Blue Jays: Chris Tillman may be worth the gamble on a short contract

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 28: Starter Chris Tillman
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 28: Starter Chris Tillman /

The Toronto Blue Jays are in need of a starting pitcher this off-season and GM Ross Atkins has stated they’d like an impact arm. The Blue Jays have been connected to starters Tyler Chatwood and Alex Cobb during the off-season thus far. Both Chatwood and Cobb will be pretty sought after and it’s unlikely they make a play at the likes of a Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. That’s why I think Chris Tillman may be worth the gamble this off-season.

To follow-up on the intro paragraph, Chris Tillman is not my top target and they should be pursuing arms better than his this off-season. As mentioned above, names they’ve been connected to through the hot stove include Tyler Chatwood and Alex Cobb. Chatwood is intriguing due to his age and three quality seasons pitching at Coors Field (2013, 2016, 2017). Alex Cobb has proven to be a top of the rotation calibre arm in the past when fully healthy. However, should they miss on both of these arms, Chris Tillman is who I’d be turning my attention to.

Blue Jays fans should be quite familiar with Chris Tillman as the Baltimore Orioles “ace” since the 2012 season. He isn’t a true ace, but was simply the best the Orioles had during these past five seasons. Outside of 2015, Tillman never posted an ERA of above 3.77 which also happened to be his best year according to fWAR at 2.4. However, 2017 was a completely different story for the usually reliable 29 year old.

Tillman was supposed to start the season on Opening Day for the Orioles but he was held out due to a shoulder injury. Tillman returned in May, but was clearly not healthy and that continued all season long. He ended up posting the worst ERA for a starting pitcher in MLB history with at least 19 starts made at 7.84. He was battered, bruised, and never completely healthy.

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It was a complete write-off for Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles, who couldn’t field a competent pitching rotation all season long. Tillman usually is the anchor of the rotation despite not being a true ace. That would be alright for the Blue Jays though, as they don’t need Tillman to be the top dog in their rotation.

Due to the nature of Tillman’s 2017 season, it’s likely he will be looking for a one year “prove it” deal worth anywhere between $6-$10 million. Again, Tillman is not an ace but he is someone who can be a very effective back of the rotation arm for the Blue Jays if they get a fully healthy version. He’s thrown 200+ inning seasons when he makes his full 33-34 starts, and is usually reliable for at least 30 per year. He’s also been above a 2.0 fWAR or barely below for the four seasons prior to 2017.

Should the Blue Jays not land an arm of better calibre than Chris Tillman, then I do believe the Blue Jays will make a play for the veteran right hander and in my mind, Tillman is absolutely worth the gamble for such a short and cheap contract. If they get the 30+ start Chris Tillman, they can pencil a guy in to be worth at least 2.0 wins as a back end of the rotation type arm, which makes it worth the gamble alone.

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