Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins promises the team is focused on bolstering their pitching staff this offseason
In an offseason that’s already seen significant changes, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins promises more are on the way.
Atkins, speaking at the general managers meeting in Carlsbad, California, on Monday, says the focus for the ballclub is on finding help for their pitching staff.
“Looking to build around the young pitching that we do have and create more depth will be our focus,” Atkins said, according to MLB.com. “That could come in several ways. It could be free agency, it could be via trade, any way that can possibly get more depth for our pitching will really set us up to complement our pitching really well.”
The starting rotation was an area of concern for the team last year. The Blue Jays ranked just 28th in the majors in starters’ ERA in a season that saw them finish 35 games behind in the AL East. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki seem certain to be part of that staff next year, but the remaining two slots are open for competition.
The Blue Jays could look from within to fill those spots, with Sean Reid-Foley or Thomas Pannone. Reid-Foley, in particular, showed some promise in seven starts last year, but he struggled with his command and walked 21 in 33.1 innings. Or the team could look to the free agent market that currently features veteran starters like Lance Lynn, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. MLB Network’s J.P. Morosi says the team is also considering bringing back J.A. Happ, who they dealt to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline.
Even with the addition of another veteran, the Blue Jays are going to need more from Stroman and Sanchez if they are going to compete in 2019. The 26-year-old Sanchez was hampered with injuries in 2018, making 20 starts with a 4.89 ERA. Stroman, meanwhile, made 19 starts before being shut down in September, compiling a career-worst 5.54 ERA.
Both Stroman and Sanchez have two years of team control remaining, but the Blue Jays could look to deal them for prospects. Atkins, though, says that’s not the team’s priority.
“That’s not a focus that we’re sitting around thinking about trading players that we have been very successful here and that we value greatly,” he said. “At the same time we can’t close off opportunity and if there is one, if something is presented to us that makes some sense we’ll have to consider it but not what we’re spending our energy on.”
Atkins did emphasize, however, that the team is optimistic about the players they have in their minor league system. They got a good look at two such prospects at the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game on Saturday. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, hit a double in the fifth inning that registered an exit velocity of 117 mph. Only 15 batters have hit a ball that hard in the Statcast era that began in 2015.
Pitcher Nate Pearson, moreover, the 22-year-old first round pick from 2017, consistently threw harder than 100 mph, even touching as high as 104. Pearson missed most of this season with a broken bone in his pitching arm, playing just one game at Single-A Dunedin.
Atkins says the team is excited about what players like Guerrero Jr. and Pearson, as well as young talent already in the majors like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., could bring to the big league club.
“I think we have such a good, young exciting core, a lot of it is already in the major leagues and some of it hasn’t arrived yet,” he said.
The Blue Jays will have a whole new look at the start of the 2019 season. Gone is manager John Gibbons, replaced by former Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Charlie Montoyo. The team also let go of hitting coach Brook Jacoby and first base coach Tim Leiper, but Atkins says the team doesn’t anticipate any more changes to their coaching staff in the near future.
That doesn’t apply to their roster, and Atkins and Montoyo have their work cut out for them this offseason to bring the Blue Jays back into contention in the American League.