Blue Jays: Have free agent starters already been scared away?
The Blue Jays will certainly look to add to their starting rotation stables this off-season, but I’m not sure that 2020 did much to help the cause.
There are a lot of factors that go into convincing free agents to sign with your team. There’s the amount a contract offer is worth, as well as the length of the term, the recent success and future prospects of the organization making the offer, and a lot more.
Fortunately the Blue Jays have a fair bit going for them in that regard these days. Nearing the end of a rebuilding period for the franchise, the roster is full of young talent with bright futures ahead of them. That also means that the Blue Jays’ front office should have enough money at their disposal to make competitive offers for free agents. However, there are other variables at play other than just money and winning, and one of them could work against the Blue Jays this winter.
One factor that’s not going to help is how the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was handled in 2020, at least for their pursuit of free agent starting pitchers. I say that because Charlie Montoyo and the coaching staff showed a propensity for giving their starters an early hook on a consistent basis. The lone exception was Hyun Jin Ryu, but even he wasn’t fully unleashed until later in the year. Part of that was due to the conditions that led to a shortened 60-game season and the strain that put on pitchers who had to ramp things up in a hurry to get ready for it, but it was more than that.
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We know that because we heard public complaints from Tanner Roark, and there were plenty of rumblings that he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Yes, baseball is evolving in the era of analytics, and that means that managers often prefer to avoid having a starter face a lineup for a third time. I can understand that, and I’m sure that most pitchers around the game are getting used to it to some degree, however, the Blue Jays operated at the extreme end of that philosophy at times in 2020. My colleague Clayton Richer wrote this week about how Roark could even end up on the trade block this winter, in part because of those disagreements.
The reason I say this could be an issue is that it might not be the most attractive thing for some veteran free agents, like Roark. Let’s take Robbie Ray as another possible example, who pitched with the Blue Jays down the stretch after being acquired by Arizona. In all likelihood, Ray and his agent will seek a one-year, “show me” type of contract so that he can re-establish his value after a rough 2020 campaign. Ray was decent as a Blue Jay, but he was dreadful as a Diamondback, and it would be easier to secure a better long-term deal coming off of a more consistent season.
For Ray, I’m not sure that Toronto is the ideal destination. There’s always the daunting nature of facing the Yankees, Rays, and even the Red Sox, but now there could be philosophies in the way of putting up your best numbers. Unless the player buys in to the idea that they’re only effective twice through the order, are many going to sign in Toronto knowing that they could be facing a short hook on the regular? For a pitcher in Ray’s position, I’m not so sure.
I don’t mean to paint a picture where all of the blame is placed on Montoyo or pitching coach Pete Walker either. My guess is a lot of these decisions are discussed at multiple levels of the organization, which makes it all that more interesting. Exceptions can be made of course, and I expect that we’ll see the Blue Jays loosen the reigns a bit next season if they play a 162-game season, but it doesn’t take long to build reputations around the game.
Perhaps I’m making too much of it right now, and only time will tell, but I can’t imagine that Roark’s public comments this season helped, or even the sight of seeing Matt Shoemaker coming out of Game 1 of the Wild Card round after just three innings and 35 pitches. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that it’s a variable that could work against the Blue Jays in their pursuit of pitching help this winter.