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Blue Jays And An Intriguing Free Agent Pitching Gamble

Should the Blue Jays sign another proven, MLB-calibre starter or give the kids a chance?  Perhaps there is a way that they can do both


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The Blue Jays’ top four starters going into 2022 – Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah and Hyun Jin Ryu – are arguably as strong as any in the American League.  But the fifth starter role is up for grabs, with players like Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, Thomas Hatch, and multiple wild cards in the mix.

 

It is entirely possible that the Jays will sign a ready-to-go, MLB-proven starter for the fifth starter role (Tyler Anderson?)  or trade for a starter (Sean Manaea?  Sonny Gray?  Elieser Hernandez?).   But that might be easier said than done.  Given the short timeframe before the start of the season, and the high degree of competition, free agent pitching might not come cheap (the Jays were forced to offer a major-league contract to Andrew Vasquez to get him to sign.  In a more normal year, AV might well have only received a minor league offer).  And trades take time, so it is very possible that teams like Oakland and Cincinnati might decide to wait until the trade deadline to move their attractive pitching assets.

 

If the Jays could acquire an established fifth starter, it would mean that the rotation would be full.  Which means that the Pearsons and Hatches would have to wait for an opening.  This might not be the best thing for their development, or for the team, long-term.

 

But suppose there were a way to do both?

 

Let’s talk about Matt Boyd.

 

Boyd was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 2013.  He was traded to Detroit as part of the David Price deal in 2015.  He has started over 140 games for Detroit since then as a generally reliable, low-risk source of MLB-average-ish innings.  (his 416 innings from 2018-20 is the 20th highest in the majors).  He started 2021 well, with a 3.44 ERA through his first 13 starts, but was placed on the injured list on June 15 with a triceps strain.  He returned on August 29 and made two more starts, but was obviously struggling with an ERA over 7.  He had surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his left arm in September, and was released by the Tigers in November (rather than pay an estimated $8 million in arbitration), making him a free agent.

 

Reports are that Boyd’s recovery is progressing well, and that he should be back and ready to pitch in June or early July.

 

So play the game of “what if” with me.  Suppose the Jays are unable to swing a deal for a Manaea or Bassitt or Gray before the start of the season.  They could give one of the “kids” the fifth starter slot and go with an old-school five-man rotation, where the fifth slot is skipped when off-days allow.  As the Jays’ schedule stands (and not taking into account any new double-headers to make up the six lost games) a fifth starter would be needed 9 times from April 8th to June 15th.  Those 9 starts would give a Pearson or Stripling or Hatch (or Kay, or Thornton, or Murray, if one of them pulled a Manoah and knocked everyone’s socks off in spring training) a chance to show what they could do.  If, when Boyd rejoined the team in mid-June, the Jays had a surfeit of MLB-quality starters, well, that is not a bad problem to have!

 

So what would a Boyd contract look like?  I would envisage something like the Ken Giles contract with Seattle in 2021.

 

Giles was recovering from Tommy John surgery in September 2020, and Seattle knew that he was unlikely to pitch at all in 2021.  So their focus was on 2022 and beyond.  With Boyd expected to return in June, 2022 his case would not be as extreme.  Toronto would give Boyd a signing bonus and a salary for 2022 well below the $8 million he would have made in arb.  They would then guarantee 2023 and have at least one option year.   So say something like $1m signing, $3m 2022, $8m 2023, and then options for 2024 at $10m and 2025 at $12m.  Possibly with some incentives?

 

In Boyd, the Jays would be getting a 31-year-old, left-handed (!) pitcher, durable for most of his career.  He would be expected to produce at a #3 level (r-scale: 4.00-4.50 ERA) but with upside (his first half of 2019 was the stuff of dreams, and he attributed his early 2021 success to pitch mix changes which might be sustainable).  And he would be a more-than-positive clubhouse presence:  he and his wife created a foundation to save girls from sex trafficking in Uganda.

 

The bottom line

The Jays’ first choice would likely be to acquire a proven starter right away.  But if that were not possible – or possible only on unacceptable terms – Matt Boyd could be an intriguing fallback plan.

 

In the interest of full disclosure {grin} this is not the first time I have suggested that Boyd would be a good fit in Toronto.  Or the second.

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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Jim Scott

A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.