CARLSBAD, Calif. -- At Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, baseball predictions of all kinds are made from early in the morning until late at night. With MLB’s GM Meetings taking place in person once again, most of baseball’s leading agents and executives are back in one place for the first time in two years -- and there’s a lot to talk about.
A deep class of free agents lends intrigue to the conversations, but since the sport doesn’t have a collective agreement after Dec. 1, many are anticipating that the biggest stars will sign late. A flurry in February, perhaps? Or however long it takes to agree on a new CBA.
Yet even if the likes of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien end up signing late, there’s room for at least some early-off-season moves, as Monday’s deal for Andrew Heaney showed.
Heaney, the 30-year-old left-hander who flashed frontline stuff with the Angels only to struggle after a summer trade to the Yankees, signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Dodgers Monday as the GM Meetings opened. But that he had multiple offers on the table, including one from the Blue Jays, reflects that teams are at least willing to move on some small to medium-scale deals.
Across baseball, the trade market is developing, too, with the Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds both willing to trade pitching. For a Blue Jays team with two open rotation spots, these meetings offer an invaluable chance to assess the price of pitching everywhere it’s available. While they’re also looking for at least one infielder and will pursue relief help, the rotation is an area of focus.
“I would say it’s a high priority,” general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday afternoon. “That’s the easiest one to look at and see that we’d like to improve there. At the same time, there’s a lot of ways to make our team better and we don’t want to paint ourselves into that box.”
Staying nimble is a priority for the Blue Jays, and with that in mind they’ll be keeping in touch with Steven Matz as his market picks up. Unlike Semien and Robbie Ray, Matz did not receive a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, meaning he’s not attached to draft pick compensation, and a strong market has already developed for the 30-year-old left-hander.
Multiple teams are expressing interest in Matz, who appears poised to land a multi-year deal after posting a 3.82 ERA over the course of 29 starts with the Blue Jays. A strong finish gives Matz some momentum as he hits free agency, and interested teams are intrigued by the changes to his delivery and pitch mix that enabled his 2021 bounce-back.
At this point, the options remain wide open for the left-hander, who was slated to arrive at the GM Meetings for some in-person discussions with teams. Some industry observers see the Angels as a potential fit given their clear need for pitching, but unlike some free agents, Matz doesn’t appear to be limiting his options by geography or league.
For their part, the Blue Jays are maintaining dialogue with Matz even if they didn’t make him the $18.4 million qualifying offer.
“Love Steven. I’m a huge fan of his work ethic and the year that he had,” Atkins said. “I think he really enjoyed his time here, really appreciated his time in Toronto and Buffalo and Dunedin. It’s remarkable to think about what he did in those three stadiums and in the AL East. He made some solid adjustments that he benefitted from and we’ll absolutely stay engaged with him.”
Whether those discussions lead to traction is another question, but it’s conceivable that the market could move quickly for Matz, whose agency also brokered Heaney’s early deal.
Either way, Matz appears to be in a good position and the Blue Jays have lots of work ahead. They’ll need multiple pitchers to bolster a rotation that emerged as a real team strength midway through the season.
These meetings offer the Blue Jays the chance to determine the asking price on everyone from trade candidates like Luis Castillo and Sean Manaea to free agents like Matz. The answers they get will determine what happens from there.
“You start with an ideal and take steps towards that ideal outcome and then you get reactions,” Atkins said. “For me it’s never gone the ideal way. Step one, you always have to adjust based on interest, based on seeing values differently. But that’s a big part of the time here and now where you really start to have extended exchanges. And I think everybody is prepared to really have genuine and authentic exchanges at this point. And then you can adjust as you see fit.”