Position player possibilities open up for Blue Jays after Roark deal

MLB insiders Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith join Hazel Mae to wrap up the 2019 MLB winter meetings, discussing the Blue Jays pursuit of Rick Porcello, who would have been a nice free agent compliment to their Tanner Roark signing.

SAN DIEGO – To say the Toronto Blue Jays were all about pitching at the recently completed Winter Meetings wouldn’t quite be accurate. They continued asking about free agent position players while exploring trades, too.

But within the team suites at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, the Blue Jays’ focus was clear: add starters. By Wednesday morning they were seriously engaged on at least three different fronts with offers extended to starters Rick Porcello, Josh Lindblom and Tanner Roark. By Thursday they had signed one of those starters, Roark, while losing Porcello and Lindblom to the Mets and Brewers, respectively, despite competitive bids.

Now that the Blue Jays have added at least one dependable free agent to their rotation, their focus can broaden a little. While the Blue Jays plan to continue conversations with free agents including Hyun-Jin Ryu, position players will also be a priority in the days ahead.

“We’re active on anyone we think can improve,” assistant GM Joe Sheehan said after the meetings ended Thursday. “It’s top-end pitching: trades, free agents. Top-end hitters: trades, free agents. Anybody we think is potentially moving our needle.”

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.

With Roark in place on a two-year, $24 million deal, the club is one arm closer to respectability. His contract – described rival executives as a fair deal, though certainly not a steal – ensures there’s no need to act out of desperation. Adding one starting pitcher’s far easier than adding two, even if bargains are hard to come by in this market.

“It’s been probably a tad higher than we would have guessed in September or October,” Sheehan acknowledged. “But I think once you see the way it starts to break early, you can adjust.”

Regardless of how those newly signed deals turn out, there’s undeniably less starting pitching available in free agency after a busy week in San Diego. Aside from Ryu, the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Wade Miley and Julio Teheran are on the Blue Jays’ radar without appearing to be top priorities.

After being immersed in the pitching market for days, the club now has a little more freedom to explore moves on the position player side – both as buyers and sellers.

As ever, the Blue Jays check and listen on everyone. They’ve received lots of calls on the young catchers atop their depth chart: Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. At this point, the price on both catchers appears high, and the Blue Jays would surely want a long-term piece with upside back if they traded either one.

Though he struggled at the plate for the early part of the 2019 season, Jansen’s track record of offensive success intrigues teams. McGuire’s minor-league resume isn’t nearly as impressive, but some with the Blue Jays see him as a late bloomer capable of building on a strong 2019 finish and becoming a No. 1 catcher.

In the outfield, the Blue Jays could buy or sell. While no deal appears to have gotten close, they listened to offers on Lourdes Gurriel Jr. earlier in the winter. With that possibility in mind, they’ve checked on free agent corner outfielders such as Kole Calhoun, Corey Dickerson and even Nick Castellanos.

Some of those calls are simply due diligence, but they illustrate the range of possibilities under consideration. The real interest they showed in Mike Moustakas and Didi Gregorius further reinforces the notion that the Blue Jays are serious about upgrading the position player side of their roster, too.

While the most likely outcome for the Blue Jays’ off-season might still be a mid-rotation starter (let’s say Wade Miley), a first base type (Edwin Encarnacion, for argument’s sake) and some relief depth, a single move could set a whole other set of events in motion.

Let’s say Cleveland’s suddenly motivated to add an outfielder and they offer a controllable young pitcher for Gurriel. At that point, the Blue Jays would become less motivated to add rotation help and more serious about adding an outfielder. Or if the Pirates overwhelm the Blue Jays with an offer for McGuire, maybe Toronto enters the market for a veteran free-agent backstop.

The addition of Roark opens all these possibilities up a little. In itself, the signing was entirely predictable, but their next one may be a little harder to plot. In theory at least, more stability in the Blue Jays’ rotation should allow for more creativity from their front office.

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