With starting pitchers like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler off the market, the Blue Jays still managed to dip their feet into the shallower end of the pool and signed righty Tanner Roark to a two-year deal.
Roark, 33, is a major league veteran of parts of seven seasons and was a free agent this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors has reports that the agreed contract is for two years and $24 million, a very reasonable amount for a pitcher who will likely amount to being a fourth starter on most teams, but could be the second (or even) most reliable on the 2020 Blue Jays.
Roark throws a 91 mph fastball with a slider, curveball and changeup and split 2019 between Cincinnati and Oakland, getting traded to Oakland for Jameson Hannah along with cash at the trade deadline. In 2019, he combined for a 4.35 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 165 1/3 innings, striking out 158 and walking 51, good for a solid, 21.9% strikeout rate and a strong 7.1% walk rate.
Drafted in the 25th round of the 2008 draft, Roark was outstanding in a limited debut in 2013 with the Washington Nationals, posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 53 2/3 innings over 14 appearances including five starts. He was stellar in 2014, going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, striking out 138 and walking 39 in 198 2/3 innings. He only threw 111 innings in 2015, making 40 appearances and only making 12 starts and struggled a bit but he was outstanding in 2016, going 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, logging 210 innings with 172 strikeouts and 73 walks. He would fall back to mid-4.00s with Washington in 2017 and 2018 and he was traded for Tanner Rainey in the offseason following the 2018 year, heading to Cincinnati.
Roark probably slots in as a reliable fourth starter for the Blue Jays, but, as a veteran will probably exert a lot more of an influence and shoulder a heavier load than he might on a team with a deeper starting staff. With Chase Anderson and Matt Shoemaker, Roark will help create a trio of veteran pitchers whom the Blue Jays will rely on to eat up some innings but none of these three are really expected to do much more than hold down spots and get the staff through another tough year of grooming the position-playing core and maybe keeping a spot warm for the arrival of Nate Pearson at some point this year.
One thing that concerns me with a guy like Roark is that he has spent his entire career, save the last two months of 2019, in the National League. While Nationals Park in Washington plays small (it ranked second to Rogers Centre on the list of park factors for home runs according to ESPN), and Cincinnati is also a bit of a band box (eighth-ranked on the list for home runs). But let’s not forget that the starting pitchers in the National League face the pitcher probably twice in each game and, overall, the National League’s ERA was 4.38 in 2019 while the AL had a 4.60 ERA. Incidentally, Roark’s ERA was 4.24 over 21 starts in Cincinnati and 4.58 in Oakland for 10 starts. Just sayin’.
Coming to the American League, and particularly to the AL East where Toronto has the highest park factors for home runs and Baltimore rates #4 with Oriole Park at #5 in park factor for runs, Fenway at #9 and Rogers Centre at #12, makes me wonder if Roark might be on pace to blow up a bit in 2020.
Right now, the Jays have three veterans in Anderson, Shoemaker and Roark under contract while Ryan Borucki will try to come back from injury and Trent Thornton will try to build on his 2019 rookie season, giving the Jays their top five as it stands. Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch and Jacob Waguespack will be ready in the wings with Sam Gaviglio also still around and Nate Pearson looking to get into the fun by mid-season.
The way the Blue Jays have gone about their offseason so far makes it really seem like the Blue Jays are just taking care of roster spots in order to keep things warm for 2020 rather than really trying to compete. Many of the Jays’ beat writers have been telling us about the comments that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have had, mostly trying to make it look like they’re really doing a lot while merely treading water and praising the club’s financial flexibility. Which, of course, beckons the retort that flexibility is meaningless unless you do something with it.
With the signing of Roark, does that signal submission for 2020? Will the fanbase, growing ever more frustrated, be forced to wait until 2021 to see a team willing to compete in an AL East in which the Yankees just went out and got Gerrit Cole? What are your thoughts?
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