Stanton trade adds pressure to Blue Jays, if they want to contend

Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair and Hazel Mae speak from the MLB Winter Meetings. The duo touch on the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals missing out on Giancarlo Stanton. Josh Donaldson trade rumors and more. Sportsnet’s coverage starts tomorrow.

BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The reaction from three baseball people on what the New York Yankees’ pending acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton means for the Toronto Blue Jays:

• “They’ll need to be really creative, but they can still find a way.”

• “If they don’t do something big, they should just rebuild.”

• “They probably need to take a step back now.”

No matter which viewpoint you subscribe to, the ante has very decisively been raised on the rest of the American League East by the Yankees, who are expected to unveil their new 59-homer monster Monday when the winter meetings officially kick off at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin. A lineup built around the AL MVP runner-up in Aaron Judge now also features the National League MVP, along with fellow young mashers Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and the all-around solid Didi Gregorius.

The most frightening part of the deal for the rest of the division, and the AL as a whole, is that they’re all young, controllable and have upside.

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For a Blue Jays team already facing a crossroads with one year of control remaining on perennial MVP contender Josh Donaldson and a roster that has enough talent to have potential, but enough flaws to collapse again in 2018, the new reality is impossible to ignore. (Ben Nicholson-Smith’s fine piece on teams in their situation is well worth a read.)

The visceral desire to try and do something big to keep pace is understandable – it’s the way competitive people think – but the realities surrounding payroll restrictions and player procurement don’t always make that possible.

Similarly, the cold, rational logic of a strategic retreat for a regroup in a couple of years when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette could be ready ignores the gut-punch such a step would deliver to a fan base that’s led the AL in attendance the past two years, and is facing a hike in ticket prices for 2018.

And so, the Blue Jays are left with the urgent need to get creative – really, really creative – over the next four days in the Magic Kingdom, to give themselves a reasonable chance next year and try to maximize what could be the final season of their current competitive window. There’s reason to believe that with a few key moves and – this is the tricky one – good health, starting with ace Aaron Sanchez, they can legitimately plant themselves into the wild-card mix.

The AL East seems far more out of reach, especially with the defending champion Boston Red Sox a significant obstacle as well, but with both them and the Yankees, the presence of two new coaching staffs adds an element of volatility, with two rookie managers – Alex Cora in Boston, Aaron Boone in New York – amplifying the effect.

Any little crack that can be capitalized on won’t matter if the Blue Jays don’t add, and their to-do list remains virtually unchanged. Even with Aledmys Diaz in the fold, GM Ross Atkins is still looking for another versatile middle infielder with some offensive game, a starter and a reliever, an outfielder and, if there’s any money left from the roughly $25 million he’s believed to have, a backup catcher.

The sense here is that the Blue Jays would ideally like to make a few mid-tier adds to spread the wealth and production across the roster. Doing that will require making some trades and their goal will be to do that without moving key prospects like Guerrero, Bichette, Logan Warmoth, Nate Pearson, Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki and Tom Pannone – the players who will, over time, help the roster reach the club’s stated goal of becoming younger and more athletic.

“We can’t do that in free agency,” Atkins said last week, “so we’re not going to trade away those pieces in an attempt to become younger and more athletic, unless we’re trading it for younger, controllable players as opposed to trading for a one-year rental.”

Someone like outfielder Christian Yelich, under club control for four more seasons, fits that description but the Miami Marlins’ price for him is sure to be astronomical now that they’ve successfully managed to dump the vast majority of Stanton’s contract.

Phillies middle infielder Cesar Hernandez or Pirates utilityman Josh Harrison also fit the bill, and the club control they come with would help bridge the gap between the current core and the one developing in the minors.

Regardless, it’s imperative on the Blue Jays to make an impact so that Donaldson doesn’t go into a walk year surrounded by a sub-standard roster built around the hope for several peak seasons and an unrealistic amount of good health.

That held true before the Yankees reached agreement to acquire Stanton, and it’s even more pressing now.

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