Blue Jays: Might be time to move on from the free agent pitching market

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 4: The Toronto Blue Jays logo painted on the field during batting practice before the Toronto Blue Jays home opener prior to the start of their MLB game against the New York Yankees on April 4, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 4: The Toronto Blue Jays logo painted on the field during batting practice before the Toronto Blue Jays home opener prior to the start of their MLB game against the New York Yankees on April 4, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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As the free agent pitching market continues to shrink, it might be time for the Blue Jays to focus their attention on the trade market instead.

Sunday saw two more high-end starting pitchers find new homes, and unfortunately neither of them are in Toronto with the Blue Jays.

First, the Cleveland Indians made a surprising trade with the Texas Rangers to send Corey Kluber to Arlington for a pretty light return. Cleveland will get Delino DeShields, and a minor league pitcher named Emmanuel Clase. A few hours later, the Arizona Diamondbacks surprisingly won the Madison Bumgarner bidding, as the veteran southpaw signed a five-year, 85 million dollar pact to stay in the National League.

I’m a little surprised that the Blue Jays couldn’t or wouldn’t beat the package for Kluber, but I also understand the reluctance to bring in a 33-year-old coming off of a mostly lost season, and one that has a max of two years of contract control remaining. My guess is it was more about that than anything with Kluber, but I could certainly be wrong. As for Bumgarner, I don’t think anyone really expected him to come to Toronto, even if it’s a little surprising that he ended up in Arizona.

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The way those two situations worked out obviously doesn’t have a direct impact on the Blue Jays, but there could be a trickle-down effect that’s felt. That’s because there are really only two impact starters left in free agency, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel, and the Blue Jays have been reportedly interested in their services. The problem is, it sounds like as many as eight other teams could be in on the bidding, and the way the Bumgarner situation resolved doesn’t help things.

That’s mainly because both the Dodgers and Angels are in need of an impact starter (or two), and both teams have the resources and the star appeal to make a tempting offer. Ryu has spent his entire big league career in L.A., and many thought he would return as a free agent. That could still happen, and now that the other options for the Dodgers are coming off the board at a rapid rate, it should motivate them to increase their offer, assuming they’ve already made one of some kind. The Angels should be even more motivated to add to their weak starting rotation, even after signing Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, 245 million dollar pact.

Beyond the two L.A. teams, Jon Heyman of the MLB network reported on Sunday that the list of suitors for the remaining free agents could include the Giants, Padres, Twins, White Sox, Braves, and of course, the Blue Jays. With the exception of the Giants, each of those teams is further along in their pursuit of building a playoff winner, and should have the dollars to meet or beat any offer that Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays put forward.

Add it all up and it might be time for the Blue Jays to shift their focus more intently on the trade market. Don’t get me wrong, I still think they should make their bid for Ryu and/or Keuchel, but the reality of the market isn’t very kind to them right now. Even if they make an aggressive offer, there should be enough budget and motivation from their competition to make their chances pretty slim. A year from now that could be different, but they’re still a team coming off of a 67 win season, and one that plays in the vaunted AL East. Most of their competition for the pair of lefties is in more of a win-now situation,

The market has moved at a fairly rapid pace, and the Blue Jays might be wise to start becoming more aggressive on the trade front, even before Ryu or Keuchel sign a new contract. Because once they do, suddenly the value of potential trade targets like David Price, J.A. Happ, and more will start to go up. It’s as simple as supply and demand.

Next. Like it or not, Scott Boras holds a lot of cards. dark

Atkins and company have improved the rotation with the likes of Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark, and bringing back Matt Shoemaker, but adding one more arm to top the group would really help this team in 2020, and likely beyond. That could theoretically still happen with Ryu or Keuchel through free agency, but more likely it’s probably time to start leaning in the other direction, and be ready to play the cards that you’re dealt.

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