The Toronto Blue Jays are going to need to prioritize pitching this offseason if they are going to challenge for a playoff spot
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The Toronto Blue Jays have their work cut out for them this winter. They are looking to build on a 91 win season that saw them fall a game shy of the playoffs. They are set to lose Steven Matz, Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien, which will give them an uphill climb just to replace them, let alone to build on 2021. Sure, they could re-sign all three, they’ll certainly offer qualifying offers, but there is no guarantee. They need an everyday third baseman, but more than that, they need pitching, pitching and more pitching.
For starters (see what I did there?), Toronto is looking at having to potentially replace 40% of their rotation. A group that includes Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah and Jose Berrios is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not enough. Realistically, Ray is more likely to find a deal to his liking elsewhere, but Matz very well could stay. If that is the case, the Blue Jays need at least one more quality starter. In all likelihood, though, they’ll need two. Some might point to Nate Pearson as an option, but his position in the organization is less clear than it has ever been, so he’s not a lock.
In his Elegy for 2021, Dan Szymborski opines that the Blue Jays should be looking to Kevin Gausman, which is not a bad idea. The 30 year old Gausman is coming off a nearly 5 fWAR season with the Giants, his best by far, and has never had lower than 1.5 fWAR in any full season. He’s a strike out guy (like Ray) and we know the Blue Jays like those guys.
Szymborski also says that a rich three year deal with Max Scherzer would also be fun. And, he is absolutely right. Scherzer will be a Hall of Famer, no question. He just finished his age 37 season and put up 5.4 fWAR, a K% of 34%, a BB% of 5.2% and an ERA of 2.46. His career WHIP is just over 1. So, yeah, he’d be fun. However, Blue Jays fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Scherzer can literally pick from numerous offers and situations. Toronto could certainly pay him whatever he wants, mind you. $30M over 3 years might sound crazy, but we’re talking about one of the best pitchers of our generation. Of course, money may not be everything to Scherzer since he signed a 7yr deal with Washington for well over $200M. That deal also included a $50M signing bonus which will be paid out over 14 years (through 2029). Perhaps, a chance to play for a very good team with a great offense gives him the opportunity to win a championship, which could mean more. That would certainly be Toronto’s pitch to him. It’s doubtful it works, though.
Regardless of it being Scherzer or Gausman or even Robbie Ray, the Blue Jays need to be shopping in that section of the store. The clearance section is off limits to them. Or, at least it should be. That said, Paul Berthelot has an interesting piece at Blue Jays Nation where he offers up three names as the ‘next Robbie Ray’. That is to say, what pitchers are out there that are coming off a bad year and could be ‘fixed’ by Toronto’s Pete Walker. Berthelot offers up Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney and Vince Velasquez. For the reasons behind his suggestions, I recommend reading the post at Blue Jays Nation. It’s a good read, even if I am not sure I agree with the need to look for these type of guys.
The Blue Jays are in a position where they can afford to spend big on short term options. I say “short term” because they will need to keep an eye on the cost for their young studs in a few years. But, in 2023, they only have George Springer on the books. So, there’s definitely room to spend. They are not in the same position they were in when they traded for a broken Ray. No, they should be looking to more proven answers first. Of course, injuries happen and depth will be needed so the options like Bundy and Heaney can be targeted in that context. Internal options like Thomas Hatch et al should also be considered depth only.
As well, Toronto needs to bolster its bullpen. Even with Jordan Romano solidifying himself as the team’s closer and Tim Mayza becoming as reliable as any reliever, there is still work to be done. The need isn’t as dire as it was back in May of this year, of course. With trades that brought Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards to the mix, the Blue Jays made their winter shopping easier. But, there still exist questions. Currently, Fangraphs lists the bullpen depth chart as follows:
We have been given an indication how the club feels about Borucki when they sent him down at the very end of the season. Merryweather, now 30 has been an injury question for a while now and in his 13 innings of work in 2021, he collected an ERA of 4.84 and a FIP of 6.48. Rather than relying on this group, Toronto should be looking to add top level talent. If they do not, they will only find themselves repeating the early 2021 experience rather than competing for a division title.
The list of impending free agent relievers (depending on options, etc) offers some intriguing options like Kenley Jansen. Whether Jansen would sign in Toronto is anyone’s guess (I bet he would consider it if Scherzer signed), but we shouldn’t be holding out hope for just one player. I only point out Jansen to highlight the type of names Toronto should be looking at. It would be amazing if they could find a cheap option that breaks out in 2022, but the playoff goal can’t rest on hoping for break outs. Instead, they need to target players that are proven talent.
As of right now, Toronto is about to lose some key pieces from their successful 2021 season. Their stated goal is to get better in 2022, which means not only looking for new additions, but replacing old ones. However they go about accomplishing that remains to be seen, but in order to achieve that goal, they will need to make pitching THE priority this offseason.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.