The Toronto Blue Jays have seemed to “check in” on a number of free agent starters out in the market including Michael Pineda, Korean star Josh Lindblom and are apparently out of the running for Zack Wheeler’s whois reported to already have an offer of over $100 million (note: rumours have surfaced since I started writing this post that Wheeler is in agreement with the Phillies). But what happens if the Blue Jays aren’t willing to offer enough money to entice any of the second-tier of free-agent pitchers to come to Toronto?
It’s certainly a possibility that the Blue Jays can’t completely control the outcome. If a free agent doesn’t want to come to Toronto, no amount of money will make them (see Kawhi Leonard). While I’m sure the Jays will probably succeed in getting at least a couple of free agents to join the Jays in the offseason, will they get one of the higher-ranked ones, like Pineda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel or Madison Bumgarner? Or will they be “stuck” with the types of “buy low” pitchers who they have usually been able to attract, like Clay Buchholz, Matt Shoemaker and Jaime Garcia (although the price on Garcia wasn’t exactly low).
In my mind, it’s not really the fact that the Blue Jays will ultimately be buying from the bargain bin yet again, despite the fact that the club realistically has more money to spend than at any time that I can think of in the past. It’s more the fact that Blue Jays fans are tired of the team being bargain hunters with the backing of a company that should make it one of the most eager to spend. While I understand that there’s a difference between spending money and spending money wisely and in a timely fashion, I also think that the young core of the club is only getting better and that this type of long-term, quality starting pitcher is something that they’ll be looking to add anyways.
The Blue Jays fan base is getting antsy enough for it to be a strong enough theme in social media that even the writers at MLB Trade Rumors are taking notice. Jeff Todd wrote that “The Toronto faithful are by now a bit jaded at such assurances, having grown frustrated with a string of losing seasons and minimal investment in the MLB roster. Perhaps this is all part of the setup for explaining that the club just couldn’t quite get a deal done despite its best efforts. Then again, there’s plenty of reason to think the Jays can and should be prepared to re-enter the fray in a big way. The club has cleaned up its future balance sheets and graduated many of its best prospects to the majors. Perhaps the Toronto front office will end up making significant rotation improvements over the course of the winter.”
“A bit jaded” is a bit of an understatement. After the word of Wheeler’s agreement came out on Twitter, Andrew Stoeten tweeted that it “really feels like people are not going to accept any ‘we tried’ or ‘we were close’ stuff” from the front office.
Note to the Blue Jays: really feels like people are not going to accept any “we tried” or “we were close” stuff from you on this. Maybe don’t bother and just go out and sign a couple of the next best guys. https://t.co/HAxhmbDxh8— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) December 4, 2019
While the Blue Jays continue to be linked with other pitchers like Michael Pineda and Josh Lindblom, the proof will be, as they say, in the pudding. Fans have heard the lines about “being in on” pitchers before with no success, particularly for pitchers at the upper echelon of the free agent class. If the Blue Jays resort to signing reclamation projects and “buy low” guys, even looking to a group of players who were non-tendered (I’d be very happy if the Jays took a flyer on Taijuan Walker, if anyone out there is listening) the other day, I wonder if the fan base will really have it out for the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins duo.
Yes, the Blue Jays can play 2020 without any big-name (or even medium-name) free agent pitchers. Will they be as bad as 2019? Probably not. I think the Jays will have their solid core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio on the infield and if Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can show that his stellar hitting and solid play in left field weren’t a mirage, that gives the Jays a strong top of the lineup. With Nate Pearson set to join the Blue Jays at some point in mid-2020, he’ll add depth to a pitching rotation that is looking very thin, and could remain so for much of 2020. But do I hate a rotation that would ultimately include Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, Nate Pearson, Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki/Anthony Kay? Not so much.
But the point is not whether the 2020 Blue Jays will suck as badly as they did in 2019. The point is what message is sent by Shapiro and Atkins’s lack of participation in the upper echelons of the free agent market. While this offseason might be one year too early for the club to go all-in, there is certainly the financial flexibility to go partly in on a big(ish) free agent and still have plenty of room to add someone at the $25-30 million pay bracket for 2021. For the Blue Jays to get back to their payroll of 2015/2016, it’s not an either/or proposition, it can definitely be a “Yes . . .and . . .” situation if they want it to be.
It’s clear that the Blue Jays will have to overpay to get a highly-ranked free agent pitcher to come to Toronto. If the Blue Jays are unwilling to open the wallet enough to entice someone who can anchor their thin/inexperienced starting rotation either this year or next, then Shapiro and Atkins’s time will have run out in Toronto.
EDIT: Ben Nicholson-Smith tweeted this shortly after the post came out. Read the replies to see the ire of the fan base.
Yep, the #BlueJays are in on all starting pitchers.— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) December 4, 2019
Ross Atkins: “There’s not a free agent pitcher that we haven’t touched base with”
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