The Blue Jays signed Tanner Roark to a two-year, 24 million dollar contract on Wednesday, and there are likely a few things we can take away from the deal.
Wednesday was a nice day of progress for the Toronto Blue Jays’ off-season, as they finally added a free agent starter to their rotation.
He’s no Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, but signing Tanner Roark to a two-year, 24 million dollar pact will certainly help this team next season, and that’s important. While I can understand why the fanbase would find his addition a little underwhelming compared to some of the options that were on the free agent board at the start of the off-season, Roark likely sits at the top of the depth chart as things stand today.
Signing the 33-year-old right now is likely a bit of a reflection of the free agent market, which has been moving much more quickly than it has over the past two winters. Already we’ve watched starting pitchers like Cole, Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, and more come off the market, and the sense of urgency was starting to grow, certainly among the fan base. A month ago I would have been surprised to hear that the Blue Jays moved on someone like Roark at this stage of the off-season, but not with the way things have gone so far.
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For that reason, I think we have to give the Blue Jays’ front office some credit for adjusting to the market, even if many folks in the media have been fairly critical of them lately (myself included). The hope is that the Blue Jays aren’t done adding to the rotation by signing Roark, but the willingness of Ross Atkins and company to act now tells me a couple of things. Or at least I think it does.
First, I believe that the front office was feeling the same sense of urgency that the fan base was expressing on social media, although likely in a more rational state. Atkins has had a tendency to sit back and wait out the market a fair bit (with the exception of signing Kendrys Morales in late 2016), but it was becoming clear that strategy might not be an option this time around. Rather than come up empty-handed altogether, Roark at least gives the Blue Jays a reliable veteran that should be able to give them a chance to win every five days.
However, I’m also intrigued by the contract that Roark ended up signing, and I can’t help but wonder if it gives us a window into the work that Atkins and Mark Shapiro have been doing over the past few months. MLBtraderumors.com correctly predicted that Roark would sign with the Blue Jays, but they had him agreeing to a two-year, 18 million dollar deal. The Blue Jays obviously had to do better than that to get the right-hander under contract, at least right now, and ultimately gave him an extra six million on top of the prediction, for a total of 24 million.
If that seems like a lot for a pitcher of Roark’s ilk, well, it kinda is. That said, the free agent market has been trending upward, both on the low-end of the market, and obviously on the high-end with the MLB record-breaking contract of 324 million over nine years signed by Cole, or the seven years and 245 million Strasburg re-upped for in Washington. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael Wacha just got nine million for one year from Mets yesterday as well, which was more than the six million that MLBTR had him projected for as well.
What does this mean if the Blue Jays are serious about pursuing guys like Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dallas Keuchel to lead their rotation? Well, Ryu is projected to receive three years and 54 million, and from the sounds of the reports floating around, he may just sign with the highest bidder. That winning bid likely ends up coming from the Dodgers to retain him, but if the Blue Jays want to be serious players, they’re likely looking at four years and 75 million, or more. As for Keuchel, he’s projected to get three years and 39 million, so the Blue Jays may need to offer four years and 55 million+ in order to make it happen.
Through a combination of the stage of their rebuild, the tax bracket in Canada compared to many US markets, the tough division they play in (which just got worse), and more, the Blue Jays simply have to brace themselves to pay a higher premium for the players they want, at least if they’re going to add through free agency. Roark’s new deal to come to Toronto is further proof that’s the case, and the rest of the free agent market has been moving that way as well.
Lastly, if there’s one more thing that the Blue Jays signing Roark tells me, it’s that money ultimately talks. The Blue Jays offered him more than he was projected to get as a free agent, and very likely more than he was offered elsewhere. It might not be as easy for the Blue Jays to lure free agents to Toronto as it is for Brian Cashman to convince them to come to New York, but the biggest contract offer usually wins. Here’s hoping this is just the first of a few signings for Atkins and company, and hopefully they learned something from the process as well.