple needs after an 86-loss season in which the club scored the fewest runs in the American League and had some thin rotation depth exposed. Gibbons wasn’t in attendance at the Blue Jays’ meeting with CC Sabathia Tuesday, but the manager made it clear that he’d like to add to his rotation in a meaningful way.
“Ideally you get one of those guys,” he said. “An ace or close to an ace.”
At the same time, there aren’t many of those arms available, as Sabathia might be the fifth-best free agent starter remaining behind Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. You can basically rule out Arrieta or Darvish, who would eat up most or all of the Blue Jays’ available cash for 2018, but Sabathia’s expected to be available on a more reasonable deal after posting a 3.69 ERA in 148.2 regular season innings and adding to that with a 2.37 ERA in four playoff starts.
“I love him. I’ve always liked him. He’s coming off a big year,” Gibbons said. “He’s a workhorse, man. He’s always pitched well against us. One of the great competitors in the game for a number of years. I thought he looked strong last year.”
It’s an intriguing possibility, not only because of Sabathia’s experience pitching in the AL East, but because of his connection to Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins. At the same time, the Yankees still appear interested in the left-hander, and he has a comfort level in the Bronx after nine seasons. His representatives could be using the Blue Jays and Angels as a way to gain leverage.
Plus, the Blue Jays need more than pitching. They must bolster their bullpen but are remaining patient in the relief market, according to executives and agents. Part of the rationale for exploring value plays instead of jumping in on a multi-year deal for an established arm? Spending big on arms now could cut off some options on the position player side. Considering that Atkins still hopes to add an infielder and an outfielder, the club could wait on the starting pitching market too, Sabathia included.
As Gibbons said. “We need some more offence, there’s no doubt about that in my mind.” If that’s the priority, a push for rotation help might take time.
A few more notes from Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Hotel…
• Rival teams ask the Blue Jays about their top prospects “quite frequently,” Atkins said Tuesday. While the Blue Jays “have to” consider those asks, it’d be a surprise if they traded a top prospect for anything but another long-term piece.
• If Josh Donaldson has a monster year in 2018, Gibbons won’t be surprised. “He knows he’ll be a free agent unless, of course, we sign him,” Gibbons said. “So that will motivate him more and he might have a monster year. I expect him to have a monster year, because that’s what he thrives on.”
• One of Donaldson’s potential suitors may be moving closer to a deal for another bat. The Cardinals feel they’re close to a deal for a hitter and the Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna could be their target, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
• Gibbons echoed Atkins’ praise for Joe Biagini, who projects as the Blue Jays fifth starter unless they add to the rotation. “He’s got a lot of upside.”
• Aledmys Diaz initially caught Gibbons’ eye at a workout in Florida before he signed with the Cardinals in 2014. “I loved what the kid was doing,” Gibbons recalls. Nearly four years later, Diaz provides the Blue Jays with insurance behind Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis.
• The Blue Jays have been in touch with veterans such as Tulowitzki, Donaldson, J.A. Happ and Justin Smoak about some of their potential moves this winter. Atkins also checks in with Gibbons regularly. “He asks me all the time, and I give my opinion,” Gibbons said.
• Told that he placed 30th on NBC Sports’ list of baseball’s handsomest managers, Gibbons looked across the room toward recently-hired Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. “Well, that’s shocking, especially since good Gardy’s back,” he joked. “But, hey, beauty’s only skin deep. Ugly is to the bone.” Gibbons thought he should have ranked a little higher. “Hey, not in the Top 20 but somewhere bottom 10, a little higher than (30th).”