Toronto Blue Jays ‘pretty likely’ to continue adding to roster

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins weighs in on the Josh Donaldson contract talks, says JD’s interest to remain with this club is authentic, and so is their mutual interest in him.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Chances are, the Toronto Blue Jays will add to their roster again before opening day.

They’ve addressed their most pressing needs, but they still have some money to spend and potential weaknesses worth addressing. They’re expecting to make a move of some kind, according to GM Ross Atkins.

“It’s pretty likely,” Atkins said. “Is it 90? Probably 90 per cent.”

That leads to the question of where the Blue Jays would add. Throughout the off-season, Atkins has said the Blue Jays are looking to improve their big-league catching. On Tuesday, he changed his tone somewhat, and sounded more willing than before to rely on Russell Martin, Luke Maile and the catching prospects making their way through the upper minors.

“That position is less likely at this point, but we certainly won’t eliminate it,” Atkins said. “We do feel good about how Luke performed last year as a catcher, how well he handled the pitching staff, how we performed as a team when he was catching on a regular basis.”

Maile hit just .146/.176/.231 in 46 games last year, but he handled the pitching staff well and offered strong defence. Meanwhile, prospect Danny Jansen emerged as a legitimate big-league catching prospect by posting a .400 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts across three levels last year.

Jansen’s slated to open the 2017 season at triple-A, and backstops Reese McGuire and Max Pentecost will join him in the upper minors. Should a need emerge mid-season, they’ll be considerations for the big-league team.

“(We) feel good about some of our internal prospects that have really progressed,” Atkins said. “We won’t be counting on them out of the gates, but we could have a good story or two coming out of our catching depth.”

That means the Blue Jays are less inclined to pursue catchers for the time being. The options on the free-agent relief market are more plentiful, and that’s “most likely” where the Blue Jays will add, according to Atkins.

The list of free agent relievers includes Trevor Cahill, Tyler Clippard, Seung-hwan Oh, Koji Uehara and Robbie Ross, among others. While Atkins didn’t offer a timetable for a deal, he did say that he’d prefer to add players sooner rather than later.

“Ultimately, you want guys getting ready with their team,” he said.

LIVE FROM DUNEDIN

Aaron Sanchez pitched to hitters for the first time since July 19 Tuesday, facing Steve Pearce, Josh Donaldson, Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak for a live batting practice session.

“It looked like mid-season form,” manager John Gibbons said. “That’s exciting to see.”

Sanchez emerged from the bullpen session feeling encouraged, with no ill-effects of the finger issues that limited him to 36 innings in 2017.

“As far as how I felt, with the ball coming out of my hand, there was no issues,” Sanchez said. “The action was really good, command was really good, no issues with the finger, which is a huge plus. Arm felt good, body felt good, so all signs are positive.”

Sanchez said he’s ahead of schedule compared to most years because he has thrown more bullpen sessions than usual. This time, facing hitters added a welcome edge.

“Just more excitement for me,” he said. “It’s still our team, but just being out there and able to compete. I think that’s what I miss the most is competing every five days.”

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.

WALKER HIT BY FOUL TIP

A scary moment unfolded at the Blue Jays’ training facility Tuesday, when a foul tip ricocheted back to hit pitching coach Pete Walker during live BP. Walker was stationed behind the batting cage, but the ball still pushed the screen backwards and hit him hard on the forearm.

Shortly afterwards Walker felt light-headed then passed out. Blue Jays players and personnel eased his fall to the ground, and he remained there briefly before leaving the field and leaving for the hospital.

“He’s feeling clear-headed now,” Atkins said. “All his vitals are fine. He was in good spirits and laughing with the guys and right back to being himself. That’s something that we’re going to take seriously and make sure he’s 100 per cent, but all signs are that he is.”

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