They’re in a good spot – a legitimate contender on paper – but they haven’t come this far only to stop here. The addition of Steven Matz late Thursday reinforces as much, and more moves may be coming.
So what are the remaining ways to improve the roster further and what consequences would those moves have for the team’s existing players? Let’s take a look …
What does the Matz deal mean? Is Bauer off the table?
Even after adding Matz, the Blue Jays’ biggest need is a starting pitcher who slots in behind Hyun-Jin Ryu. Given that Matz struggled badly in 2020 and is on a non-guaranteed arbitration salary of $5.2 million, the Blue Jays can still be expected to keep looking for pitching.
Starting atop the market, the chances of a deal with Trevor Bauer appear to have dropped considerably over the last couple of weeks. While the Blue Jays had enough interest to meet with Bauer on New Year’s Eve, he’s in a position to ask for $30 million or more per season and the Blue Jays don’t sound like a team about to make further splashes.
“The bulk of our heavy lifting is done,” president and CEO Mark Shapiro said Thursday, speaking in general terms.
Rules rightfully prohibit executives from saying definitively that they’re out on players, but at most the Blue Jays appear to be on the periphery with Bauer. If they considered themselves major contenders for Bauer, would they have helped a rival suitor by acquiring Matz and lowering the Mets’ 2021 payroll commitments? It’s probably not a coincidence that this deal, which was first mentioned as a possibility by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in November, wasn’t completed until after they had safely secured Springer.
Still, the Blue Jays do have “some flexibility” to spend further, according to Shapiro. Other quality starting pitchers like Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton remain available in free agency, but now that Masahiro Tanaka’s heading back to Japan, that list isn’t particularly long. With that in mind, the Blue Jays are open to trades and minor-league signings as well as big-league free agent deals.
“All of the above,” general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday. “We’re open to all three of those avenues and we’ll work toward them.”
“But as you know very well,” he added, “every team in baseball is in on the pitching market.”
What does Semien mean for Vlad Jr.?
"I'm so excited about where he is, how he's doing, how hard he's working," Atkins said of Guerrero Jr. "He's in a better overall position than he was even at the end of last year. We'll see where that plays out for him playing third base, playing first base. We're excited about the position that he's in to earn the right to be in the third base conversation and continue to improve as a first base alternative."
If Guerrero Jr. can play third well enough to warrant one or two starts a week there, that would be ideal. Manager Charlie Montoyo could free up at-bats for others at first base or designated hitter in that scenario, and Guerrero Jr. would be able to spend some time at his preferred position.
It’s true that Guerrero Jr. is nobody’s idea of a Gold Glove third baseman at this point, but he also struggled at first. Realistically, he faces a learning curve regardless of which position he plays, so there’s no need to rule out third just yet.
Room for a bench bat?
While the simplest way to improve the Blue Jays’ roster would be to add pitching, there’s no such thing as too much offence. With that in mind, the Blue Jays haven’t ruled out further additions to their lineup. And because Semien will give them a second shortstop, they won’t be obliged to carry one of the glove-first infielders who typically gets a spot on every MLB bench. It adds up to an opportunity for more runs.
Still, some caveats apply. What money they do have left seems more likely to go to pitching, and the Blue Jays want to be sure emerging young players like Rowdy Tellez, Alejandro Kirk and Santiago Espinal get opportunities. But with that said, they are open to bolstering their bench.
“There is that opportunity,” Atkins said. “Whether it be the handedness or just the positional fit or just an off-the-bench bat that could improve our team. We need to think about any way and every way to make this team incrementally better or significantly better.”
One bench spot will go to a backup catcher, with Reese McGuire and Kirk the leading internal candidates. Beyond that, the Blue Jays could go in a few different directions. A defensive specialist like Jonathan Davis for late-game help? A left-handed hitter on a minor-league deal to balance out the lineup? Or simply more pitching? Those decisions don’t have to be finalized for months, but the Blue Jays appear quite flexible.
The fallout from a free agent-heavy winter
Until they completed the Matz deal, the Blue Jays had made all of their acquisitions through free agency rather than trade. It’s noteworthy, but considering their busy trade deadline last summer and the offer they reportedly made for Francisco Lindor, that’s not a reflection of an organizational philosophy.
"We are certainly open to making trades,” Atkins said. “And at some point we will have to.”
One way or another, prospect depth is always valuable. And depending on how this season unfolds, there’s a chance they might need to use their farm system to reinforce their pitching staff this summer.