Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins talks team needs, Manoah, Bichette rumours during media availability

If you take Ross Atkins at his word on Tuesday, it appears star shortstop Bo Bichette won’t be leaving the Blue Jays anytime soon.

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins spoke in his usual optimistic tone during Tuesday's presser. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The MLB free-agency dam is about to burst, and the Toronto Blue Jays could be at the forefront of the moves to come.

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins met with reporters in Toronto on Tuesday. Here’s what Atkins had to say about the team's free-agent needs, next year’s rotation, and his commitment to Bo Bichette at shortstop.

Shohei Ohtani rumours

The first question lobbed to Atkins centred on rumours of the Blue Jays’ potential interest in mega-star free agent Shohei Ohtani, but the Jays general manager side-stepped the question.

“I wish I could get into specifics on free agents, and for a lot of reasons that you're all very aware of, we can’t do that,” Atkins said. “I feel really good about the team in place and the opportunity to make it better.”

While tight-lipped on any Ohtani chatter, Atkins emphasized his belief in Toronto as a desirable destination for big-name free agents.

“I think that the Toronto Blue Jays have more opportunities and more strengths than challenges [in luring free agents] … This is an attractive destination that we are trying to celebrate as opposed to overcome anything,” Atkins said.

During Atkins' tenure, Rogers ownership has demonstrated a stronger willingness to spend, with new player facilities in Florida, a renovated home stadium, and an increased payroll. George Springer, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi were all impact free-agent signings, and Toronto is looking to make aggressive moves this winter to continue its growth.

Blue Jays like Varsho in CF, want to add more bats

The Blue Jays have played musical chairs with their outfield over the last few years, but it appears some stability is coming. Springer is locked in as the club’s right fielder, while Atkins said Tuesday he feels “very good” about Varsho starting in centre field in 2024.

Atkins’ comment on Varsho is notable, as it suggests the club is currently pursuing full-time corner outfielders or even bat-first players with corner outfield experience. It’s too soon to make assumptions, but this on-the-record commitment to Varsho points the Blue Jays toward the likes of Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, or Adam Duvall, for example, as potential complementary pieces.

Toronto also has a clear need at third base. While Matt Chapman could return to the Jays, Atkins doubled down on his faith in the organization’s ability to plug holes with internal options, such as Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider, and Santiago Espinal.

“The depth that we have, not only on the 26-man [roster], but on our 40-man and even beyond our 40-man … gives us versatility and the options to not just zero in on left field and third base if we don't have to,” Atkins said.

Surprise moves in the rotation?

Alek Manoah is motivated ahead of 2024, with his sights set on becoming a high-calibre starter again, Atkins said.

“Alek isn't thinking about winning the fifth spot. He's thinking about excellence. He's thinking about being one of the better starters in the game. And we believe that he can build back towards that,” the Jays general manager said.

Despite possessing a fully stocked starting rotation, the Blue Jays aren’t going to ignore potential pitching additions this offseason. That said, Atkins teased the idea of a trade where the club uses its pitching depth to help other areas.

“We're in a position now where it might be best to subtract [from the rotation] unless that acquisition was an optionable starter that hasn't already clearly earned his stripes to be a major league starter,” he said. “So we're open to [adding starting pitching], but it's not as easy to do as it is on the position player side.”

Bo Bichette trade rumours

There have been multiple reports from around baseball suggesting other clubs are interested in Bichette, and Atkins addressed the rumours with a decisive commitment to his young star.

“He's a really good player in a market that doesn't have a great deal of position players,” Atkins said. “We are very fortunate to have him, and he is our shortstop moving forward.”

Atkins also added that he reached out to Bichette’s camp to dispel any rumours. It appears Bichette, who produced 4.9 bWAR last year and is under contract through 2025, won’t be leaving the Jays roster anytime soon.