How recent flurry of MLB moves could impact Blue Jays’ next steps in trades

Oakland Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

TORONTO -- Because so many moves were completed in the days preceding the MLB lockout, baseball’s off-season landscape now looks significantly different than it did just a couple of weeks ago.

The open market features far less talent after a $1.6 billion spending spree thinned a strong free agent class, but while teams moved urgently to sign free agents, the trade market was comparatively quiet. As a result, there are likely many more trades to come whenever the lockout ends.

Until then, teams face an indefinite period of preparation (40-man roster moves can’t be completed while the lockout continues). This pause amounts to a kind of halftime during which front office executives can plan their next moves before the off-season action resumes.

But before charting out their next moves, teams must first assess how the landscape around them has shifted after a busy couple of weeks. When Blue Jays front office executives take stock of their opportunities, potential trades will figure prominently. A closer look at that market reveals some recent shifts that will impact the Blue Jays’ path ahead…

Catching market developing quickly

In a year without much free agent catching available, the Blue Jays’ big-league depth appealed to other teams with Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire all drawing interest (the approach of top prospect Gabriel Moreno makes such deals possible to consider).

Yet three teams have now addressed needs behind the plate, including some that would theoretically have matched up with the Blue Jays. By trading for Jacob Stallings, the Marlins addressed a need and the Pirates quickly replaced him with free agent Roberto Perez. It’s now harder to see Miami or Pittsburgh pushing for a Blue Jays catcher.

Meanwhile, the Cubs signed Yan Gomes, the top free agent catcher available, to a two-year contract. That deal could make Willson Contreras available in trades, and if so he’d offer another trade alternative to the Blue Jays’ young backstops.

Either way, many teams could still have interest in adding to their big-league catching depth:

• In Cleveland, there’s room to improve on the tandem of Austin Hedges and recent non-roster invitee Sandy Leon.

• The combination of Jonah Heim and Jose Trevino looks light on offence, and Texas has shown interest in the Blue Jays’ young catchers in the past.

• Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto is never one to shy away from trades. Could the Mariners look to upgrade their duo of Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens?

• Losing Gomes to free agency weakened Oakland’s catching depth, leaving them with Sean Murphy and Austin Allen.

The Guardians, Rangers, Mariners and A’s are at different points in their competitive cycles but the Blue Jays’ catching depth is young enough to appeal to any GM -- even one whose team isn’t all-in on 2022. As such, the Jays’ catching should still create options for them -- just not quite as many as before.

Remaining outfielders may impact Jays’ options

While some segments of the free agent market thinned out extremely quickly, there’s actually some depth remaining in at least one area: corner outfield bats.

Maybe that’s not so surprising given the way the industry has moved away from big expenditures on bat-first corner players in recent years. Unless corner outfielders offer great defence or really stand out offensively, teams are generally hesitant to offer much for them -- one reason why Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to rebuild an entire outfield without surrendering top prospects this summer.

A few months later, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler are all available again, this time in free agency. They’re also joined by Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Tommy Pham and Japanese star Seiya Suzuki. It adds up to a lot of intriguing talent.

For the Blue Jays, the presence of all of those free agents is significant because some of their outfielders have generated trade interest, too. Yet with so many quality players in free agency, teams have lots of choice. And because there are so many players out there it seems likely that some of them will eventually be available for a reasonable cost.

With that in mind, other teams may be less motivated to wow the Blue Jays with an offer for someone like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez. But if someone did impress the Blue Jays, GM Ross Atkins would certainly have ways of replacing at least some of that offence in free agency.

Meanwhile, it was interesting to see Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic report that the Brewers and Blue Jays discussed a swap of Jackie Bradley Jr. for Randal Grichuk. Those discussions reflect a willingness to move Grichuk and a desire for centre field depth behind George Springer.

Starting pitching trade market still looks promising

The free agent pitching market moved quickly leading up to the lockout, but there’s still some depth on the trade market. For a Blue Jays team that would benefit from another starter, that’s potentially significant.

At the GM Meetings, Oakland GM David Forst made it clear the A’s are willing to make some tough moves, telling me “We’re open to any conversation right now.”

“We have to be,” he continued. “Knowing the cycle that we’ve gone through after three or four years of competing, I think we have to be open to whatever other teams are asking about.”

Yet so far, the A’s have been quiet. Their lone move of significance has been adding Brent Honeywell Jr. from the Rays while Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt all remain on the roster for the time being.

The Reds are also willing to listen on pitching with Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sonny Gray all said to be drawing interest. Each of Cincinnati’s pitchers is under team control through 2023, as is Montas.

Of those six Manaea and Bassitt may be the best fits as they’re just a year away from free agency. That could lower the price for the Blue Jays, who may be less inclined to surrender big prospects for controllable pitching now that they have Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Hyun-Jin Ryu signed to substantial multi-year contracts.

Regardless, the ongoing availability of those Reds and A’s pitchers helps the Blue Jays as they look to round out their starting rotation. In a fast-moving off-season, at least some avenues remain wide open for exploration whenever the lockout ends.

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