Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins had just started a media conference call on Thursday when a call came in on his mobile phone.
Some 15 minutes later, it was his iPad that started ringing. In between those unanswered calls, Atkins told reporters that he had recently “been close on another deal.”
After a turnaround season that has the franchise and fanbase brimming with optimism, this could be a busy and very interesting off-season for Atkins.
For the first time in years, the Blue Jays have been mentioned as potential landing spots for big-name players either via trade or free agency.
The signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu was the big splash last winter. The four-year contract worth $80 million US showed the Blue Jays meant business after a three-year rebuild.
The left-hander was the ace of the rotation and finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting.
Potential for activity
So what will Atkins do for an encore? He didn’t tip his hand on the 35-minute conference call as the four-day GM virtual meetings came to a close.
But for a team that seemingly has money to spend, a youthful nucleus with real potential and prospect capital to make big moves if desired, the calls to Atkins should keep rolling in.
Atkins wouldn’t say if the deal he was ‘close’ on was of the trade or free agent variety.
He struck quickly to sign left-hander Robbie Ray last week to a one-year deal worth $8 million, making him the first free agent to sign this off-season.
Atkins said this week that he felt good about the team’s chances of acquiring another free agent in the starting pitcher market. He added that he’s working on the trade market “simultaneously” as the Blue Jays look to improve team defence and on the mound.
Holes in the rotation
The Blue Jays lost starters Taijuan Walker and Matt Shoemaker to free agency. Toronto also declined the option on Chase Anderson’s contract, leaving a starting five – at the moment – that will likely include Ryu, Ray, Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling and Tanner Roark.
Team payroll plans are expected to be finalized after president Mark Shapiro makes a presentation to the Blue Jays’ ownership group this month.
The team played most home games last season at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field due to border restrictions that prevented games from being played in Canada.
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in about three months. The pre-season schedule is set to begin Feb. 27 against Philadelphia.
The Blue Jays will open the regular season April 1 against the New York Yankees. The 2021 home opener is set for April 8 against the Los Angeles Angels.