After a 95-loss season in 2019, the Blue Jays’ rebuild began to bear fruit in 2020 as the team went 32-28 and earned a wild card playoff berth. This result has left the Jays eager for more, and general manager Ross Atkins told reporters (including MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson and Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi) that despite all the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic, “the quickest way to recovery is winning. The quickest way to getting our business back to a very good financial spot is winning and our ownership knows that.”
The Blue Jays have their own unique set of revenue issues to deal with heading into 2021, such as not yet knowing if they’ll be permitted to play in Toronto next season. In terms of pure player payroll, however, the Jays are in better shape than most teams. The Blue Jays have less than $54MM on the books for next season since so many of Toronto’s key players have yet to reach salary arbitration, or (like Teoscar Hernandez) are only just entering the arb process for the first time.
This flexibility allows the Jays to pursue upgrades in several different ways, and Atkins didn’t rule out the possibility of another big-splash acquisition like the Hyun Jin Ryu signing last offseason. “I think we are in a position where we could add to this team with talent that is condensed in one player and a super high impact….We’re going to continue to think about how we can build upon this group, and hopefully it’s both complementary as well as making as making a really high impact,” Atkins said.
Speaking of the broader offseason landscape, Atkins noted that “the COVID-19 pandemic hit the finances of different clubs in different ways, creating an extremely uncertain outlook as we eventually approach free agency. Some believe this could open up the trade market, with teams more willing to use prospects over cash to acquire talent entering 2021.” It’s safe to assume the Blue Jays will look into both trades and free agent signings, though Atkins’ comment could be interpreted in two different ways — the Jays could be one of those teams that prefer trades to signings, or they could use their payroll space to be more aggressive in free agency if other clubs are holding back.
Looking at the 2020-21 free agent class, such names as J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, George Springer, and DJ LeMahieu stand out at the top of the market, if Toronto planned to look into the very upper tier of available players. Since Ryu and Nate Pearson seem like the only locks for next year’s Jays rotation, pitching is an obvious need, so the Blue Jays could be more apt to explore signing Bauer or a known AL East commodity in Masahiro Tanaka. Re-signing Taijuan Walker wouldn’t be as expensive as those other names, though Walker is sure to attract a lot of attention given how well he pitched in 2020, particularly after joining the Blue Jays at the trade deadline.
In regards to position players, Atkins said the front office will “stay open-minded” about possible additions. Davidi speculates that shortstop could be a target position, as the Jays have had interest in free agents Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius in the past, and the club could also revisit trade talks with the Indians over Francisco Lindor. Bo Bichette would move off shortstop in this scenario, with Bichette and Cavan Biggio likely handling second and third base in some combination.