Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins preaching patience amid slow free agency period


It was status quo for the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday as the annual winter meetings wrapped without any significant moves by Canada’s only big-league team.

Entering the four-day virtual sessions with prospect capital and the willingness to spend, the Blue Jays may have laid some groundwork but held off on trades and free-agent signings.

“I do think that there is momentum for the Toronto Blue Jays,” general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday. “We feel very good about opportunities getting closer to decisions that need to be made.”

The Texas Rangers acquired first baseman Nate Lowe from the Tampa Bay Rays in a six-player swap. However, the big deal or signing that could trigger movement among the top names on the free agency board had yet to materialize as of Thursday afternoon.

While there was no news to report, Atkins said he feels like the team is still in on its prime targets and that no one had been dropped from the list.

The Blue Jays waited until Dec. 27 last year before landing ace Hyun-Jin Ryu with a lucrative four-year deal. It’s possible the team could wait days or even weeks before making some moves ahead of the 2021 campaign.

“We’re not forcing things on players, we’re not putting hard timelines on players to make sure they get back to us,” Atkins said on a conference call. “We want to be very respectful of having earned the right of free agency and we’re not in a position where we have to do that.

“So we feel like there’s enough opportunity at different junctures for us to be disciplined and patient.”

‘We’re ready’

There’s risk in the waiting game as a proactive team could set the tone and quickly force other clubs to Plan B. Teams may strike quickly elsewhere once that first domino falls.

“Obviously, just like the fans, we would certainly prefer to have clarity as soon as possible as that impacts the next move that you can make,” Atkins said. “It impacts the shaping of all of your preparations.

“But we do feel like we’re prepared and have done the work for when that time is where we have to make a decision, we’re ready.”

The Blue Jays signed left-hander Robbie Ray a month ago after the start of the free-agency period but have been rather quiet since.

Toronto is looking to shore up its pitching depth and could use an upgrade in the outfield. Strengthening team defence is also a priority.

Home field still unknown

One potential hurdle for the Blue Jays is it remains unclear where the team will play next year. The border remains closed and the COVID-19 pandemic could force the club to start its home schedule in the United States.

Toronto played most of its 2020 home games at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field.

Atkins said the uncertainty has come up in discussions with free agents, but not as often as he thought. The players’ main focus, he added, was whether they’re going to have what they need for peak performance.

“Where they’re actually doing it certainly does matter, but not as much as the chance to win and having what they need to prepare and compete,” he said.

The Blue Jays rebounded last season after a three-year rebuilding effort.

A 32-28 record in the pandemic-shortened campaign gave the Jays the eighth and final American League playoff spot. Toronto was swept in a two-game wild-card series by the top-seeded Rays.

Also Thursday, the Blue Jays did not claim a player in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Toronto lost right-handed reliever Dany Jimenez, who was selected 18th overall by the Oakland Athletics.

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