SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Just as spring training is a time of optimism for players, the early part of the off-season is full of hope for baseball executives. Nearly every free agent remains unsigned and the trade possibilities are endless. As the GM Meetings unfold at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa, plan A remains in play for all 30 teams.
General managers will talk a good game – not only with the public, but also behind the scenes in their meetings with agents. ‘We really like your player. Maybe there’s a fit here. We’ll definitely keep in touch.’
But after two of the slowest off-seasons in decades, many agents are of course skeptical that what Scott Boras called “competitive hibernation” will suddenly stop. By slow-playing the market, teams get better deals. Players tend to be more eager to sign once spring training approaches, and that leads to bargains. It drags the pace of action to a crawl, but it saves money.
“Why would they play this off-season any differently?” one agent asked. “Would you?”
No. Or… at least probably not. By and large the waiting game works. But there’s a case to be made that the Toronto Blue Jays should be more proactive than their rivals around baseball this winter. And there are some indications that they’re already operating with that idea in mind.
“We’ve been really aggressive talking to people, to teams,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We’re going to make offers to free agents and see what we can get.”
Montoyo, who lives in Arizona during the winter, joined a sizeable Blue Jays contingent for part of the week. On Tuesday, he was among those who met in person with some individual free agents to sell them on Toronto and the Blue Jays’ emerging core.
So, what does that sales pitch look like? Which players heard it? Could the team plan even more personal visits to free agents after the GM Meetings end? For now, the Blue Jays aren’t saying.
“The more we talk about our strategy publicly,” GM Ross Atkins said, “the worse it is for our ability to execute it.”
Fair enough. They could lose a lot by disclosing their plans, and there’s little to gain. But multiple agents who have engaged with the Blue Jays this winter have noticed a change in tone compared to years past. The front office isn’t simply doing diligence this time. To return to Boras’ analogy, they appear to be one of “those four, five organizations who are coming out of hibernation.”
Where that leads remains unclear at this stage, and it appears likely the Blue Jays will leave the GM Meetings without having made a major move. But their understanding of the starting pitching market has improved through extensive meetings and conversations with agents such as Boras. Bit by bit, teams find out where the most traction exists.
“You do get a very clear picture of how you as a team are being prioritized,” Atkins said Tuesday.
That’s not to say agents will ghost teams entirely – that would be bad business. But some audiences respond differently to the Blue Jays’ than others.
“Just in how much they’re engaging or how much they’re wanting to learn about the organization, how they react to offers, how they react to certain things being framed,” Atkins explained.
This is where the Blue Jays have a chance to make their move. From Boras clients Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-jin Ryu to qualifying offer recipients Jake Odorizzi and Zack Wheeler to former Twins Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda, they have at least some interest in virtually every free agent starter. Jordan Lyles, Tanner Roark and Wade Miley are also among those on the Blue Jays’ radar, to some degree. Most have question marks of some kind, but all would represent upgrades for Montoyo’s rotation.
If the Blue Jays sense that some of the pitchers they like most are receptive to deals, they have a chance to act decisively and make offers. That doesn’t mean overpaying, but at a time that the rest of the league seems content to hibernate, firm offers can be a differentiator. Over the next week or two, that could allow the Blue Jays to separate themselves and address their biggest need.