Blue Jays notebook: No more untouchables in MLB trade talks?

Tim and Sid come to the defence of both Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, who really can't say anything about ongoing discussions they're having, but say thank God for the Ken Rosenthals, Jon Heymans and Bob Nightengales of the world.

TORONTO – Even after the St. Louis Cardinals addressed their need for a big bat with the addition of Marcell Ozuna, the Josh Donaldson rumours persist.

And while it’s presumably possible that someone will make an offer strong enough to pry the 2015 AL MVP away from the Blue Jays, it’s also worth remembering that the Toronto front office remains open-minded on players as a matter of policy. Best-case scenario, you hear an unexpectedly appealing offer. Worst-case, you’ve spent some energy on a potential deal that will never happen.

All across baseball, the days of placing players completely off-limits appear to be over.

“You just hear less of that these days,” GM Ross Atkins said, speaking in general terms at the Winter Meetings. “We want to build the best environment and the best team and organization possible and part of that oftentimes means listening on players that would be extremely difficult to move.”

Aside from Donaldson, Marcus Stroman would be among the players with the most trade value on the major-league roster. On the minor-league side, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette rank among the game’s top prospects. It’d be a huge surprise if any of those three players were traded, and yet Atkins doesn’t believe in closing off possibilities completely.

“There really aren’t as many untouchables,” Atkins said. Instead, “there are some we would really prefer to hold onto.”

It’s now easier to start a productive conversation because executives around baseball have a shared understanding of how to value players.

“Not just their offence, not just their defence, not just their baserunning, but all of it together,” Atkins said. “Understanding durability better, understanding prospect value better. What that does is it creates more discussion in and around all assets.

“The other part of it is the emphasis placed on young, controllable talent has heightened so therefore understanding it has heightened, so therefore people are more willing to talk.”

Kendrys Morales hit 28 home runs last year, but he was still a below-average hitter as measured by wRC+ and OPS+. Mix in his poor baserunning and defensive limitations and you have a disappointing debut year.

That said, manager John Gibbons thinks Morales will improve in 2018 now that he’s adjusted to his new environment.

“I don’t care how long they’ve been playing, they go to a new spot, it takes a while,” Gibbons said. “Usually that second year they’re that much better. I think he’s going to bounce back.”

The Blue Jays aren’t believed to have had substantive trade talks involving Morales, and they value his presence in the clubhouse. At the same time, a trade would free up DH at-bats for the Blue Jays’ many veteran position players, so the possibility is worth exploring.

The Blue Jays non-tendered Ryan Goins partly because of their desire to improve up the middle, and they’re actively seeking an infield upgrade to complement existing options such as Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki and Aledmys Diaz.

In the meantime, Goins can sign with any team. But there’s still a chance that the Blue Jays could reunite with Goins later in the off-season depending on what kind of commitment he’s seeking.

“We have interest in him returning with some level of guarantee,” Atkins said. “He’ll factor in what his alternatives are.”

By the numbers, Goins’ defence regressed last year — a potential concern for the Blue Jays considering his lifetime .611 OPS.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Some teams — the Rays, for example — have enough upper-level prospects that their triple-A teams are legitimately talented. In recent years, that hasn’t applied to the Blue Jays.

This time in 2016, for example, the Blue Jays were filling out their triple-A roster with the likes of Jeff Beliveau, Lucas Harrell, T.J. House, Brett Oberholtzer, Jake Elmore and Gregorio Petit. A year later, the Blue Jays believe their prospect depth has improved to the point that they can spend less energy filling out the Bisons’ roster.

“That’s where you want to be,” Atkins said. “We feel really good about the triple-A team.”

As the Blue Jays gather information about prospective acquisitions they stay in touch with veteran players including Tulowitzki, Donaldson, J.A. Happ and Justin Smoak. At times Atkins will reach out, but sometimes the players themselves get in touch with a text.

“Hey, I don’t want to get out of my lane here,” they might write, “but just wanted to share my opinion.”

And when Atkins asks his manager about the team’s needs, Gibbons points to offence ahead of everything else. “There’s no doubt about that in my mind,” Gibbons said.

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