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Blue Jays: Pitching may be the sole focus this offseason

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 24: Ryan Borucki #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by Marcus Stroman #6 after coming out of the game in the seventh inning during MLB game action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on August 24, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. The players are wearing special jerseys as part of MLB Players Weekend. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 24: Ryan Borucki #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by Marcus Stroman #6 after coming out of the game in the seventh inning during MLB game action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on August 24, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. The players are wearing special jerseys as part of MLB Players Weekend. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays should have plenty of depth in their lineup next year without having to add in free agency. Their pitching staff is a much different situation, however.

The more I think about the offseason ahead for the Toronto Blue Jays, the more I’m accepting that it’s probably going to be a boring one for the fans. Sometimes that happens in a rebuild, and the front office has to ask fans for patience with the results on the field, and also with the way they build the club back into a winner.

Chances are we’re not going to see much in the way of additions to the Blue Jays lineup before next season. In fact, there’s a good chance that at least one of their infield options will have to get shipped out in order to find proper playing time for everyone, especially once Vladimir Guerrero Jr. makes his way to the big leagues. With options including Guerrero Jr, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Aledmys Diaz, Troy Tulowitzki (if healthy), Devon Travis, Yangervis Solarte, Brandon Drury, and more, something will have to give.

The outfield could be a little more crowded than one would think as well, although it’s possible the Blue Jays could add a veteran out there if they make a trade or two. As things stand now the big league options would be Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Kevin Pillar, Billy McKinney, Drury, and a host of youngsters like Dwight Smith Jr., Jonathan Davis, or others like Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey. That list doesn’t even include guys like Roemon Fields or Harold Ramirez who performed well in the minor leagues this year, so the Blue Jays really don’t need to add here unless they choose to.

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The pitching staff is a different story for the Blue Jays, even if the focus will be on getting their young arms an opportunity to prove themselves at the highest level. The guaranteed returning arms would be veterans Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, however both have dealt with enough injuries in the last few years for there to be a bit of concern in counting on them for a ton of innings, especially with the latter.

Beyond those two one would expect that Ryan Borucki would break camp with the team next spring, and Sean Reid-Foley is making a strong case of his own lately as well. There are others who could be given a shot like Thomas Pannone (who pitched well on Sunday), Sam Gaviglio, or other untested youngsters like Jordan Romano or T.J. Zeuch.

While I like the idea of seeing what the kids are made of, there is always a need for starting pitching depth to get through a 162 game season, and we’ve watched it first hand in Toronto the last couple of seasons. For that reason, I would like to see Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro pursue at least one veteran starter this winter, and they could probably even benefit from getting two. Maybe that comes in the form of one “guarantee” guy for the roster, and then the other would be a battle of veterans brought in on cheap contracts, looking for a gig.

Signing this type of pitcher is far less about winning than it is about protecting your young arms, and also trying to show the fans that you still care about being competitive, even in a rebuilding year. I think most people can accept that there will be growing pains, but running out players who aren’t ready isn’t good for their development, and it makes for a terribly painful product to watch on the field. I’m not saying that the group of Pannone/Gaviglio/etc, couldn’t answer the call, but giving them some protection on the depth chart would be a smart move.

The same goes for the bullpen, which is an area that could see a bit of turnover in 2019. We’re sure to see Ken Giles back in the closer’s role, and veteran Ryan Tepera will be back again unless the Blue Jays are blown away with an offer this winter. Beyond those two though, it could be a pretty open competition.

The Blue Jays have guys that would fit the mold like Danny Barnes (5.92 ERA in 44 appearances), Joe Biagini (5.70 in 44 appearances), Tim Mayza (3.69 in 30 appearances) and more, but I get the feeling that nearly everyone is going to need to earn their spot next year and beyond. That could come down to a big in-house battle with their young arms, but I’d also like to see the Blue Jays spend a few dollars in this area in free agency as well.

The reality is, the payroll is going to go down pretty significantly next season unless the front office does something really unexpected. They’re losing the contracts of guys like Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, and more, and aren’t expected to take on anything significant in free agency. They’ll have some arbitration raises to pay out, sure, but don’t be surprised if the payroll drops somewhere in the 50 million dollar range, or close to it.

For that reason, I’d like to see the Blue Jays spend 20-30 million on the pitching staff and shore things up for whomever is going to be in the manager’s seat next season. It’s likely to be a long year of growing pains for a young roster anyway, so why not give them a bit of stability with a few veteran arms? There is plenty that a young pitching staff could learn from being surrounded by experienced colleagues, and if all goes well they could turn into trade chips at next year’s deadline.

Looking ahead to this winter’s crop, the options aren’t terribly inspiring without significant opt-outs (Clayton Kershaw, David Price), but the Blue Jays probably aren’t players for guys like that anyway, at least not right now. Again though, someone like a Tyson Ross or a Lance Lynn might be enough to fill the role the Blue Jays need. Ironically some of the best options that fit the description would be Happ, Estrada, and even Jaime Garcia, but I don’t see a reunion happening with any of those three.

Harold Ramirez puts his name on the OF radar. dark. Next

There are enough reasons that adding pitching makes sense, that I’d even go as far as saying I expect the front office to do their best to pursue some upgrades. It doesn’t have to come in the form of a staff ace or a lights out closer either. More than anything, the young roster will need some support as they navigate the big leagues and learn how to win at the highest level.

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