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Blue Jays leave GM Meetings with top names in view, many options available

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CARLSBAD, Calif. – At the 2021 GM Meetings, the volume of hot stove deals didn’t quite compare to the opulence of the setting.

For three days, baseball power brokers such as Brian Cashman, Scott Boras, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman and Tony Clark walked amidst the palm trees, white walls and terracotta roofs of the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. And after all of that? Well, Andrew Heaney signed at least.

From the Toronto Blue Jays’ perspective, the meetings offered five or six of their top executives the chance to converse with rival teams as well as a wide range of agents. After all of that they’re armed with far more information, but as far as concrete moves? Fans of the hot stove will have to content themselves with the Orioles’ waiver claim of now-former Jays reliever Bryan Baker.

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Yet as GM Ross Atkins took stock of the progress his group made behind the scenes, he sounded optimistic that more moves could develop before long.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if teams are close right now,” Atkins said on the final day of meetings. “There are things that clearly we could push forward but we still have a lot of opportunities and different things to consider where we don’t have something imminent.”

Read more about Major League Baseball’s GM Meetings
When teams and agents meet this time of year, a sort of dance unfolds, with initial expressions of interest and promises to keep in touch. Here’s what you need to know.

Agents and executives generally expect the off-season to develop slowly, with top free agents such as Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien seen as likely to remain unsigned until there’s a new collective agreement in place. For teams with interest in those high-end players a certain amount of patience is required – and make no mistake, the Blue Jays are once again involved on some of those elite players.

For instance, the Blue Jays have stayed in touch with both Semien and Robbie Ray, as expected. Semien formally declined his qualifying offer during the GM Meetings and Ray will do the same before long. But the Blue Jays have expressed interest in other top-ranked free agents, too. And remember: the World Series ended just last week. Generally speaking, these markets take time to develop.

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“A lot of it is in their hands,” Atkins said of Semien and Ray. “We’re very respectful of them getting to free agency and earning the right to explore that market, so much of it is not necessarily following their lead but being respectful of them taking the time to do that. What we can do is just constantly communicate with their representation.”

Of course none of that means the Blue Jays just sit back and wait. They have many needs address, and their activity at the GM Meetings gives them a better understanding of which trade and free agent targets fit best within their plan. Keeping that in mind, it’s far from assured that the next couple weeks will be as quiet as this one was.

“Not necessarily,” Atkins said. “We have enough angles to make our team better that there’s things we could do.”

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SMOOTH NEGOTIATIONS? DON’T BET ON IT

As long as you didn’t look too far ahead, it almost did seem like business as usual for the 30 MLB teams this week. The problem is, there’s a potential expiration date to the off-season activity: Dec. 1, when the current collective agreement expires.

MLB has made a proposal to the MLBPA, and negotiations were set to resume Monday. Yet the sides still aren’t aligned on some key economic issues.

To offer one example, an unpopular plan was revealed at the agents’ meetings Thursday, according to sources. The proposal from MLB called for eliminating salary arbitration and replacing it with an algorithm for determining the salaries of pre-free agent players. Needless to say, players might not like the idea of reducing their contributions to a formula said to be based on WAR.

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In theory, there’s a chance talks could gain traction before the end of the month. Yet privately, team officials will acknowledge there’s little certainty after Dec. 1. And if you ask agents? They’ll go a step or two further.

“I would bet everything I own there’s a work stoppage,” one agent said. “How long? We’ll see.”

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EX-JAYS EXECS WELL-REPRESENTED

Alex Anthopoulos has yet to receive an invitation to visit Ottawa with the World Series trophy, but he said he and Canadian pitcher Mike Soroka would welcome the chance to bring it to Parliament Hill. If MLB rules permit, a Stanley Cup-style trip may be coming up for the Commissioner’s Trophy.

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“I’m excited to be able to bring the trophy to places in the off-season,” Anthopoulos said. “I don’t know how the rules work, but I’ll go back to Canada for the holidays and I’ll want to bring it to my family to see it and my wife’s family to see it. That would be really good.”

After winning the World Series thanks in large part to a series of inspired trades, Anthopoulos was certainly in the spotlight at the GM Meetings. Rather quietly, though, there were a number of other former Blue Jays executives representing other teams in high ranking executive positions.

The Angels’ front office includes GM Perry Minasian while executives David Haynes and Brian Parker are also in prominent front office roles for Los Angeles. All three worked in scouting under Anthopoulos during his time as Blue Jays GM before being reunited in Anaheim.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, GM Ben Cherington and assistant GM Steve Sanders are the top executives for a rebuilding Pirates team. Both were hired by Atkins and president Mark Shapiro to prominent front office roles in Toronto before moving over to the NL Central two off-seasons ago. Now, Cherington’s hoping to implement some of what he saw with the Blue Jays to his current group in Pittsburgh.

“Mark and Ross are both exceptional at learning about what people’s strengths are and putting people in the best position to succeed, empowering people and creating a learning environment where people can continue to grow,” Cherington said. “All of those things for sure I hope that we are focused on in Pittsburgh as much as they are there.”

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