Blue Jays still have options as starting pitcher market begins to move

Ross Atkins explains to Tim and Sid as to why the Toronto Blue Jays are not looking to trade Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez.

LAS VEGAS – The more the starting pitching market develops, the closer the Toronto Blue Jays get to addressing their biggest need.

At least that’s how it looks in theory. General manager Ross Atkins said that the Blue Jays “definitely made progress” in pursuit of trades and free agents at the Winter Meetings Wednesday. Meanwhile, other clubs in the starting pitching market made moves.

The Reds acquired Tanner Roark from Washington, diminishing their need for starting pitching; the Rays agreed to terms with Charlie Morton on a two-year, $30 million deal; the Rangers closed in on a three-year, $30 million deal with Lance Lynn; and the Yankees are reportedly close to re-signing J.A. Happ on a two year deal worth $34 million.

“Yeah, those are interesting names that will impact the market that we are in,” Atkins said.

In theory, those moves could nudge free agent starting pitchers into motion.

“It feels that way,” Atkins said. “It’s good to see some movement. Good to get clarity.”

Happ had been a potential target for the Blue Jays given his success on the mound and professionalism off the field. Yet with the Phillies and Yankees also active in the starting pitching market, the rebuilding Blue Jays weren’t about to enter a bidding war. The $36 million they spent for his age 33-35 seasons worked out as well as anyone could have expected, but there was no need to double down on a 36-year-old. As a contender, the Yankees are better-suited to absorb that risk.

The Blue Jays appear more likely to spend on mid-tier starters such as Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill or Mike Fiers. One way or another, they likely need to add two starters to their rotation before the season begins.

“I think there’s the potential for that,” Atkins acknowledged. “To call it ideal just yet–it really depends on some other variables and factors.”

The Blue Jays had some interest in Lynn before he agreed to terms with the Rangers, yet talks never appeared to get serious. As for the Reds, the addition of Roark improves their rotation but by no means takes them out of the market for further starting pitching upgrades.

Cincinnati’s one of the many teams to inquire about Marcus Stroman, who’s clearly on the market in the view of rival executives. It stands to reason that nearly every team seeking starting pitching has checked in with the Blue Jays at some point.

That said, acquiring Stroman would undoubtedly require a substantial return. He’s just 27 with two years of team control remaining and two 200-inning seasons to his name–a combination that’s tough to match.

The deals for Roark, Morton, Lynn and Happ provide the Blue Jays with some clarity as the Winter Meetings come to an end. The list of remaining options is shorter now, and the free agent market has been more clearly established. That offers clarity to all teams involved.

By all indications, the Blue Jays would like to add starting pitching before moving on to their other needs: bullpen help and depth at shortstop to replace the recently-released Troy Tulowitzki.

To some extent, these recent developments around baseball nudge them toward pitching additions of their own. At the same time, the Blue Jays’ search for arms dragged into spring training last year, and as much as the Blue Jays would like to leave Las Vegas with pitching in hand, this search could last for months.

“I’d be surprised if that’s what happened again, but I wouldn’t be shocked,” Atkins said. “It’s certainly a possibility.”

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