The Blue Jays signed Shun Yamaguchi on Tuesday, and it could mean a lot of things when it comes to the pitching depth chart, and the rest of the off-season plans.
They may not have landed the big fish that many Blue Jays fans have been hoping for, but so far the front office has been very busy when it comes to adding and improving their starting rotation.
On Tuesday the Blue Jays reportedly agreed to a deal with Shun Yamaguchi, who has spent his entire career pitching in Japan’s professional baseball circuit. Last season while playing in the Japan Central League, Yamaguchi went 15-4 with a 2.91 ERA, and 1.159 WHIP, and 188 strikeouts over 170 innings pitched.
The 32-year-old started his career as a closer in Japan, but has been an effective rotation piece since 2014 when he stretched out and became a starter . It remains to be seen what role he’ll fill once he puts on a Blue Jays jersey, but as things stand at the moment, he’s likely looking at a good opportunity to earn a rotation spot.
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Yamaguchi is an intriguing add for a number of reasons, in large part because he’s a fairly unknown commodity to those of us in North America. I’m of the belief that we have to see how players coming across the world to play Major League Baseball will adjust, and that it’s really hard to project how their skills will translate. There have been times that it’s worked out beautifully when Asian pitchers have been signed like Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Shohei Ohtani, and more, but there have been plenty of disappointments as well such as Hideki Irabu, or Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The addition to the Blue Jays roster is also interesting because it could mean a number of things. In theory, the front office could view their work as finished when it comes to the starting rotation. They still don’t have that aforementioned big fish, but if Yamaguchi is used as a starter he would join a rotation stable that includes Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, and likely Trent Thornton. They could also take a good, long look at Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, or even Jacob Waguespack this coming spring.
Does it mean the Blue Jays are out of the Hyun-Jin Ryu sweepstakes? It certainly shouldn’t, especially if all they spent was six million on Yamaguchi over two years. That’s the type of contract you give a veteran reliever to help bolster the bullpen. Maybe that’s the plan, or maybe the Blue Jays are hoping to hit the jackpot with their newfound pitcher joining the rotation. Either way, it shouldn’t stop them from making an offer on Ryu, even if signing Yamaguchi is viewed as a back-up plan of sorts.
It could also mean that the Blue Jays aren’t 100% committed to bringing back Matt Shoemaker next season, although they did tender him a contract. He’s only projected to make 3.8 million in 2020 in his last year of arbitration eligibility, and he should be worth every penny if he can stay healthy. With fresh commitments to Roark, and just having made a trade for Anderson, if someone is going to be removed from the picture to make room for a pitcher like Ryu, it could be Shoemaker. That said, starting depth is important, and I’d be surprised to see the Blue Jays let him go.
For what it’s worth, Mark Shapiro made a stop on the Tim and Sid show, and it happened to land just after the news of the Yamaguchi signing broke. He had this to say, keeping in mind that he had to be careful how he put things with the contract not having been formally announced yet;
"“Among the free agents that are out there, he’s a guy that has some versatility, has some upside out of the pen, but can also start and I think as we look to build a staff, he’s one potential guy that could complement our guys pretty well and still get a lot of flexibility in terms of how we go about the rest of the off-season because, I know it doesn’t feel like it, but there’s still a good amount of off-season left,”"
As always, Shapiro and his colleagues keep things pretty vague, but in this case his response is probably a fair one. They likely don’t entirely know what they have in their new pitcher just yet, but his skill set is intriguing, and his contract cost shouldn’t prohibit them from doing any other business. His ability to pitcher either as a reliever or a starter is certainly helpful as well, and gives the Blue Jays freedom to pursue roster upgrades either way.
For those of us waiting and wondering if the Blue Jays will strike it big in free agency or trade for a premium starting pitcher, Tuesday’s news really doesn’t clear up the picture a whole lot. Yamaguchi certainly gives them another option for the rotation, but he’s not guaranteed to be utilized that way, and even if he is, that doesn’t mean they can’t make room for one more starter if it’s the right guy. I did feel like there was a sense of Yamaguchi being viewed as a back-up plan that allows them to work with that “good amount of off-season left”, so perhaps they don’t feel a rotation upgrade is imminent.
Either way, talent is a good to add to the roster, and the Blue Jays did just that. For now, I’ll just focus on that.