SAN DIEGO — Here’s the transaction list for the Toronto Blue Jays at the winter meetings:
• Double-A catcher Kekai Rios selected from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft.
• Triple-A utilityman Logan Warmoth lost to the Seattle Mariners in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft.
Oof. Or if you’d rather, big yikes, with not even a lightning-in-a-bottle attempt like waiver claim Chris Colabello back in 2014, when baseball’s annual swap-meet also was held at San Diego’s Manchester Grand Hyatt.
That made for real bad optics, especially as the player market moved significantly in recent days, highlighted Wednesday by the New York Yankees retaining Aaron Judge with a $360-million, nine-year agreement — keeping the AL MVP in the division — and Willson Contreras reaching terms on an $87.5-million, five-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, who are now out of the catching market.
Add in Kenley Jansen going to the Boston Red Sox for $32 million over two years and Jose Quintana to the New York Mets for $26-million over two years on the meetings’ final day — the Blue Jays had some level of interest in both — and it sure feels like a wasted trip out west.
Perception isn’t always reality, however, and while Blue Jays fans were, understandably, all up in their feelings online, by and large they didn’t miss out on any of their must-haves after trying to force the issue to land the player.
The exception to doing that was with Andrew Heaney, with whom the Blue Jays pushed until the very end, nearly tempting him away from the $25-million, two-year deal the lefty accepted from the Texas Rangers with a stronger offer.
But their run at Justin Verlander was essentially a sure-why-not heave across the court before the halftime buzzer. They stayed firm on their valuations for Kyle Gibson, Quintana and Kenley Jansen, among others, refusing to extend beyond their comfort levels and follow the path that would have locked them into.
The same thing happened in the trade market, where they and the Cardinals both held their ground, prompting St. Louis to sign Contreras instead of trading for Danny Jansen or Oakland’s Sean Murphy. One industry source believes the Cardinals never engaged on outfielders Lars Nootbar and Dylan Carlson and tried to make a deal with closer Ryan Helsley instead.
Given the type of money Contreras commanded, demonstrating how the industry values such a scarce commodity, and the way the Blue Jays view Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno, there was no need for them to jump when other options remain.
As assistant GM Joe Sheehan noted, “it’s not a deadline today, it’s not a deadline tomorrow,” adding later that the Blue Jays spent the week “trying to identify what’s there and what the best way to move forward is.”
“Then, once it reveals itself,” he continued, “go do it.”
That path for the Blue Jays begins with pitching as when asked where the best opportunity to improve the team lies, Sheehan said that “based on how we were built last year, I think it’s probably run prevention.”
“I don’t want to say it’s that linear because I think there are ways to tweak the offence to hopefully make it a little bit more balanced or a little bit better going into next year and take what was really a strength last year and make it a bigger strength,” he continued, adding later: “There are still some gaps on the pitching side we’re trying to fill. But we’re trying to hammer the offence and the position-player side, as well.”
In terms of starting pitching, incumbent Ross Stripling along with fellow free agents Michael Wacha, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber and Drew Smyly, each someone the Blue Jays have pursued in the past, are in the market tier the Blue Jays have shopped in thus far.
Up a notch is Japanese righty Kodai Senga, but he didn’t visit Toronto during his recent tour of potential destinations and the Blue Jays were described as not being at the forefront of his suitors by an industry source. Nate Eovaldi and Chris Bassitt are other options at that level but on both, the Blue Jays don’t seem particularly active, or on upper tier lefty Carlos Rodon.
Their interest in Kenley Jansen is intriguing and a potential path for the Blue Jays is adding stability to the rotation and high-end impact to the bullpen. The White Sox have reportedly discussed trading closer Liam Hendriks, who visited the Blue Jays’ spring facility in Dunedin as a free agent, and that’s a way to really alter the club’s run-prevention equation.
Offensively, free agent centre-fielder Brandon Nimmo remains an ideal fit, but the $90-million, five-year guarantee the Red Sox gave to outfielder Masataka Yoshida suggests bidding for the New York Mets free agent could get wild.
The San Francisco Giants, spurned by Judge, loom large there, too, but the Blue Jays could also aim for Michael Conforto, another Scott Boras client they’ve expressed an interest in, to play right field and add someone like Kevin Kiermaier to play a part-time role in centre field.
Opportunities in the trade market exist for both starters and position players and while costly, there are always ways for the Blue Jays to get creative.
Given all that, the week’s lack of additions for the Blue Jays simply means that their off-season business may drag into January, instead of being neatly wrapped up for the holidays.
Or, as Sheehan put it, “We’re comfortable going early if there’s an opportunity we like and we’re comfortable sort of waiting.” With nothing beyond information gathering accomplished in San Diego, the Blue Jays are now locked into the latter.