The pitching market is moving in a real hurry, and the Blue Jays are going to have to make some adjustments on the fly or risk missing out on an impact arm.
The Winter Meetings have been a lot busier this year than they were in 2017 or 2018, and baseball feels a lot more exciting because of it. That said, it sure would be nice if the Blue Jays would get in on the action a little.
There have been all kinds of impact moves made over the last few days, and it really started with Stephen Strasburg agreeing to a new seven year pact to return to Washington. That left Gerrit Cole as the other ace left on the free agent market, and he signed a record-breaking, 9-year, 324 million dollar contract to join the New York Yankees late last night.
The Blue Jays were never expected to be serious players for either of those two elite pitchers, but how things have played out could certainly have an effect on how they proceed from here. For example, now that the Yankees have won the Cole sweepstakes, they’re almost certain to unload the J.A. Happ‘s contract, and there are rumours linking the two clubs already.
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Beyond the possibility that Happ could return to Toronto (for the third time), there could be other trickle-down effects that impact the Blue Jays. For example, with both Cole and Strasburg now off of the free agent board, that likely leaves Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu as the top two available starters. The Blue Jays have reportedly shown interest in Ryu, and likely have at least checked in on Bumgarner. However, now that the Nationals and Yankees have Strasburg and Cole under contract, that leaves teams like the Dodgers and Angels with plenty of available money allocated to improving their own rotations. The Blue Jays may be serious about a pursuit of Ryu, but the Dodgers have a lot of reasons to outbid them, and a comfortable, familiar place for the pitcher to land and continue chasing a World Series ring.
I imagine that teams like the Dodgers and Angels, and others like the Padres, Astros and more will continue to search the trade market as well, and that won’t help the Blue Jays’ cause either. The reality is, the majority of teams are looking for impact starting pitchers during most off-seasons, and this is no exception. That said, the options are dwindling very quickly, and the sense of urgency from the rest of the league is palpable. While we’ve heard the Blue Jays’ front office talk about that aggressive attitude, we’ve yet to see anything substantial materialize.
While speaking to the media on Tuesday, Mark Shapiro expressed that the Blue Jays “have to” improve before the 2020 season, making a pretty firm statement that the front office is seeking to improve the roster. However, he also said they won’t spend just to spend, which is a familiar message that we’ve heard before. The problem is, if the Blue Jays don’t make a move sooner than later, it won’t be long before they could be in the position of debating the value of potential additions against what they already have, and that won’t be a good place to be.
As I mentioned above, I think it’s safe to say that most Blue Jays fans accepted that the team wouldn’t be signing either Strasburg or Cole this off-season, even if that’s a strange statement. That said, it’s a difficult pill to swallow when we have to watch a division rival essentially hand the top pitcher on the market a blank cheque, pushing their payroll near the third tier of the luxury tax in the process. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are looking at the extra starter that the Yankees would like to clear from their payroll (Happ), and he’d likely become the de facto ace in Toronto, at least for now.
To be fair to Atkins and Shapiro, there is still plenty of off-season left before we can truly judge their work. That said, the market is changing pretty quickly, and so far the Blue Jays are being left behind.