TORONTO – Unable to gather en masse in a swanky hotel someplace warm because of the pandemic, baseball’s movers and shakers instead opened the winter meetings Monday in virtual form.
How much that actually changes the business of player acquisitions during the industry’s annual swap meet is open for debate. In recent years, the tradition of skulking around lobbies to gossip or hold discreet conversations has ebbed in favour of text messages and phone calls, so moving from get-togethers in hotel suites to group Zoom calls isn’t much of a leap at this point.
Still, the in-person dynamic that can sometimes help move deals to completion at the winter meetings will be missing, as will the frenzy that can build when the transactions start flying. Factor in the ongoing economic repercussions of COVID-19, and this week is unlikely to be business as usual.
What does all that mean for the Toronto Blue Jays and their ongoing big-game hunt? Good question, which makes it a good time for another instalment of off-season FAQs …
The chatter about D.J. LeMahieu coming north has quieted down as word spread that he’s likely to re-sign with the New York Yankees – what’s going on there?
The likeliest scenario for LeMahieu seems to be the Yankees, but the Blue Jays remain a real possibility for him. Though born in California, the 32-year-old was raised and still lives in suburban Detroit, which makes Toronto akin to home for him, and he likes being in the American League East. The Blue Jays, for good reason, like him a lot – I’ve heard “perfect fit” used as a descriptor – but he’s been linked to the New York Mets as well, so this isn’t a two-team race. But his high-contact-with-power offensive profile along with an ability to play at all three bases defensively makes him precisely the type of piece the Blue Jays are looking to add.
Well, what about Francisco Lindor? Cleveland apparently would love to trade him to the Blue Jays. Is that imminent?
A report from Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday in which he wrote that Cleveland “would love to build a trade with Toronto with one of the players in return being Lourdes Gurriel (Jr.),” sure got tongues wagging. The idea isn’t new. I suggested that Gurriel could be the centrepiece of a package for the all-world shortstop back in November. The primary hurdle here, however, remains that Lindor is a one-season rental and my sense is the Blue Jays won’t ante up for him without a pretty clear sense of what an extension looks like. That, from what I’ve been told, remains opaque as his camp hasn’t been particularly forthright with its expectations. So even if, as Pluto writes, “Lindor would consider signing a long-term deal to stay in Toronto,” that only means something if the sides are in the same neighbourhood on a potential multi-year deal.
Another thing to consider: On Friday, Lindor was elected an alternate association player representative, making him part of the union’s influential eight-member executive subcommittee. The 27-year-old will be looking to max out, so unless the acquisition cost is compelling enough for an extension not to be an issue, pulling this off will be complicated.
Ugh. We don’t like that. Well, what about George Springer, or J.T. Realmuto, or Trevor Bauer. Are the Blue Jays still in on them?
Yes, and while Springer seems to have emerged somewhat as a priority, the situations around Realmuto and Bauer have both been quiet enough to make me wonder if some real work might be getting done there, too. What’s intriguing about the Blue Jays is that they’re seeking maximum impact regardless of position, so they can take on any of the names discussed here and fit them onto the roster. Given their relative financial strength in what’s projecting as a bear market, the thinking is that they’ll end up with someone in the upper tier of free agents (unless the Mets under new owner Steve Cohen get really reckless, which isn’t likely). The question then becomes what complementary moves follow.
Springer creates outfield surplus, which could allow the Blue Jays to move Gurriel, whom they’ve floated in the trade market the past couple of off-seasons. Cleveland seemingly has interest in him, with Lindor being an answer to their infield needs and Carlos Carrasco a potential option for the rotation (the Blue Jays nearly had Carrasco in 2015 before the Troy Tulowitzki deal, but a trade for Jeff Hoffman, Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey fell apart at the finish line).
Realmuto, meanwhile, fits the bill of what Ross Atkins described when the GM said the Blue Jays wanted someone who “will impact our environment for some time to come” and “influence Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) and Ryan Borucki and Jordan Romano and others.” An elite catcher and offensive force who is also known for his serious-minded presence and relentless focus on winning, Realmuto would also create redundancy on the roster. The Texas Rangers did some background work on the Blue Jays’ catchers last winter and have one year of ace righty Lance Lynn to sell off, while the Pittsburgh Pirates wanted Alejandro Kirk as the centrepiece of a deal for Joe Musgrove at the deadline this summer.
Bauer, on the other hand, simply fills an obvious area of need on the roster, the way LeMahieu does. He’s by a wide margin the best pitcher available, but also the free agent likely to have the most suitors.
That’s exciting stuff to think about, but what if they don’t get any of those big names? Is all lost?
No, far from. Between the likes of Michael Brantley and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield and Justin Turner, Kike Hernandez and Kolten Wong in the infield, the Blue Jays would still have plenty of ways to augment their roster. The Asian market is interesting, too, with Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, plus Japanese right-handers Tomoyuki Sugano and Kohei Arihara fitting their needs. The signing of Shun Yamaguchi last off-season, in part, was a bit of a beachhead for the Blue Jays into the Asian market. Remember that back in January, Atkins said “we feel like that market is really, really strong this upcoming year (meaning this winter), and it looks like it will continue to be (after that). We spend a lot of time and energy in making sure we understand it and I think (signing Yamaguchi) certainly helps us in a step to continue to acquire talent in those markets.”
The talent in this tier may not be as “condensed” as the elite tier above it, but there are still gains to be found that can significantly improve the Blue Jays for 2021.