Blue Jays general manager addressed the media last night in an appearance at the annual meeting of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Toronto chapter, and, in the process, spoke about his team’s 2019 roster and what lies ahead in the 2018-19 offseason (links via Shi Davidi of Sportsnet and Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com).
Atkins didn’t mince words when asked if shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who missed the entire 2018 season due to bone spurs in both feet, would be able to play regularly for the Jays in 2019.
“Candidly, and I think Troy would agree with me, that is not likely,” said the GM. “He will have to overachieve to play shortstop at an above-average level, with above-average offensive performance for 140 games.”
Whether Tulowitzki, 34, would actually agree with Atkins is up for debate; as Chisholm reminds in his column, it was just three months ago when Tulowitzki was asked about moving off the shortstop position and told reporters: “I’m a shortstop. … If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home.”
Certainly, no one should expect that Tulo would actually walk away from the final $38MM on his contract, but the disconnect between the two sets of comments is nonetheless of some note. Davidi adds that Atkins wouldn’t commit to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as the primary shortstop but acknowledged that “if we were playing tomorrow,” Gurriel would likely get the nod.
The other middle-infield spot doesn’t appear to come with much more certainty. Devon Travis was tendered a contract despite ongoing health issues and an awful season at the plate in 2018 (.232/.275/.381), but Atkins wouldn’t commit to him as the everyday second baseman. Rather, Atkins emphasized that Travis needs to coming into Spring Training and prove that he can “be the best guy for second base for us” in 2019.
Perhaps most notable for the league’s other 29 clubs, though, were Atkins’ comments on right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. While nothing Atkins said should be read as an indication that Stroman or Sanchez is being shopped, he stated that he can “absolutely” envision teams making strong enough offers to consider trading either pitcher.
Both Stroman and Sanchez looked to be among the league’s most promising young starters as recently as 2016 (Sanchez) and 2017 (Stroman), but both struggled through poor showings in 2018. Beyond that, both righties are just two years away from free agency, meaning they don’t align well with the Blue Jays’ realistic timeline for contending. That said, selling low on either would be a tough pill to swallow, and it’s arguably more prudent to give each a chance to rebuild some value early in the 2019 season.
Stroman pitched to a 5.54 ERA last season as his K/BB numbers went backward, and he also battled shoulder fatigue and blister issues. But, back in 2017, Stroman turned in a 3.09 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9 and a whopping 62.1 percent ground-ball rate in 201 innings — his second consecutive season of 200-plus frames. Though his 2018 results were ugly, it’s worth noting that he replicated that exact ground-ball rate this past season and actually allowed home runs at an even lower rate. He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $7.2MM in arbitration this winter.
Sanchez, meanwhile, barely kept his ERA under 5.00 in 2018 and averaged five walks per nine innings pitched. It’s the second straight season that he’s posted that exact BB/9 mark and, more importantly, the second consecutive season in which he’s been beset by finger issues that have limited his availability and effectiveness. However, Sanchez posted a league-leading 3.00 ERA over the life of 192 innings back in 2016, making the AL All-Star team and finishing seventh in AL Cy Young voting. That season, he averaged 7.6 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9 and a 54.4 percent grounder rate. Unlike Stroman, he didn’t reach arbitration a year early as a Super Two player, so his $3.8MM arbitration projection is a bit more palatable.