Recent comments from Toronto Blue Jays GM, Ross Atkins, indicates money will be spent in the outfield, but pitching depth is still a priority. There are some options.
The Toronto Blue Jays have raised the talent floor for their squad heading into 2018. With Yanegrvis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Curtis Granderson, there is quality depth for any repeated injury related disasters that may decide to repeat themselves. Despite there being solid depth pieces in place, the club is not ready to call it a winter. In fact, Shi Davidi seems to feel that the club will continue to look for outfield help.
Davidi on the Fan, just now, repeated that he thinks the Jays invest most of their money in an outfielder. He thinks they want to give Joe Biagini a shot in the rotation and won't want to block him.
— BVH (@BVHJays) January 17, 2018
GM, Ross Atkins, backed this up in an interview with Blue Jays Nation, Ryan Di Francesco. He said that the club feels more and more confident with Joe Biagini taking on the 5th starter role. Previously, we would have thought that the club would have trouble finding an outfield and a rotation piece with their estimated ~$15M. I mean, they could find several options for that amount, but not those of the quality necessary.
If the Blue Jays are going to find an upgrade bat, it will have to be in the outfield. There is only room there. Given how this front office feels about their prospect capital, and the potential high cost of trading for an impact outfielder, it makes sense that the free agent market is the preferred route. Looking at MLBTR’s list of free agents, only Lorenzo Cain stands out as an everyday impact outfielder. Anyone else would amount to another part of some sort of platoon situation, which isn’t really the idea, here. If Cain is the target, and the club uses the bulk of their ~$15M on him, then perhaps Atkins will get his way, since there will be precious little remaining for an Alex Cobb or another solid starter.
With that in mind, Biagini as a 5th starter might not sit well with certain segments of the fan base who would rather see him in the bullpen. But, if it means landing a player of Cain’s caliber, it is much more palatable. As well, it appears the front office is quite pleased with the bullpen pieces they have, to the point where they would consider Biagini in the rotation. They have young talent in AAA to step in to bullpen roles if needed.
In the Blue Jays Nation interview, Atkins also said that he has starting depth closer to big league ready that he didn’t have before. He cites Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, Chris Rowley, Taylor Guerreri and Luis Santos. And, he’s not wrong. There is more young starting depth available than in the past. But, we also know that injuries happen and having pitching depth is not something any MLB team can say they have enough of. Atkins explains: “So we would like to build around that depth and we’ll look to do that via trade and free agency for the remainder of the offseason and maybe even into the season”.
If, in fact, the Blue Jays want to add pitching depth, we have to acknowledge that there isn’t the kind of need there has been in the past. The rotation in Buffalo won’t exactly need to be filled with aging minor league deal veterans. So, perhaps, they’ll be looking to add a couple depth options only. Looking at MLBTR’s list, we can eliminate quite a few names since they would be looking at signing more than minor league deals with invites to Spring Training.
That leaves a few names worth considering. At the top of the list is a name we’re somewhat familiar with. Brett Anderson made 13 starts for Toronto in 2017 and put up 0.8 fWAR. He had one rough start, which yielded 8 runs, but was dealing with blister issues, which he was lucky enough to get over. If he could manage to stay healthy, he would be an interesting 5th starter/depth option, which is something I mentioned at the end of the season. My initial thought is to not be surprised if he actually lands a cheap big league deal, but more realistically, he can be signed on a minors deal with a spring invite.
Another option could be another familiar face: Drew Hutchison. He made 26 starts for the Pirates AAA affiliate and put up a 3.56 ERA. There wasn’t an exciting amount of separation between his walk rate and his strike out rate, but we’re talking about a minor league depth piece, here. Essentially, the club would be looking for someone they feel could step in and make a couple starts if need be. Remember that the bar for 5th starter isn’t as high as you might think:
68 American League pitchers threw at least 100 innings in 2017. Of those, 26 (38.2%) had an ERA over 4.60. Similarly, 26 of the 68 had a FIP over 4.60.
There's a legitimate value in plain ol' competence at the back end of a rotation.
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) January 17, 2018
It seems that the Toronto Blue Jays don’t need to go after any of the top pitching talent available on the open market. Any available through trades would cost a mint. So, it is likely that moving Joe Biagini to the rotation and adding a couple minor league depth pieces is how they will fill out their pitching situation. It is not sexy, but the sexy pitching signing was never going to happen this winter anyway. It is entirely possible that Cain and an Alex Cobb could fall into Toronto’s lap and fit in their remaining budget. But, it is not likely. What is likely is that the Blue Jays will begin the 2018 season with a collection of pitchers who can be called up to make starts, some of whom are young, homegrown talent. Others may be brought in on those (no such thing as a bad) minor league deals.
*Featured Image Credit: Bliss Noguiera
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