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Daily Duce: Ross Atkins speaks at the General Managers Meetings, updates on Shoemaker, Smoak, and Giles, and more!

Major League Baseball’s annual General Managers Meetings in Arizona kicked off this week, so we’re starting to get an idea as to how things are going to play out this off-season. Ross Atkins had quite a bit to say about what the Jays might be up to, so let’s get into all of it.

According to Shi Davidi over at Sportsnet, Atkins and Co. have already been aggressive in their pursuit of starting pitching. Last year, this wasn’t the case, as the Jays took a wait and see approach, letting the market settle before they made their play at under-the-radar players.

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“We have tons of flexibility with an incredibly exciting young position player core and a lot of depth on our 40-man (roster) and a lot of depth in our system, much of which is in the form of pitching, which we feel bodes really well for our future,” Atkins said to Davidi at Sportsnet. “As important as the talent on the field that showed very well in the second half, certainly in the last couple of months of the season, is the environment that we have, what we feel is a special one. We’re not where we need to be yet because it needs to be much higher on the wins than the losses. We feel the free agents and the potential acquisitions that we’re talking to, we’re talking to about improving that environment and making it even better.

There’s no doubt that the Jays are going to be aggressive in finding starting pitching this off-season, but who they’re able to attract is another animal. In order for the Jays to attract a player to Toronto to join a rebuilding club in a difficult division, they’re going to really have to sell the idea that there’s something special brewing here. I mean, there’s that, and, ya know, Rogers opening up their bank accounts to just throw a bunch of money at whoever.

In the most recent episode of Gregor Chisholm Unleashed over at the Toronto Star, Chisholm lays out a fantastic argument that the Jays could capitalize on their cheap, young core right now by handing out massively front-loaded deals to elite starters, Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, before they have to open up and pay the likes of Bo, Vlad, and whoever else.

But but but, nobody wants to play here! As Chisholm says, there’s zero chance that the San Diego Padres were Manny Machado’s top option. But, at the end of the day, they offered him the cash, and he took it. There’s no reason the Jays can’t do the same this winter with Cole or Strasburg, right? Well, just as soon as he’s got you all giddy with this idea, Gregor pulls the carpet from underneath you with a scorching take-down of Rogers.

None of this is expected to happen, of course, and that’s an indictment on Rogers, which chooses to operate this ball club as a mid- to lower-tier franchise when it should have a permanent presence as a top-10 market. There’s nothing wrong with a rebuild — the Jays needed one — but Rogers didn’t have to quit spending to make it happen.

Toronto’s payroll dipped to $114 million in 2019, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. There’s a good chance it will be even lower in 2020. That’s inexcusable for this market, especially from an ownership group that has the ability to absorb short-term losses as part of a long-term vision.

Anyways, moving back to realistic options, the Jays have reportedly shown a legitimate interest in Jake Odorizzi, as the front office has already had a sit-down conversation with his agent. I mean, this is just a start, and it doesn’t mean much, but it’s a fairly big change from where the Jays have been in recent years. The last time we really saw them aggressively pursue a free agent starting pitcher was back in 2015 when they signed J.A. Happ right off the hop. It seems like a positive sign.

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Moving along to internal players, we were given some updates on Matt Shoemaker, Justin Smoak, and Ken Giles.

Shoemaker is still under team control and is eligible for arbitration this off-season and MLB Trade Rumours anticipates that he’s going to earn $3.8 million. It’s been known for quite some time that Shoemaker is interested in carrying on with the Blue Jays, as he expressed interest back during the season in signing a multi-year deal. I mean, obviously he wants a multi-year deal, he’s had a hell of a time staying healthy and would love the security.

According to Sportsnet, the Jays and Shoemaker haven’t found common ground despite a mutual interest in the righty sticking around in Toronto. Apparently, Shoemaker is interested in coming back on either the aforementioned multi-year deal or the same one-year, $3.5 million deal he inked to join the Jays last winter. I can see why the Jays would avoid multiple years with the oft-injured Shoemaker, especially given the fact we have no idea how he’ll pitch after his season-ending injury, but not being able to make a one-year deal with some performance incentives work out seems counterintuitive for a team with zero veteran pitching depth and a lot of supposed payroll flexibility.

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Ken Giles is Toronto’s biggest arbitration commitment this year, projecting to make over $8 million in his final year before free agency. It’s been widely assumed that the Jays would look to deal Giles before the season, as they tried to move him at last season’s trade deadline but couldn’t make anything happen. That said, Jon Morosi is reporting that Atkins has been focusing on acquiring roster players rather than dealing them away.

Finally, there’s Justin Smoak, Toronto’s most notable free agent. Smoak is drawing interest from around the league, according to Sportsnet, but the Jays haven’t ruled out bringing the veteran back. The indication is that Smoak is a Plan B for the Jays right now as they look to make an upgrade at first base. Another thing I saw floated out there is the idea of Teoscar Hernandez learning how to play first base, which makes sense, given the team has likely given up on him in the field.

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I’ll finish this thing off with a nice quote from Atkins on Bo Bichette…