The Blue Jays might not have the best chances to sign Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg this off-season, but they have a lot of good reasons to try.
Even though the Blue Jays are in desperate need of a top-of-the-rotation type of starting pitcher, have a talented young nucleus starting to form, and should have one of the better payroll situations in baseball, they’re still not expected to be serious contenders to sign Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg over the winter.
However, that doesn’t mean the front office shouldn’t at least make a sincere attempt at landing one of the big fish, as there are plenty of good reasons that they should do just that.
As I stated above, the Blue Jays have a pretty enviable situation when it comes to the flexibility that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro should have at their disposal right now to build the roster. Because guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, and more are still on pre-arbitration contracts, the bulk of the roster is costing them at or near the league minimum. Combine that with the fact that the Blue Jays have cleared most of their expensive veterans from the books with trades over the last couple of years, and they should be able to do almost whatever they like at this point.
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That doesn’t mean the front office is going to get reckless or anything, but that’s hardly how pursuing someone like Cole or Strasburg would, or should be perceived. Elite starting pitching has always been one of the keys to building a championship calibre team, just as we saw in the showdown between the Astros and Nationals in this year’s World Series.
The Blue Jays may have an ace or two coming in their minor league system such as Nate Pearson, maybe Alek Manoah, or young pitchers like Simeon Woods Richardson or Eric Pardinho, but none of them offer the immediate help that the Blue Jays could use in 2020. They’re not expected to seriously contend for a playoff spot next year, but some significant steps toward competing in 2021 and beyond are important, and some of the building blocks can go into place now.
All that said, Cole and Strasburg are likely to have suitors that include the Yankees, Angels, Nationals, Phillies and perhaps more, even if they’re expected to command more than 30 million annually. That’s some heavy competition from some big-market, win-now teams, and that’s one of the biggest reasons most folks assume the Blue Jays won’t have a realistic chance of signing one of the top two pitchers.
However, I would argue that they should make an offer to one or both, and make it a sincere effort. Maybe it gets disregarded at this stage of their rebuild, or for a preference to stay in the United States (or the West Coast, as it sounds like Cole may be looking for) gets in the way, but the message that making a real offer could send is important. It would show free agents that the Blue Jays are serious about improving and spending money, something they haven’t always been willing to do.
It would also signal to the fan base that the Blue Jays don’t plan to play second fiddle forever, even in an AL East division with big spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox. It would help change the narrative about the current front office’s unwillingness to spend, and likely signal a turning point in this current rebuild.
In the best case scenario, maybe the lack of suitors willing to actually pay top dollar puts the Blue Jays in conversation, giving them an outside chance in a strange free agent market. Did anyone see Manny Machado signing in San Diego last year? Not likely, and if the Blue Jays make the type of offer that no one else will put on paper, who knows?
More likely, the “worst case scenario” is that an offer on Cole or Strasburg isn’t really considered that closely, and we land where we are today. The difference is, the Blue Jays have the opportunity to send a message, and whether it comes in the form of offering on one of these two aces or with a variety of other possibilities, I hope they do just that.