Toronto Blue Jays: Stealing a starter from a division rival

As the Blue Jays look to improve their rotation this winter, some of the best available free agents will be from division rivals.

It’ll be a few weeks before free agency officially opens, as it doesn’t start until five days after the conclusion of the World Series, but that usually doesn’t stop us from thinking about it early.

The Blue Jays are in a fairly strong position as they enter the off-season, with most of their core players under contract control, and in many cases still in the pre-arbitration period of their MLB careers. That should give Ross Atkins and the front office the flexibility they need to pursue some noteworthy free agents, and chances are they’ll be focused on the starting rotation as usual.

As of now they have Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Tanner Roark, and Ross Stripling set to take a place in next year’s rotation, and Chase Anderson with a 9.5 million dollar option that includes a $500,000 buyout. They also have plenty of depth with talented but inexperienced starters, but the assumption is that the Blue Jays will likely sign one or two veterans this winter to boost the group for 2021.

While there own Taijuan Walker likely tops their list of potential targets, there’s an interesting commonality among some of the other high-end options. Most of them are likely leaving a division rival, which should help the Blue Jays indirectly in one way regardless of where they play in 2021. However, it would be a double dose of awesome if Atkins could recruit their former goes to join them in Toronto.

That list of options includes a pair Yankee hurlers that I’ve already written about in Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton. The former has spent his entire 7-year career in New York, and while I imagine there will be mutual interest, it’s going to come down to dollars and cents. The Yankees have more than enough resources to retain him, but it’ll be a question of avoiding luxury tax penalties in upcoming seasons more than whether or not they’d like to keep him around. As for Paxton, I could see him testing the free agent waters for many of the same reasons, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Canadian end up North of the border at all.

A third intriguing option was on the mound last night during the ALCS, and showed that he still has plenty of gas in the tank. Charlie Morton will be 37 before next season begins, but I’d love to see the Blue Jays snag him away from Tampa Bay on a one year deal with an option. He’s coming to the end of a two-year, 30 million dollar pact with the Rays, and I doubt they’ll pay him like that again. If not, I hope the Blue Jays would consider something similar. He battled some injuries to stay healthy in 2020, but he finished 3rd in Cy Young voting just a year ago, and he’d pair very well with Hyun Jin Ryu at the top of the rotation for 2021.

Next: Why free agents want to return to Toronto

I’d be surprised if the Blue Jays didn’t find a way to improve their rotation ahead of next season, and I honestly hope their focus begins with trying to retain Taijuan Walker. Failing that, or even better, if they were willing to bring in two top-tier starters, it would be a welcome sight to see Tanaka, Paxton, or Morton join the Blue Jays, and a bonus to know it’s weakened a division rival at the same time.